After taking four points from its first two matches, the United States women’s soccer team will be out for a win against Nigeria on Tuesday in order to secure progress to the Women’s World Cup Round of 16 as group winners. The U.S. currently tops Group D following a 3-1 victory over Australia and scoreless tie with Sweden. But there is little room for complacency in its final group game.
While it would take an unlikely combination of results for the U.S. to fail to make it out of the group stage for the first time ever, there is much to be gained from getting a win that would ensure top spot. Anything less and a much tougher path to the quarterfinals could lie ahead. Finishing second would mean a Round of 16 meeting with long-time foe Brazil, while dropping to third could lead to a clash with either hosts Canada or the world’s No. 1 ranked team Germany.
As much as the result will be on the mind of coach Jill Ellis, she will also doubtless be eager to see an improved performance from her squad. The U.S. has struggled in attack so far in the tournament, with Ellis already trying a number of different combinations. Veteran Abby Wambach has been culpable of missing chances in both opening games, and caused controversy by stating that her team would have scored more goals if the World Cup had been played on grass rather than artificial turf. Ellis, though, was eager to focus on what her team can control.
“I can't speak for Abby,” Ellis said, reports ESPN. “From my perception, listen, the game is different on turf, but it's the same for everybody. I mean, she's played a lot, a lot of games, so only she can attest to how different it feels, but for me, it's just the focus of we've got to get it done, period.”
Ellis could again change up her lineup in Vancouver on Tuesday by bringing in Alex Morgan. The star forward has made two cameo appearances off the bench thus far as she builds up fitness following two months out with a knee injury. But Ellis has hinted that Morgan, who has 51 goals for the U.S., would play a more substantial role.
While USA knows it could even lose and still potentially advance, Nigeria needs a victory to have hope of staying alive. The African champions caused a real stir in their opening game when coming from 2-0 down to tie 3-3 with fifth-ranked Sweden thanks to its pacey forward trio of Asisat Oshoala, Desire Oparanozie and Ngozi Okobi. But the team followed up that thrilling display by being held scoreless by Australia in a 2-0 defeat last time out. It means Nigeria sit bottom of Group D and need their forwards to fire if it is to cause a major upset and move onto the last 16.
“I would say Sweden actually made it very hard for us,” Oshoala, voted best player at last year’s Under-20 World Cup, told FIFA.com. “Australia I think were an easier opponent. We were unlucky not to get the goals we needed. But it doesn’t matter; we have to be better, no matter what.”
Kickoff time: 8 p.m. EDT
TV channel: Fox, NBC Universo