The first upset of the Women’s World Cup happened this afternoon, and it was a very big one. Locked into a tight match with France all day, when the final whistle blew Colombia were on top 2-0. Ranked 28th in the world by FIFA, Colombia became the lowest ranked team to ever knockoff a top-10 team (France was 3rd) in the World Cup.
Colombia became the lowest-ranked team (28th in FIFA’s latest rankings) to ever knock off a top-10 ranked team (France was 3rd)
Colombia took the lead in the 19th minute with an absolutely delightful goal. Yoreli Rincón made a quick turn in the midfield and split the two French center backs with a perfectly weighted ball. Lady Andrade was on the other end of it, and made a neat finish past the keeper Sarah Bouhaddi.
Both before and after the goal, France were clearly the better team. But Colombia had their moments. France’s build-up play was good, but they were often stymied by a resolute Colombia defense, and too often settled for speculative shots from outside the box. They ended with 22 shots, but only six were on goal. For their part, the Colombian counterattack looked dangerous, until they couldn’t figure out the final pass or two to get a shot on goal.
France seemed bothered by the (admittedly inconsistent) refereeing the entire game, but none moreso than in the 67th minute, when Colombia got away with one of the most blatant handballs in the history of soccer, which should’ve been punished with a red card and a penalty kick.
The final 20 minutes was mostly an assault on Colombia’s goal, as they tried to hang on for their first-ever World Cup win. But in the 93rd minute Bouhaddi got too cute and was punished for it. Thirty-five yards outside of her goal with just a minute of stoppage time left, Bouhaddi tried juggling over the head of the Colombian forward and passing to a teammate instead of just booting it forward. She kicked it straight to Colombian midfielder Diana Ospina, who initiated a 3-on-2 attack that teammate Catalina Usme smartly finished.
The difference between the two teams was their finishing. Colombia had two great chances and buried them, while France had several good chances but missed them all.
Major upsets tend to be rare in women’s soccer. Because of where the game is in its development, the top teams aren’t just better than the teams below them, they are much better. The teams that made the quarterfinals of the 2011 Women’s World Cup, for instance, were ranked 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 7th, 10th, and 11th by FIFA. With an expansion from 16 to 24 teams, we’ve already seen matches like Germany’s 10-0 pulverization of Cote d’Ivoire. But perhaps some of the teams who have never been great, like Colombia, are ready to challenge the world’s elite. They needed a fortuitous non-call to do it, but there was nothing lucky about their two goals.
France finished fourth in 2011, and were hoping to build upon that in Canada. They still could win the group, and even if they don’t, they’ll advance to the Round of 16 and be heavily favored. They’re not out by any means, but Colombia’s shock victory is a reminder not to take anything for granted.
Correction: I originally wrote that this was the biggest World Cup upset ever, going by FIFA ranking. The biggest World Cup upset ever actually occurred in 2003, when 52-ranked Ghana knocked off 15th-ranked Australia.