Big Games and Even Bigger Surprises: A Recap of Group H
The two-time World Cup champions and eight-time European champions Germany were unable to replicate their previous international success in this year’s 2023 Women’s World Cup.
Germany started off soaring with a 6-0 victory against World Cup debutants Morocco, including a brace from their captain Alexandra Popp, a pair of own goals on behalf of Morocco, along with goals from Lea Schüller and Klara Bühl. Their 4-2-3-1 formation allowed for their attacking style to compliment their poaching striker Popp, and involve other attacking talents like Lina Magull sitting behind Popp, and Jule Brand on the flanks. The German press applied pressure to Morocco’s back three, and forced defensive mistakes that led to goal scoring opportunities they capitalized on.
The upward momentum for the German squad took a sharp plunge after a devastating 2-1 loss to Colombia; their only goal coming from a penalty scored by Popp. A tightly-matched game saw both the German and Colombian side with their fair share of chances, but Germany was unable to finish. Throughout the match, Germany sent shots wide or inaccurately into the box and didn’t regain composure after the initial Colombian goal.
The final nail in the coffin came from a 1-1 draw against South Korea with multiple missed chances on both ends of the pitch. Germany’s defensive shape remained an issue throughout the early stages of the match, almost conceding off of a failed clearance and giveaway to Korea that was saved by Merle Frohms. Later, Germany’s defense was stretched to allow Korea to capitalize and score; Popp again was Germany’s only goal-scorer against South Korea with a header off a curling and accurate cross in the box. Given the record of one win, one loss and one draw in the group stages, Germany was unable to advance to the round of 16 for the first time in program history, and finished third in Group H.
Colombia quickly captured the hearts of World Cup viewers with dazzling performances in their third tournament appearance. Colombia’s first game was marked with a 2-0 victory over South Korea, with a converted penalty from their all-time leading goal scorer Catalina Usme, and a goal from senior World Cup debutant Linda Caicedo.
Colombian goalkeeper Catalina Perez kept South Korea off the scoresheet with daring saves in the first 20 minutes of the match. Later, a handball call against South Korea in their penalty box led to a yellow card, and penalty for Colombia which Usme converted with a well-placed low shot.
Individual star power led to the second Colombian goal as Caicedo dribbled and lured the South Korean defenders to create a gap of space, and let off a stunning curler into the far right corner of the net. Caicedo’s shot forced a spill from the keeper and Colombia went up 2-0.
A shocking statement victory over Germany continued Colombia’s group stage journey, with an immaculate strike from 18-year-old superstar Caicedo, and a final stoppage time game-winning goal from defender Manuela Vanegas. Colombia brought intensity in their pressing and numerous scoring opportunities, but the standout goal came from sublime individual effort from their starlet, Caicedo, that brought the stadium to a roar.
Colombia’s first loss of the tournament came from a 1-0 defeat against Morocco in the final group stage fixtures for Group H. Colombia displayed effective combination play and pressure, but were unable to finish. Moroccan goalkeeper Khadija Er-Rmichi, came up big against an onslaught of shots from Colombia to keep them at bay. Conceding a penalty in the first half led to Morocco getting the edge over the Colombian side.
Despite the loss, Colombia finished at the top of Group H, and advanced to the round of 16 for the second time in history. In the round of 16, Colombia was victorious against Jamaica’s stalwart defense, and advanced with a 1-0 win. The game featured a deadlock against an organized and focused Jamaican defense with Colombia unable to break it down initially.
Tensions ran high as the game became physical on both ends, but remained scoreless through the first half. In the 51st minute, an unmarked Usme received the ball from a cross into the box and finished, leaving a stunned Jamaican defense. Usme scored the only goal of the game to give Colombia the win.
For the first time in history, Colombia advanced to the quarter-final stage of the tournament. Suffering a 2-1 defeat to England, Colombia’s World Cup journey came to end, but with style as Leicy Santos scored a curling volley for Colombia’s last goal of the tournament.
Colombia and England were nearly equally matched in pressure and chances to finish, but Santos’ stunning curler made the difference in the final minutes of the first half. Unfortunately, Colombia quickly conceded the equalizer minutes later when Perez spilled a low ball and Lauren Hemp finished off the loose ball. England got the final edge in victory with Colombia errantly attempting to clear the ball outside the 18-yard box, but instead knocking it forward into space for Alessia Russo to finish.
Morocco’s World Cup debut was full of ups and downs that marked a historic tournament run for the Arab side. Morocco became the first Arab nation to qualify for the World Cup with their debut this year.
Their opening game was a 6-0 thrashing from Germany, but that didn’t stop the quality of the Moroccan team from advancing in the tournament. Morocco opted for a 3-4-3 formation against Germany, but it quickly led to an exposed backline. Throughout the match against Germany, Morocco struggled to maintain a shape at the backline to keep Germany off the scoresheet.
Morocco had a few opportunities to score and displayed brilliance from players such as captain Ghizlane Chebbak, but her goal amongst others was ruled offside.
Morocco went on to face South Korea, and came out on top with a 1-0 victory courtesy of a brilliant header goal from Morocco’s no. 9, Ibtissam Jraïdi. Jraïdi’s goal is the first ever goal in Moroccan history in the Women’s World Cup. Adapting defensively from their opening game, Morocco shifted to a 4-4-1-1, and quickly opened the scoring with a well-placed header.
Morocco earned their second victory in their final group stage game against Colombia with another 1-0 scoreline. They shifted to a 4-4-2 that allowed them to maintain defensive cover, and shift more attackers higher up the pitch. With this new formation, Morocco displayed a more consistent attacking pressure that paid off with the win. Anissa Lahmari scored the game-winner four minutes into first-half extra time. Captain Chebbak failed to convert a penalty, but Lahmari pounced on the rebound and finished.
With a record of one loss and two wins, Morocco finished second in Group H, and advanced to the round of 16. Morocco became the first Arab nation to qualify for the round of 16, and the third African nation alongside Nigeria and South Africa. Morocco’s Nouhaila Benzina also made history as the first player to wear a hijab in the World Cup.
The historic journey ended with a 4-0 loss against France in the round of 16, but displayed a remarkable run for the debutant. Morocco maintained their defensive shape, but France was able to bypass Morocco’s midfield four and utilize width in attacking to create chances and finish. Morocco also failed to individually mark French attackers which led to free runners in and outside the box available to finish.
South Korea’s fourth World Cup run came up short. Their tournament ended with multiple defeats and a draw for the talented Asian Cup runner-up squad.
Their opening game finished with a frustrating 2-0 loss against Colombia. South Korea had opportunities in the first half to score, but the Colombian defense and stellar goalkeeping left them without a goal. Errors got the best of the South Korean side, as an early handball and spill from goalkeeper Yoon Young-geul led to the two goals Colombia scored against them.
The string of losses continued with another 1-0 scoreless defeat against Morocco. South Korea was unable to capitalize on chances against Morocco, which remained a theme throughout the tournament. The defensive shape of the South Korean squad left holes that Morocco took advantage of, and made errors like a near own-goal within the first 20 minutes of game time.
South Korea was able to secure a point in the tournament with a final 1-1 draw against Germany. Their first and only goal of the tournament was a result of a decisive pass into space where an unmarked Cho So-hyun had a composed finish, when faced up with German goalkeeper Merle Frohms. The South Korean defenders were unable to hold off Popp, flying into the air to get a goal for the Germans and sealing the draw. South Korea finished fourth in their group and was unable to qualify for the round of 16, although their final match against Germany played a significant role in the final table standings.