REIMS, France, Jun 18 – Surprise package Italy are aiming to emulate Germany and France by topping their group when they face Brazil on Tuesday in an encounter that evokes classic World Cup memories.
Milena Bertolini’s side have a perfect six points after scoring seven times in their opening two matches, including a shock opening win over pre-tournament dark horses Australia, and need a draw against Brazil to ensure topping Group C.
The clash harks back to some pulsating men’s World Cup encounters, including the Pele-inspired 4-1 destruction of the Italians in the 1970 final and Paolo Rossi’s hat-trick in 1982, which downed Zico’s flamboyant Selecao 3-2 as Italy went on to lift the trophy.
“I have vivid memories of the Italy-Brazil match in 1982 and being here to experience such a match in person is incredible,” said Bertolini.
The Italians have surpassed all expectations in France and have shone a light on women’s football in a country where there are just a fraction of the players that world champions the United States can call upon, despite being a powerhouse in the men’s game.
“We need to be good at everything,” added Bertolini of the clash in Valenciennes.
“In the first match it was important that we kept the ball so we could breathe, against Jamaica we needed to maintain a balance (in attack). With Brazil we need to bring it all together.”
Australia can snatch second place if they beat Jamaica, who have failed to score in losing both their matches, and Brazil fail to win.
The Matildas looked dead and buried as they headed towards half-time against Brazil two goals down, but Caitlin Foord’s stoppage-time strike sparked an incredible fightback to win 3-2.
– Koreans crash out –
Norway await the Group C runners-up in the last 16 after Martin Sjogren’s side inched past South Korea 2-1 in Reims on Monday, thanks to two penalties, to finish second in Group A.
Caroline Graham Hansen gave Norway a third-minute lead after Cho So-hyun grabbed Maria Thorisdottir.
Graham Hansen was chopped down by Kang Chae-rim shortly after half-time but the Barcelona striker was receiving treatment and had to watch as Isabell Herlovsen squeezed home Norway’s second from the spot.
Yeo Min-ji’s poked finish 12 minutes from time ensured a nervy finale for Norway.
The Scandinavians survived a stoppage-time scare when Yeo’s header was a fraction wide for the impressive Koreans, who are out after three defeats.
Norway will have to sweat on Graham Hansen’s fitness, but the 24-year-old said “the doctors are positive” she’ll be ready for Saturday’s last-16 match in Nice.
France confirmed top spot in Group A after Wendie Renard scored the only goal against Nigeria with a retaken spot-kick in Rennes.
They face the prospect of a quarter-final against defending champions USA if the Americans top Group F and get through the last 16 as expected.
Germany made sure they avoided the USA in the next phase after hammering South Africa 4-0 to finish top of Group B.
The Germans finished on a perfect nine points without conceding a goal despite being without injured star Dzsenifer Marozsan for the past two games.
Spain will likely face the USA after qualifying second in Group B behind the Germans, after a goalless draw with China who are also guaranteed to go through as one of the four best third-placed sides.