The substitutes pouring off the Philippines bench at least knew where to run.
The entire field was spread out in front of them, and so they ran. Past their coaches, who had gathered into a giant group hug. Past the stunned New Zealand players, trying to absorb what had just happened. Toward their teammates, all of them now off and running, too.
The Philippines, one of the longest shots in the expanded field for this World Cup, had a lot to celebrate. Its 1-0 victory over New Zealand, one of the tournament’s co-hosts, had included the first goal the Philippines had ever scored in the World Cup, and now it had produced the team’s first-ever victory in the tournament, too. And so its players celebrated. Here. Over there. Everywhere.
“It feels overwhelming, crazy — it feels like I’m in a dream,” said Sarina Bolden, who outjumped two New Zealand defenders in the 24th minute to head in the historic goal that meant everything. “It doesn’t feel real.”
It was, to be fair, a night few had expected. The Philippines is one of the eight debutantes in this year’s 32-team World Cup field, a minnow among the usual sharks from Europe and North America. It is a team drawn from the vast Filipino diaspora — players from Norway and Canada and Australia, but mostly from the United States, the birthplace of 18 members of its 23-player squad.
That mix of backgrounds and experiences was on display all night: A midfielder born in Norway, Sara Eggesvik, sending in a cross for a forward who earns her living in Australia, Bolden, and then the defense hunkering down in front of a California-born goalkeeper, Olivia McDaniel, whose last-minute save with her fingertips preserved the shutout.
“The diversity of it all, that we are from different home countries — I’ve just been learning that Filipinos are literally everywhere,” said the 27-year-old Bolden, who grew up in California and played college soccer at Loyola Marymount. “In the Philippines, obviously, but in the States, in Europe, in South America, in Australia. There’s so many of us. And I think we’re a great representation of what Filipinos are.”
New Zealand, which had posted its own historic victory by beating Norway in its opening game, will rue its defeat. It had arrived in Wellington this week knowing that a victory might book its place in the knockout stages for the first time in six trips to women’s soccer’s biggest championship.
Defender Ali Riley said she felt her team “wasted an entire half” by straying from its game plan, but hinted that something else might have played a role as well. “I think the Philippines wanted it more,” Riley said. Asked if the loss felt like a huge missed opportunity, she replied with a single word: “Yes.”
New Zealand had its chances. Forward Jacqui Hand hit the post in the 64th minute and had an apparent tying goal ruled out for the slightest of offside decisions four minutes later.
Defeat, given what had been there for the taking at kickoff, was a bitter disappointment. Now the Ferns, a co-host of the tournament with Australia, will turn their focus to their final game, against Switzerland, which holds their last hope of getting through.
The Philippines, meanwhile, will revel in their victory, but only briefly.
“Our team ethos has been the same for the last 18 months,” the team’s Australian coach, Alen Stajcic, said. “You win, lose or draw, you celebrate or cry until midnight, and the next day’s a new day.
”We’ll get to see some family members tonight and enjoy that special moment and celebrate. But tomorrow it’s back to work. The job’s not done.”
The World Cup has no shortage of teenage talents, but they are making headlines so fast it is getting hard to keep up.
On Friday, Alyssa Thompson, an 18-year-old who still lives with her parents, became the youngest United States player to appear in a World Cup in two decades. On Monday, Giulia Dragoni, a 16-year-old midfielder, one-upped her when she started for Italy in its opening game.
Then, on Tuesday, Casey Phair, a forward from New Jersey with Korean heritage, did them both one better: Entering Korea’s game against Colombia as a second-half substitute, Phair, at 16 years 26 days, became the youngest player ever to appear in the Women’s World Cup.
Phair’s appearance had been telegraphed by Korea’s coach, Colin Bell, in the weeks since he named her to his final roster. But her playing wasn’t assured until she walked to the sideline to come on in the 78th minute in Sydney.
“Casey is going not as a passenger but as a valuable member of the squad,” Bell had said when he named his World Cup roster.
On Tuesday, he gave Phair her chance.
“She deserved to get the chance to play, Bell said. “She has trained really well, as good as anyone.
“It is also a signal that that’s the future, she is the future,” he added. “We need strong, fast players with physicality.”
Bell and Korea have done their best to welcome — and to protect — Phair, the daughter of an American father and a Korean mother who is the first mixed-race player ever called up by Korea’s national team.
“As far as I’m concerned, she’s still a kid,” Bell said of Phair. “And it’s my duty to protect her so she can blossom and really fulfill her potential.”
If the World Cup’s youth movement has a standard-bearer, though, it might be a different player who took the field in the same match: Linda Caicedo of Colombia.
An 18-year-old forward who plays for Real Madrid, Caicedo opened her World Cup scoring account with a brilliant half-field run in the first half of Colombia’s 2-0 victory. (Yes, the Korean goalkeeper could have done better on Caicedo’s shot. But focus on the skill that got Caicedo in position to shoot, not how the ball went in.)
Caicedo had a remarkable story even before she got to Australia.
Three years ago, when she was 15, she received a diagnosis of ovarian cancer. She had already made her professional debut for her Colombia club, but facing treatment, she thought her promising career was over. “I thought I’d never play again,” she said.
Instead, she recovered and became one of the brightest, and most sought-after, young talents in the world. Her performance in last year’s Copa América Femenina saw her honored as the player of the tournament over more seasoned stars, and saw Colombia book its place in the World Cup.
Asked if she had a message for other young women facing cancer, she said, “I am an example that you can get out of that and overcome this.”
Norway was hoping bounce back in this World Cup. But in a scoreless draw on Tuesday against Switzerland, it instead saw its path to the knockout stage narrow even more with its biggest star a last-minute scratch from the game.
Ada Hegerberg, the 28-year-old striker and former world player of the year, felt discomfort in her groin while doing her last sprint of warm-ups, according to Norway’s team doctor, Trygve Hunemo. She left the field as the game was getting started and did not play, though she eventually came back to the bench to support her teammates.
Hegerberg, one of the best players in the sport, was absent from the national team for five years before returning for the European Championship last summer. She sat out the 2019 World Cup in protest of her federation’s treatment of women’s soccer. Her return was a significant boost for Norway’s program, but she was surprisingly ineffective in an opening loss to New Zealand before missing the game against the Swiss.
Norway is in about the worst position it could have imagined going into its third game of the Women’s World Cup: It has a loss and a draw, and its best player, the 2018 Ballon d’Or winner Ada Hegerberg, did not play on Tuesday because of discomfort she felt during warm-ups.
Yet because of a wild set of results within its group, Norway is very much in play to go from last in the Group A standings to the round of 16 after its match on Sunday, when it plays the Philippines at the same time that Switzerland faces New Zealand.
The scenarios for the World Cup can often be convoluted, but we’re here to help. Our friends at The Upshot have again produced a team-by-team look at who would move on given the possible outcomes for each game, accounting for the complex system of tiebreakers that comes into play each tournament.
The charts show, for example, that Norway — which entered the tournament as the top team within its group on the FIFA ranking — could use a bit of help from Switzerland. And, conversely, that Switzerland probably wants Norway to win, too, to give the Swiss some chances to advance even with a loss. New Zealand and the Philippines would each also advance with a win, and each team could also advance with a draw, again depending on how things play out.
These scenarios will be updated as each group wraps up its second set of games, giving you an immediate look at what each team will need in its final group-stage game to advance to the knockout rounds.
The game the United States has been waiting for since the World Cup draw was released is finally here: its rematch of the 2019 final against the Netherlands.
Much has changed since the Americans beat the Dutch in France four years ago. Women’s soccer has grown more competitive, with more contenders than ever. The gaps between teams are closing fast.
The United States team is different, too. It is no longer the veteran-heavy team of 2019, a team that was stocked with big-game experience and big-stage savvy.
For forward Alex Morgan, the change is even more dramatic: She’s a mother now. Her daughter, Charlie, is 3, born the year after Morgan won her second World Cup title. “I’m just in a very different place than I was four years ago,” Morgan said Tuesday.
The same is true of her team, both on and off the field. In 2019, it spent a lot of time, effort and brainpower pushing for equal pay, a successful campaign that now lets the team focus (for the most part) on soccer. Good thing, too. Because the Netherlands poses as tough a challenge as ever.
“They don’t give you much space at all to receive and turn or get on the dribble,” Morgan said of the Dutch defenders, calling them “incredibly organized” and physical, but also great in transition. To beat them, she knows, the United States will have to improve on its opening-day performance against Vietnam.
“You saw glimpses of our potential,” Morgan said of that 3-0 victory. “But I feel like we weren’t always clicking on the field. I feel like some of the plays that we had were a little forced or rushed.”
When the United States beat China in a penalty shootout to win the 1999 Women’s World Cup, a young Ali Riley was one of the 90,185 fans in attendance. Riley, 11 at the time, looked on as Brandi Chastain scored the decisive penalty, stripped off her jersey and then fell to her knees in triumph.
Twenty-four years later, Riley is playing in her own World Cup. Despite being born and raised in California, Riley, 35, has represented New Zealand internationally since her teens. (Her father, John, is from Christchurch.) But having ridden the wave of growth in women’s soccer herself, she is now hoping to see her team help her rugby-loving country fall for the sport the way the United States team turbocharged it in America with its performance in 1999.
“If these little girls in New Zealand feel inspired to pick up a sport — I hope it’s soccer, of course — from watching the World Cup, when the best players in the world and the best teams in the world are in their backyard, I think that’s the way that we can actually change something for women and for young girls in New Zealand,” Riley said last month in an interview in Los Angeles before departing for the tournament. “So that’s my dream.”
The foundation of that dream was laid last Thursday, when New Zealand stunned Norway, 1-0, to post its first win in six trips to the World Cup.
During her post-match interview, Riley, holding back tears, made sure to flash her hands toward the camera, clearly showing her painted fingernails — one hand in the light blue and pink of the Trans Pride flag, and the other the rainbow colors of the L.G.B.T.Q. Pride flag — as she declared, “anything is possible.”
Riley’s nails were both a show of support — a local newspaper declared her a “straight, gay icon” — and also one of minor rebellion.
FIFA banned rainbow “One Love” armbands ahead of last year’s men’s World Cup in Qatar, saying they would be considered provocations toward the host country and a violation of FIFA’s uniform regulations. FIFA tried to thread a different needle for the women’s tournament, allowing multicolored “Unite for Inclusion” armbands in an event that includes dozens of gay players.
Riley’s nail polish, then, was a purposeful workaround.
Rachel Allison, a sociology professor at Mississippi State and the author of “Kicking Center: Gender and the Selling of Women’s Professional Soccer,” said that what set Riley’s interview apart from other viral moments, such as Abby Wambach kissing her then-wife following the United States’ 2015 Women’s World Cup win, was that Riley’s actions were premeditated.
“Equality and inclusion are central values in the women’s soccer community,” Allison said. “To see a player like Ali Riley clearly knowing that she’s about to become visible through captaining her team and plan ahead to make this statement is incredibly courageous.”
Lise Klaveness does not pull punches. It is not her style. To some, that is a problem. To Klaveness, a former national team player who is now the president of Norway’s soccer federation, it is just who she is.
So she will needle FIFA about its ethical conflicts, about the treatment of migrant workers on World Cup projects, about the rights of women and gay people. She is happy, if needed, to say it straight to the (mostly male) officials at FIFA gatherings, demanding that they, as soccer’s leaders, hold the sport — and themselves — to a higher moral and ethical standard.
“Politically it made me a bit more exposed, and maybe people want to tell me, ‘Who do you think you are?’ in different ways,” Klaveness, 42, said in an interview before the Women’s World Cup. Openly raising questions about human rights and good governance, she said, also “came with a price.”
She also believes her positions reflect those of her federation, and her country. And she says she will not stop pressing them. “I’m very motivated,” she said, “and the day I’m not, I’ll quit. I have nothing to lose.”