AUGSBURG, Germany — Germany and England proved that timing is key at the women’s World Cup, winning matches when it counts to top their respective groups.
With its greatest player benched because of to poor form, Germany didn’t miss Birgit Prinz a bit. Two first-half headers compensated for some poor second-half defending to give the hosts a 4-2 win over France to win Group A. Celia Okoyino da Mbabi sealed the match with a fine volley late in the game.
“We showed class,” Germany coach Silvia Neid said. “Now we are really into this tournament. The players showed what they are made of.”
So did the Englishwomen.
The team staved off the threat of early elimination with a confidence-boosting 2-0 win over Japan. The victory gave it the top spot in Group B and produced a stunning goal for the World Cup highlights reel, a precise 21-yard lob from Ellen White.
The results set up Germany against Japan in Wolfsburg and England against France in Leverkusen on Saturday. Groups C and D will be decided Wednesday, with Brazil, Sweden and the United States already through. The Americans face the Swedes for first place in Group C.
Also Tuesday, New Zealand tied Mexico 2-2, and Nigeria beat Canada 1-0.
The day had the first red card, the first penalty kick, even the first blackout. But more importantly, the biggest benching of the tournament so far.
Prinz is the competition’s all-time leading scorer with 14 goals and was expected to score in her fifth straight World Cup. After Germany’s best performance so far, it was unclear whether Prinz’s sullen demeanor would light up again for the next two weeks.
After two one-goal wins, Germany was second behind France and badly needed a win, not only to take the group, but also to give the team and a nation of fans confidence again.
Four goals did so, even though a weakness on corner kicks hurt Germany.
Instead of Prinz, it was Inka Grings who inspired the team with two goals.
One came on a penalty kick after France goalkeeper Berangere Sapowicz was sent off for swiping Fatmire Bajramaj off her feet, the first red card in 10 days of competition.
The score of 3-1 and 11 against 10 should have had Germany coasting. But France came back on Laura Georges’ header and even came close to equalizing before da Mbabi sent the 45,867 fans at the sold-out Borussia Park celebrating into the night.
“Now we want to build on this,” said da Mbabi.
England understands the surging feeling.
After a lackluster first two games, England was spectacular in its decisive match. After 15 minutes, Sophie Bradley sent a deep ball from her half of the field toward Ellen White, who spotted goalkeeper Ayumi Kaihori off her line. She let the ball bounce once and lobbed it over Kaihori with exquisite precision from 21 yards.
In the 66th, England came up with a second pretty goal when Rachel Unitt shrugged off several defenders to set up substitute forward Rachel Yankey for a delicate chip and the insurance score.
“They were both tremendous finishes,” said midfield standout Jill Scott.
With the tournament on the line, England was aggressive and played with passion throughout, while Japan rarely thrilled the crowd of 20,777.
“We managed to startle them somewhat,” said England coach Hope Powell, who saw her team’s “scruffy” attitude pay off with exhilarating goals.
New Zealand came back with two late goals to draw with Mexico. Both were eliminated.
In the worst miscue of the night, the floodlights went out in Dresden for a dozen minutes. When they came back, Perpetua Nkwocha gave Nigeria the win over Canada in a match between two teams already eliminated.