MONTPELLIER, FRANCE - A Monica own goal completed a remarkable turnaround by Australia at the Women’s World Cup on Thursday, as the Matildas came from two goals down to stun Brazil 3-2, while China beat South Africa in Paris.
Li Ying’s first-half strike gave former runner-up China a 1-0 victory which ensured that its Group B rival Germany, as well as host France, are the first guaranteed qualifiers for the knockout phase.
The Germans, winners of the World Cup in 2003 and 2007, had beaten Spain 1-0 on Wednesday, having already defeated China by the same scoreline in their first match.
There was drama in Montpellier with Australia, after conceding at the death to lose 2-1 to Italy in its Group C opener, staring at a humiliating early exit as it trailed 2-0 to Brazil.
It was returning superstar Marta, absent from Brazil’s 3-0 win against Jamaica due to injury, who gave her team the lead from a first-half penalty, her 16th World Cup goal.
The 33-year-old is now level with Germany’s Miroslav Klose as the joint leading goal scorers in the history of the World Cup, men’s and women’s combined.
Fresh from her hat trick against the Jamaicans, Cristiane then headed home to double Brazil’s lead, but the Australians produced a stunning rally.
Caitlin Foord netted from close range just before the break, and then Chloe Logarzo’s ball into the box somehow nestled in the back of the net to level the scores.
The stage was set for the comeback to be completed when Monica headed a hopeful punt forward into her own net in the 66th minute, as Australia became just the second team to win a Women’s World Cup match from two goals down.
“It was nice to come out swinging when our backs are against the wall. We like a good fight,” said Logarzo, who suffered a broken leg in late February.
For Matildas star Sam Kerr, the performance was an answer to the critics who had slammed the team in the wake of its loss to Italy.
“There were a lot of critics talking about us, but we’re back, so suck on that one,” Kerr remarked.
“We don’t listen to the haters. I love these girls. You can see what it means to us. We knew we were a top 10 team. Now we’re back in it.”
For Brazil, it was a first World Cup group-stage loss in 24 years. Marta has now scored in five World Cups, but she went off at halftime.
“It’s one more detail written in the history of women’s football. I am honored, but there’s more to do at this tournament,” Marta said.
The result leaves Australia and Brazil level on points with Italy, which was to play its second match against Jamaica in Reims on Friday, atop Group C.
The forgiving format means the top three teams could go through to the last 16.
It is that same format that means South Africa’s Banyana Banyana are not yet eliminated, despite losing their first two matches at their debut World Cup.
China grabbed the victory at Parc des Princes thanks to Li, who got in front of Bambanani Mbane in the box to turn in Zhang Rui’s delivery five minutes before halftime.
“This victory belongs to all the players, they deserve it. There will be more battles to come and I hope we can last as long as possible in this tournament,” said China coach Jia Xiuquan.
Germany is certain to finish in the top two in the group, but South Africa could in theory still progress if it can win when the sides meet in Montpellier on Monday.
France, meanwhile, is certain to at least be one of the best third-place teams as it already has six points in Group A.
“Obviously the result is not what we wanted but we will dust ourselves off and start looking forward,” said South Africa coach Desiree Ellis.