Still-growing Germany dominate South Africa at Women's World Cup
MONTPELLIER -- Germany eased into the last 16 of the Women's World Cup with a comprehensive 4-0 win over South Africa, finishing the group stage without conceding a goal.
Germany are now unbeaten through 15 matches. Although they eased past Banyana Banyana in a sun-drenched Montpellier, the Germans were at times wasteful. The score could have been far more one-sided had they found a cutting edge in front of goal. They turned to the skies for their best attacking endeavour with their aerial superiority over South Africa notable, but you sense this team is still waiting to hit top gear.
For South Africa, their first ever World Cup finishes without a point but they have left their mark on this competition through their never-say-die attitude and remarkable support.
Here are five takeaways from Montpellier:
Germany were dominant but is still building
Germany could have finished with eight goals to their name. It was 3-0 at half-time, but Germany missed another three gilt-edge opportunities in the first 45 minutes alone. Two of the Germans' three goals were gifted to them. First, poor marking on a corner allowed Melanie Leupolz a free header. For their second goal, South Africa goalkeeper Andile Dlamini -- who otherwise had an exceptional game -- parried out a weak cross to offer Sara Dabritz a tap-in. Their third and fourth goals -- which came in the 40th and 58th minutes -- were better worked efforts, again using their aerial superiority as Alexandra Popp headed in from a wonderful Guilia Gwinn cross, and then Lina Magull tapped into an open net after Dlamini pushed Marina Hegering's header on to the post.
There were missed chances Germany should have converted. Popp scooped over from close range, Svenja Huth failed to get a solid contact on another a cross, and Magull shot over the net when one-on-one -- all in the first half. In the second half, Dlamini saved brilliantly against Däbritz and Lee Schueller. Germany also had two opportunities ruled out due to offside calls.
Against the backdrop of criticism concerning Germany's lack of attacking threat in their opening 1-0 wins over China and Spain, manager Martina Voss-Tecklenburg will take to heart the number of chances Germany created with a tweak to their formation, adding a far more attacking threat. The Germans started on paper with a 4-4-2 formation, but in effect it was more 4-2-4, as they employed a high-pressing defence and kept South Africa on their toes. They showed a more attacking endeavour than in their opening two matches, but Germany will know it will not be permitted such wastefulness in the knockout stages.
"We had nice periods in the game, and they performed very well," Voss-Tecklenburg said. "They showed football can be very simple. There were things I didn't like so much -- I think there's still moments in the match where we try to go for a more difficult option, which we need to work, on but we know how to deal with that. There is still some space for improvement."
Banyana Banyana depart with heads held high
South Africa depart France without a point to their name in their first Women's World Cup appearance, but Banyana Banyana have left their own wonderful mark on the tournament. After the world liked, re-tweeted and shared their brilliant musical entrance ahead of their opener against Spain, they performed with plenty of heart and energy across their three matches.
Against Germany, South Africa were a heavy underdog -- sitting 47 places below second-placed Germany in the FIFA rankings -- but their supporters were magnificent throughout, with their own songs booming out from the stands. On the pitch, Janine Van Wyk never stopped running, chasing, tackling and directing. Apart from the one error, Dlamini was exceptional in South Africa's goal, adding another remarkable performance to a growing list of goalkeeping stormers in this World Cup. Banyana Banyana had a couple of chances with Thembi Kgatlana unable to beat Almuth Schult when one-on-one, but they depart France having left nothing on the field.
"We knew we were in a difficult group, but if we played to our best we would get positive results," manager Desiree Ellis said. "We started poorly here, and then we were always on the backfoot. But we felt we had nothing to lose.
"The sky's the limit for this group."
Schult has repaid Voss-Tecklenburg's faith
There were doubts over Schult's form and fitness heading into this World Cup. She made uncharacteristic errors against Japan in their final warm-up match, and also picked up a shoulder knock. All this on the back of a year where she also suffered from measles.
But she could not have done anymore in Germany's goal, as she finished the group stage without conceding a point. Against South Africa, she was largely a spectator in the first half. But when called upon in the second half, Schult made a brilliant save when faced one-on-one against Ngatlana. There was no 80-meter dash from Voss-Tecklenburg at the final whistle to embrace her goalkeeper -- like she did after her heroics against Spain -- but this was another assured performance.
Dlamini's performance adds to growing list of strong goalkeeping.
After Argentina's Vanina Correa and Chile's Christiane Endler got their spot in the headlines for remarkable performances against England and the U.S. respectively, Dlamini deserves to join them for a brilliant showing against Germany. Apart from one error on Dabritz's goal, she kept Germany at bay in the second half, making a series of world-class stops to keep the losing margin down just like she did against Spain.
"She's very brave," Ellis said of Dlamini. "I thought she had an exceptional game. She's showed the world how good she is -- I'm grateful for the opportunity she has been offered and taken. She's had two fantastic games."
The discussion over Dzenifer Marozsan's health goes on
After the world-class midfielder fractured her toe in Germany's opening win over China, Germany have not put a time frame on when she will return. The Germans are using the old adage of taking it game by game, but they miss her creativity and calm presence in their midfield. It comes down to pain management -- Marozsan is back in light training -- but she will only be back on the pitch when the toe has recovered sufficiently. Just don't expect Germany to let people know when that will be.