The first day of group play for the United States in the FIFA Women’s U-20 World Cup kicked off Wednesday with a big thud as the US women fell flat against, ironically, Ghana in a 1-1 draw. The result leaves them surprisingly trailing in the tournament thus far as South Korea dominated Switzerland in a performance that set them as the new favorites to win the group.
Seven minutes into their first-ever U-20 FIFA World Championship appearance the Black Princesses took a unexpected lead against the Americans on a stunning 30-yard strike from Elizabeth Cudjoe that found the inside of the far post.
The rest of the half was a fairly balanced affair as Ghana managed to balance maintaining their lead with probing the US for a second goal. The Americans meanwhile began to find some rhythm in their passing, but it would take the oppressive summer conditions in Germany to lend a hand as the 12th player. The fitness of the players for Ghana began to slide significantly in the second half, allowing the US to find more uncontested space for its possession game.
Although the US was in control of the second half, it was a counter led by the speedy Maya Hayes who burned her way quickly up the field before squaring the ball past the stranded keeper to naturalized Canadian Sydney Leroux for a controversial equalizer as replays showed that she may have been a hair offside on the play.
Give Ghana credit though, they still continued to play with decent possession after the 70th minute strike despite fitness concerns, not only maintaining the result, but keeping the US back defensively as they created several scoring opportunities. Although Hayes’s speed and Leroux’s finish were critical in snaring the draw, the play of goalkeeper Bianca Henninger was the most valuable performance for the Americans as she made several key diving saves to keep Ghana’s tally to just one.
The US will need Henninger to maintain that level of play moving forward as South Korea, their third opponent in the group phase was brilliant in the other match of the day, drubbing the Swiss, semifinalists in the UEFA U-19 Championship a year ago, by a 4-0 scoreline that was not reflective of the dominant performance they delivered.
Ji So-Yun, after hitting the post from long-range early, struck for three goals on the day as the South Koreans easily moved through and around the Swiss during the match with speed and precise skill. The Koreans finished the contest looking as though they could play another 90 minutes.
The lone bright spot for Switzerland was the play of WPS teenager Romona Bachmann from the Atlanta Beat, who was clearly the fastest and one of the most skilled players on the squad. Unfortunately, she found herself often on her own as the team had difficulty providing support out of the defensive stance that South Korea had forced them into.
The good news for the US is that they get Switzerland next. Likely dejected from the severe defeat and worn out from chasing the South Koreans, the US should be able to post a victory to move into second as the Koreans will likely roll to another win against Ghana, who were left exhausted. Day three in the group will be important for the Americans with the draw in their opener. The group’s top two teams will then meet Group C’s duo. That group opened play today also with England playing to a 1-1 draw against Nigeria and the Mexicans battling to a 3-3 draw against Japan, falling behind early before taking a 3-1 lead before the break. CONCACAF’s other representative, Costa Rica, unfortunately drew host Germany for their opener and were unable to overcome a two-goal deficit in the first 16 minutes as they fell, 4-2, yesterday.