Yes, I am very aware of how crazy that headline sounds. Yes, I watched Die Nationalelf demolish Côte d’Ivoire, and how the score wasn’t 15-0 is beyond me. Germany are probably the best team in the world. They are the deepest team in the tournament besides the United States. They are a steamroller set to flatten everyone in front of them. You’d be wise to pick them to win it all. But even a squad so complete has flaws.
Germany’s opener against Côte d’Ivoire was comfortable in all phases of the game. They enjoyed the lion’s share of possession, created dangerous chances practically at will, and rarely looked threatened on the other end. Still, Les Elephantes did break through the German midfield on a few occasions early in the first half, and that’s where the German fault line was exposed. Twenty-year-old wunderkind Ida Guehai was able to outmuscle Lena Goessling at points, leaving the opportunity for Josée Nahi to combine and overlap with Raymonde Kacou on the right flank. German left back Tabea Kemme also found herself isolated on 1-on-1 situations, while the rest of the Ivorian attack stretched center-backs Annike Krahn and Saskia Bartusiak to open up a lot of space in the penalty area. At a couple points, the Ivorians’ pace and strength exposed the sluggishness of the German defense.
That said, this slightly worrying stretch lasted for all of about 20 minutes. Even during that period, German keeper Nadine Angerer didn’t have a whole lot to do, facing only two shots on goal the entire game. Les Elephantes faded as the match progressed, less fit and less deep on their bench. Germany were so dominant that the manager yanked star striker Célia Šašić at halftime just because she could. It’s a testament to your baller status when you can take the Golden Boot winner-in-waiting off the field for the last 45 minutes of a World Cup game and not break a sweat. The German back line may be a little slow and possibly exposed when a pacey attack gets in behind them, but that clearly didn’t come back to bite them against Côte d’Ivoire; however, fitter and deeper teams should take note.
Germany’s strongest challenge in the group stage will be today’s game against Norway. Group B is the group of life, and that is especially true for its two European participants. Norway showed its mettle on Sunday by taking down Thailand 4-0. While progression to the knockout rounds is practically guaranteed for Die Nationalelf and for Gresshoppene, group position will be critical. First place sets you up to play a third-placed team in the Round of 16, whereas the second place team probably gets England. The three points at stake today could determine how far these teams end up going in the tournament.
Norway dominated their first half on Sunday. Isabell Herlovsen picked the Thai defense apart, netting a brace in short order. Thailand didn’t put up much of a fight once Norway had the run of play. What was of some concern was forward Ada Hegerberg’s lack of sharpness in front of goal. She managed to dink one past Waraporn Boonsing in the 68th minute, but she created a mountain of chances left unconverted. Add the missed penalty by Maren Mjelde in the 75th, and it’s clear that Grasshoppene have no margin for error when they walk into Ottawa’s Lansdowne Stadium today. If Norway hope to put Germany’s back line to the test, Hegerberg has to be firing on all cylinders.
Norway will need to use their midfield core of Gry Tofte Ims and Lene Mykjaland to boss Goessling and Melanie Leupolz around, hopefully creating space for Mjelde and Ingrid Moe Wold to run into. Herlovsen and Hegerberg need to stay fit and fast in order to keep Krahn and Bartusiak from settling into a rhythm. Three points and their World Cup future depend on it. Norway don’t possess the pace of Les Elephantes, and when faced with a midfield as formidable as Germany’s, Norway manager Even Pellerud’s old boot-n-chase habits may come back to haunt him.
Today’s match will be a gritty, tight affair. Whomever comes out on top writes their own destiny for the rest of the tournament. Germany are and should be favored against Norway, but they’ll have to work for it.