Surprise winners, shock losers in 32-team World Cup group stage

After Jamaica clinched a spot in the last 16 of the Women’s World Cup at the expense of soccer giants Brazil on Wednesday, one reporter suggested it made the Reggae Girlz the “Cinderella team” of the tournament.

Jamaica coach Lorne Donaldson, who rolled around the Melbourne pitch in celebration of the scoreless draw that secured their passage to the knockout rounds for the first time, was not certain how suitable the analogy was.

“Cinderella wears a pretty dress, so I don’t know,” he laughed.

“We’re going to take it one game at a time. If we can wear a pretty dress, we’ll put it on.”

There were plenty of other fairytales in the first two weeks of the tournament with Morocco, South Africa, Norway and co-hosts Australia the big group-stage winners.

FIFA Women’s World Cup Australia and New Zealand 2023 - Group F - Jamaica v Brazil

FIFA Women’s World Cup Australia and New Zealand 2023 – Group F – Jamaica v Brazil – Melbourne Rectangular Stadium, Melbourne, Australia – August 2, 2023 Jamaica’s Deneisha Blackwood celebrates with teammates after the match as Jamaica qualify for the knockout stages.

The losers? Germany, Brazil, Canada, the other co-hosts New Zealand, and China.

Morocco were expected to make an early exit as the 72nd-ranked team, but bounced back from a 6-0 defeat in their opener to become the lowest ranked side ever to make the knockout round with their 1-0 win over Colombia in Perth. Morocco deserved to move on to the next round with such focus shown in the match.

They still needed South Korea to prevent a Germany win in Thursday’s other group match and had a few nervous moments while waiting for the final whistle in Brisbane.

“We were praying, waiting for the result to come out of the Germany and Korea game,” said midfielder Anissa Lahmari. “It was a draw and afterwards it was a complete explosion of joy.”

The stunning upsets sent twice German champions packing in their first exit from the group stage in nine editions of the World Cup.

Jamaican joy on Wednesday also meant despair for Brazil, who exited from the group stage for the first time since 1995, following Canada’s premature exit at the hands of co-hosts Australia on Monday.

That left the tournament without two of the game’s greatest players with Brazil striker Marta and Canada’s talisman captain Christine Sinclair, who both bowed out of their sixth World Cups in the worst possible way.


Australia’s chances were on a razor’s edge before they crushed Canada 4-0 without needing injured forward Sam Kerr, their leading scorer. Their advancement was a huge shot in the arm for the tournament after the loss of New Zealand.

Matildas coach Tony Gustavsson said in a post-match interview that he cried “tears of joy” after the match.

Their courageous win made Canada the first reigning Olympic champions to get knocked out in the group stage and the image of shell-shocked keeper Kailen Sheridan in tears before the final whistle captured Canada’s collective heartache.

Revived Norway were a big group stage winner, brushing off a turbulent two weeks to squeeze into the knockout rounds on goal difference over New Zealand.

Winger Caroline Graham Hansen had apologised earlier in the tournament for an angry outburst in a TV interview after coach Hege Riise dropped her to the bench.

Norway’s advancement sealed New Zealand’s fate, despite the Football Ferns having edged the Norwegians 1-0 for their first win at a World Cup at the tournament’s opening match.

The game itself was a big winner in the island nation of five million people, with 42,958 fans squeezing into Auckland’s historic Eden Park for Portugal versus the U.S., the largest crowd for a soccer match in New Zealand.

Defending champions the United States did not lose a game in the group stage but scraping through to the knockout rounds in second place with a nervy 0-0 draw against debutants Portugal was hardly a “win” for a team used to dominating.

South Africa are not used to dominating outside their own continent and the nation erupted in celebration after the Banyana Banyana knocked out Italy, quarter-finalists four years ago, to progress with their first ever World Cup win.

“You have lifted our spirits and made us immensely proud,” South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said on the messaging platform X, formerly known as Twitter. “Bring the cup home!”

China’s Steel Roses, once titans of women’s soccer with silver medals from the 1996 Olympics and 1999 World Cup, were shock losers in the group stage, bowing out in a 6-1 thumping by England.

Shui Qingxia, who coached the team to the Asian title last year, vowed China would regain its status after clearly falling behind the likes of England.

“We can see there’s a huge gap between us and the European teams,” Shui said.

“We are not going to see this gap and do nothing, but rather we will do things like transition and balance and physicality.”

Reporting by Lori Ewing; Editing by Michael Perry

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