Hosts France battle past Norway 2-1 to remain top of Group A
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France took a big step towards the last 16 of the Women's World Cup on Wednesday after Eugénie Le Sommer's penalty earned the tournament hosts a 2-1 victory against Norway in Group A's crunch clash.
Le Sommer struck from the spot after Wendie Renard's shocking own goal had cancelled out Valérie Gauvin's opener for France at the start of the second half.
The victory in a sold-out Stade de Nice means Corinne Diacre's team remain top of the tournament's Group A with a maximum six points. Norway, the 1995 champions, are second on three points, ahead of Nigeria on goal difference.
Norway play South Korea in their final encounter while the hosts, who are vying to become the first nation to hold both the men's and women's World Cup titles at the same time, need only a draw against Nigeria’s Super Falcons in their last group game to advance as group winners.
France appeared to be in control of the match when Gauvin, who was dropped for the opening game, broke the deadlock less than a minute into the second half.
However, Renard – on target twice in Friday's 4-0 defeat of South Korea – gifted the Norwegians an equaliser on 54 minutes with a bizarre own goal.
France were then awarded the decisive penalty in the 72nd minute when Ingrid Syrstad Engen made a mess of an attempted clearance, raking her studs down the leg of Marion Torrent after minimal contact with the ball.
Earlier, Nigeria beat South Korea 2-0 to move close to qualifying for the knockout stages of a World Cup for the first time in 20 years.
The Super Falcons’ Swedish coach, Thomas Dennerby, hailed forward Asisat Oshoala as "special" after she struck 15 minutes from the end with a superb burst and finish to seal the win.
An unfortunate own goal from South Korea’s Kim Do-yeon, who hooked a long ball back past onrushing goalkeeper Kim Min-jung, had put Nigeria ahead in the 29th minute.
Nigeria can now legitimately hope for a place in the last 16 regardless of what happens in their last group match against France thanks to the best third-placed teams going through.
Germany on course to avoid USA clash
In Wednesday’s other game, Germany brushed off the absence of injured star player Dzsenifer Marozsan to beat Spain 1-0 and take control of Group B, virtually assuring themselves of missing the rampant United States in the last 16.
Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Sara Daebritz earned the Germans a hard-fought three points by pouncing three minutes before the break as Spain’s defence failed to clear the goal area.
Martina Voss-Tecklenburg's side, who will be without Lyon playmaker Marozsan for at least another match after she broke her toe in their opening 1-0 win over China, are almost assured of topping the group.
They are three points clear of Spain and are one better on goal difference, meaning they need a point against bottom side South Africa on Monday to be completely sure of coming out on top.
That would leave whoever finished second below them to face the Americans, who were in ominous form on Tuesday as they racked up a record 13-0 win over Thailand, while the Germans would take on one of the four best third-placed finishers who will make the last 16.
Asked by reporters if watching the USA dismantle Thailand was "extra motivation" for her side to win the group, a smiling Voss-Tecklenburg said "both teams knew they didn't want play the winners of Group F".
Second-placed Spain, who were wasteful despite dominating possession and will rue Nahikari Garcia somehow slicing wide when clean through in the 14th minute, should still qualify but face a trickier test against China on Monday.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)