Argentina will have to wait at least one more game to see if it can finally claim its first-ever World Cup victory. The Albiceleste was eager to get three points against the team that, at least in theory, was the weakest opponent in Group G, but instead had to claw back to get a draw against South Africa’s, and now needs some luck to make it past the group stage.
The team led by Germán Portanova was looking to leave its tricky debut against Italy behind, when a late goal by veteran forward Cristiania Girelli denied them of a well-earned draw.
From the start, two very different game plans clashed on the pitch, with Argentina looking to control and move the ball around, while South Africa waited, eager to pounce on the counter with the speed of its forwards. The first goal came 30 minutes into the game, when South Africa’s Hildah Magaia narrowly escaped the off-side trap set by Argentina to serve it on a platter to Linda Motlhalo. After being disallowed on first call, it took a VAR check to confirm Magaia was just a few steps on-side.
Moving into the second half, and just when Argentina was looking closer to score, South Africa hit again. At the 20-minute mark, defender Aldana Cometti failed to clear the ball from a recovery and was dispossessed by striker Jermaine Seoposenwe on the edge of the Albiceleste box, who then put an easy cross for striker Thembi Kgatlana to make it two-nil.
It was at that point, however, that Argentina showed its best. Backed by a large number of fans who filled the stands of the Forsyth Barr Stadium – also known as “The Glasshouse” for its unique glass roof –, the Albiceleste started to gain control of the match.
Striker Yamila Rodríguez, who had replaced Paulina Gramaglia, gave the team some attacking flair and dynamism. It seemed like luck wasn’t on Argentina’s side after a shot by Érica Lonigro was cleared on the goal line by a South African defender. However, just moments later a clearance by South Africa fell into the feet of United States-born midfielder Sophia Braun, who struck a beautiful shot from outside the box to give Argentina a fighting chance.
“I love Argentina’s jersey, I didn’t want to wear another one, and I am grateful to those who rooted for us without stopping, let’s hope we give them another satisfaction,” Braun, who plays for Argentina given that her mother was born there, said after the game. “We never gave up and we played our hearts out. We wanted to win but we are happy with this comeback,” she added.
With a foot back into the game, Argentina kept pushing and got its just rewards when Rodríguez put a cross from the left that midfielder Romina Núñez headed for the draw. “I was very euphoric when I was on the bench, we had situations that were almost a goal, and I wanted to come in,” explained the midfielder after the game. “We went out to leave it all on the pitch, we had to look for the result. It was not possible, but we will continue trying until the end.”
Argentina had chances to make its comeback all the way to a first World Cup game, but South Africa smartly cooled the game down and the Albiceleste had to settle for a hard-earned draw.
Now, the Argentine team has to wait for results from another group game, the clash between Sweden and Italy, both of them with three points. In order to have any chances to make it to the next round, Argentina not only needs to beat Sweden, its final group rival, but also needs a few other results to go their way. Regardless of who wins the match between Sweden and Italy, the Argentines will need South Africa to either draw a tie against Italy or beat them by fewer goals than the Albiceleste score against Sweden.
Sweden will play Italy on July 29, at 7:30 p.m. local time, 4:30 a.m. Argentina time. The final group G games, Argentina v. Sweden and South Africa v. Italy, will be played simultaneously, on August 2 at 7:00 p.m. local time, 4:00 a.m. Argentina time.