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Back the USWNT to beat South Africa to nil. They kept a clean sheet in a victory over the same opponents on Thursday and can do so again here.
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One down, one to go. The USWNT got the result they wanted in the first installment of this double-header, beating South Africa 3-0 on Thursday thanks to a brace from Lynn Williams and a goal from Trinity Rodman.
All three strikes came within a nine-minute period in the first half. The score was 0-0 at the half-hour mark and 3-0 with a few minutes to spare before the interval. There were plenty of positives for the interim manager Twila Kilgore to take.
The post-match headlines understandably centered on Julie Ertz’s farewell. The defender-cum-midfielder played her final match for the USWNT on Thursday after earning 123 caps over a 10-year international career.
Ertz, who was part of the USA squads that won the 2015 and 2019 World Cups, was the woman everyone wanted to speak to after the match.
"Really excited that we scored kind of right before [I was taken off]. It just felt like a really good ending to say bye," Ertz told TNT.
“I've always known I loved the sport, and that moment, I think...the 35 minutes left that I was blessed to have, I just could just feel it. I could feel how much I loved it. So I'm so grateful.”
It was hard to draw too many conclusions from the game from a USWNT perspective. Firstly, this was an international friendly rather than a competitive encounter. Secondly, the pace of the match slowed considerably in the second half given the USA were already 3-0 up.
The Women’s World Cup 2023 did not at all go to plan for the USA, and it will take more than home victories over lower-ranked sides in friendly games to show that the team has learnt from its shortcomings.
At the same time, the comfortable 3-0 win on Thursday showed that the USWNT are still one of the top teams on the planet regardless of their performance in Australia and New Zealand.
For South Africa, being able to play back-to-back matches against the USWNT is a huge bonus. Experiences like this can teach a team a lot about itself, as Banyana Banyana attempts to take the next step.
That is not to patronize Desiree Ellis’s side. They were one of the 16 best teams at the recent World Cup after upsetting the odds provided by the best online sportsbooks.
Thanks to a 2-2 draw with Argentina and 3-2 triumph over Italy, South Africa progressed to the knockout phase alongside Sweden. It was a fantastic achievement, not least because the national team only made its World Cup debut four years earlier in France.
Underdogs overachieving was a theme of the tournament in Oceania. Colombia won their group, beating Germany along the way, while Jamaica advanced to the round of 16 ahead of Brazil.
The success of those sides, as well as the likes of Nigeria, shows that the women’s game is becoming more globalized - and that can only be a good thing for the sport as a whole. Vietnam, Haiti, Panama and the Philippines did not get out of their groups, but merely qualifying was a fine accomplishment from those three nations.
South Africa are building towards the COSAFA Women's Championship, a tournament for southern African countries, which takes place later this year. They are the strong favorites to lift that trophy, although Zambia were triumphant in the last edition.
The pressure will be on South Africa at that competition, but that is not the case as they prepare to face the USWNT once more. Ellis, you feel, will be more concerned with her side’s performance than the final scoreline.
The indications are that the USWNT will take their time in deciding who will be the permanent replacement for Vlatko Andonovski, who left the job by mutual consent after the World Cup.
It is difficult to envisage Kilgore staying on beyond this interim period. She was part of Andonovski’s coaching staff and therefore does not offer a clean break from the previous regime. Most of her prior experience has been either as an assistant or with an underage team.
Still, Kilgore will be determined to make the most of this opportunity, and she could yet earn an extended stay as part of the national team setup.
It will be interesting to see how many changes in personnel she makes for this second friendly. There is a good blend of youth and experience within the current roster, and Kilgore may use this as an opportunity to take a look at some of the players who did not start on Thursday.
Either way, the USWNT should have too much quality for South Africa. The Banyana Banayan are an improving side but avoiding defeat by the USA on their own turf is a very tough task. A home win to nil is the way to go once again.
Greg Lea is a freelance soccer journalist from London. He is the former editor of The Set Pieces, and has contributed to the Guardian, FourFourTwo, and ESPN. A Crystal Palace fan, he is a long-time subscriber to the belief that it's the taking part that counts. Email: [email protected]More info on Greg Lea
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