They started with 24 nations, the most to ever contest the Women’s World Cup. Eight of those countries had never competed at the highest level of the women’s game, and at times it showed.
First timers Ivory Coast and Ecuador took some early lumps, but made a marked improvement before heading home after the group stage. World number one Germany humbled the Ivory Coast 10-0, while Ecuador took took it on the chin by scores of 6-0 to fellow debutants Cameroon, and 10-1 to Switzerland in its first two games.
Cote D’Ivoire were better in losing 3-2 to Thailand, another first timer, and then gave well established Norway a contest in losing 3-1. For their part, Ecuador salvaged a bit of its bruised pride by finishing up with 1-0 loss to defending World Champions Japan.
Three of the newcomers, Cameroon, the Netherlands and Switzerland advanced to the round of 16, although none of the three could extend its World Cup dream any further.
Which brings us to the quarterfinals, where only Brazil are missing from the pre-tournament list of likely winners.
Australia surprised Brazil in the round of 16 as time begins to run out on 29 year superstar Marta’s World Cup dream. Australia, China and England stand as the long shots of the group, which includes two time winners Germany and the United States, defending champions Japan, host nation Canada and highly touted France.
Here are the matchups.
Friday, June 26 at 4:00pm, ET
Olympic Stadium- Montreal
Germany vs. France:
This is the big one, the one we’ve all been anticipating since the draw was laid out, and now it is here.
Two teams capable of putting on a show, featuring the top four goal scorers at this World Cup. Germany’s Anja Mittag and Celia Sasic have scored five goals each to share the lead in the Golden Boot race.
Eugenie Le Sommer and Marie Laure Delia have scored three apiece for France along with Australia’s Kyah Simon. So there will plenty of firepower on display at the Olympic Stadium this evening.
And there is this. While the U.S. has been labeled as boring for a reliance on the long ball, Germany and France have been embraced by purists as playing “the right way.”
It is all highly subjective, of course but while Jill Ellis has been roundly criticized for the U.S. tendency to grind out results, Germany’s Silvia Neid has been praised for her style and more substantively, her team’s style.
France coach Philippe Bergeroo has kept a lower profile, but his team has earned plaudits for its free flowing play.
For all of its talent France has never won this tournament, has never won an Olympics. For some years Les Bleus has been the team that couldn’t close the deal. Can they beat the mighty Germans today? Yes, but they probably won’t.
Germany look to be on course to become the first country to win the Women’s World Cup three times. From goalkeeper Nadine Angerer to creative sparks Dzsenifer Marozsan and Renate Laudehr and up to that potent strike force, the Germans have it all covered and should be too much even for this talented French side.
Friday, June 26 at 7:30pm, ET
Lansdowne Stadium, Ottawa
China vs U.S.A.
Seldom are the U.S. WNT considered the supporting act and the placement of this game as tonight’s nightcap indicates that red white and blue, actually the white, black and neon yellow, are still the big television draw.
So let the purists have Germany vs France, the main attraction is still Abby, Alex and company.
The question has become though, is this team good enough to carry the weight of those expectations, and the answer to date has not been promising.
The Americans are expected to win, and they are expected to win tonight against China. After failing to qualify for the 2011 World Cup China has been working to get back to top echelon of the women’s game.
China play a good possession based style and have talented players in two goal scorers Wang Shanshan and Lisi Wang, as well as the ever dangerous Peng Han.
The Americans will be without Megan Rapinoe and Lauren Holiday, two hugely important players. Rapinoe leads the U.S. with two goals and has been far and away the most creative player on Jill Ellis’ team. Morgan Brian will slot in for Holiday and Ellis can go with Heather O’Reilly or Christen Press in Rapinoe’s wide right spot.
Ellis may have tipped her hand when she used Press, a natural forward, to replace Pinoe for the final 15 minutes against Colombia.
Either way the U.S. still has enough to get past China. If they do Germany or France will be waiting, but let’s not get ahead ourselves just yet.
Saturday, June 27 at 4pm, ET
Commonwealth Stadium, Edmonton
Defending champions Japan remain the only perfect team at this World Cup, winning all four of their matches so far. The Nadeshiko has won twice by a 1-0 scoreline, and twice 2-1.
The legendary Honore Sawa is playing on her sixth World Cup, a record she shares with Brazil’s Formiga. Sawa is a complementary player now, the torch has been passed to captain Aya Miyama.
The midfielder exemplifies Japan’s skillful passing, possession game.
Australia survived the group most commonly labeled as Canada 2015’s Group of Death with a 2-0 win over then high flying Nigeria and a 1-1 draw with Sweden earning a trip to the round of 16 where the Matildas shocked Brazil.
Kyah Simon scored the game winner against Brazil but the Aussies had heroes all over the pitch. Lydia Williams earned her shutout and is a quality keeper. Eloise Kellond-Knight won Player of the Game honors for her defensive effort against Matra et al. Caitlin Foord, Steph Cately and Samantha Kerr are just a few of Australia’s quality players, and then there is De Vanna.
Lisa De Vanna scored four goal at the 2011 World Cup in Germany, four more at China 2007 and has two so far in Canada.
This Australian team plays with the gritty style all its countries teams are noted for, allied with no small skill. This game will be close, but I think the defending World Champions will find a way of making it through to the semifinals.
Saturday, June 27 at 7:30pm, ET
BC Place, Vancouver
England vs. Canada
So far this World Cup has not been the hoped for coming out party the Canadian women’s soccer team had hoped for with Christine Sinclair and company having failed to reach the expected standard.
With a nation behind them Canada has gutted out results, advancing from group play with one win and two draws. The home team then got past a pesky Switzerland to set this date with England.
Canada’s English coach John Herdman likes to tinker and when he finally returned Josee Belanger to forward from fullback, it made the difference. Belanger scored the only goal in the round of 16 game with Switzerland and with Sinclair and Melissa Tancredi forms a potentially dangerous forward line.
England opened its World Cup by playing well in a loss to highly touted France, before moving on with 2-1 wins over Mexico and Colombia.
Like Canada’s Erin McLeod, Karen Bardsley is solid in goal and England has a solid defense led by captain Steph Houghton.
England has players capable of worrying the hosts in Karen Carney, Fran Kirby and Fara Williams and with the pressure firmly Canada, England could spring a surprise.
And that is the call here. The expectations will be too much for the home team and England will squeak out a narrow win over Canada.