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Morocco Advances and Germany Exits in Wild Finale to the Group Stage at the Women’s World Cup

AP Photo/Gary Day
Players of Morocco celebrate after the Women’s World Cup Group H soccer match between Morocco and Colombia in Perth, Australia, Thursday, Aug. 3, 2023.

SYDNEY (AP) — In a wild finale to the group stage of the Women’s World Cup, two-time champion Germany was eliminated on Thursday and the second lowest-ranked team in the tournament, Morocco, advanced to the knockout stage.

Colombia also advanced as Group H winner to round off a slew of upsets in the opening weeks of the competition being held in Australia and New Zealand.

A day earlier, Jamaica eliminated another favorite, Brazil, to advance to the round of 16, while South Africa is also through to the next stage after its stoppage-time winner against Italy.

But Germany’s early exit after a 1-1 draw with South Korea stands out as the biggest shock in a tournament full of surprises.

I can’t explain what happened today. … The disappointment is huge, I can’t put it into words, Germany midfielder Lena Oberdorf said.

Ranked No. 2 by FIFA, the runner-up at last year’s European Championship was one of the favorites to win the World Cup. And after opening the tournament with a 6-0 rout of Morocco, the Germans looked certain to cruise through a group that included Colombia and South Korea.

But a 2-1 loss against Colombia, followed by the draw against South Korea, saw it fail to advance from the group stage at a Women’s World Cup for the first time. Cho So-hyun fired South Korea ahead in the sixth minute and despite Alexandra Popp’s equalizer in the 42nd, Germany couldn’t find a winner.

Morocco advanced as runner-up in Group H after back-to-back 1-0 wins against South Korea and Colombia.

Germany’s failure has echoes of the men’s team, which has been eliminated in the group stage at each of the last two editions of the men’s World Cup.

Some German players draped coats over their heads in a bid to hide their faces as they left the field in Brisbane on Thursday. Popp, Germany’s captain, had tears in her eyes. She exits the tournament despite being the joint leading scorer on four goals with Japan’s Hinata Miyazawa,

Other players looked into the distance in disbelief.

Those scenes were in sharp contrast to the joy witnessed in Perth after Morocco, ranked 72nd, secured a place in the round of 16 on its debut at the World Cup.

Only Zambia, No. 77, came into the tournament with a lower ranking than Morocco, which had already made history by becoming the first Arab team to register a win at the Women’s World Cup by beating South Korea in its second game.

The Moroccans quickly followed that up with another victory against Colombia to advance. Anissa Lahmari’s penalty in first-half stoppage time was the only goal of the game.

Morocco also made history at the men’s World Cup in Qatar last year by becoming the first African team to advance to the semifinals.

The women’s team will face France in the round of 16, while Colombia takes on a Jamaica team that has also upset the odds.

After holding France to a 0-0 draw in its opening game, Jamaica also shut out Brazil on Wednesday to leave the Copa America champion stunned.

This shows, you can see with your very own eyes, that the women’s game is kicking things up a notch, France coach Herve Renard said in response to that result.

The established nations, it seems, will have to get used to a leveling of the playing field in women’s soccer.

Two-time defending champion United States came within the width of the post from going out in the group stage against Portugal. Olympic champion Canada was eliminated after finishing third in Group B.

The latest edition of the Women’s World Cup is its biggest yet after the tournament was expanded to 32 teams, up from 24.

There were fears that would dilute the quality and lead to more one-sided games.

But while there have been routs in the group stages, it has been notable how many underdogs have upset or pushed the favored nations.

There is also no longer the escape route of third-placed teams advancing to the knockout stage, with only the top two in each group qualifying.