And then there were eight.
Now we are getting down to the business end of the FIFA Women’s World Cup, with only eight nations left to battle it out. A predominantly European last eight to say the least, with only the United States from outside Europe still in the tournament.
A tournament that has been filled with interesting moments so far, from the USA’s record 13-0 thrashing of Thailand in the group stage; Scotland’s tactical failures in their group to Cameroon refusing to play over a VAR controversy against England, what will the rest of the World Cup have in store for us? That’s why I will be going through each of the Quarter Final matches as a preview to what we may see, as well as some predictions on the outcomes of each game.
Game 1: Norway v England – Thursday 27th June 2019 – 8pm (GMT)
A match up pitting the 1995 World Champions Norway against hopeful champions England could give us an indication of how far the Lionesses have progressed from the last World Cup. Yes, they did avenge their defeat to the Japanese from 2015 in the group stage, but a quarter final is a different level of pressure now.
Norway are one of only four nations to have lifted the World Cup – USA; Germany and Japan – so this game is by no means an easy ride for England. A nation who professionally made it through their group with wins over Nigeria and South Korea, before a penalty shoot-out win over Australia in the Last-16, suggests a side who dig in for results when needed. Even more so, considering the last time these two nations met, Norway edged the contest 1-0 in 2017.
England will be concerned by injury worries to both their centre backs, Steph Houghton (injury from a late challenge v Cameroon) and Millie Bright (illness). Houghton is said to be a major doubt against Norway, according to head coach Phil Neville, while Bright is “likely to be fit”, but will come down to last minute fitness checks before the game.
Prediction: Norway 1-2 England. Call me biased (I live in England), but I believe this will be a close contest between two nations who know each other very well (Norway have won 12 of 16 games v England in their history), but England appear to be a team who are avenging their ghosts of the last World Cup. Fitness could be key here, as Norway were pushed for 120 minutes against Australia, while England have had an extra day of rest and preparation.
Game 2: France v USA – Friday 28th June 2019 – 8pm (GMT)
The World Cup hosts versus the Three time World Champions. Yep, this game could steal the quarter finals, especially for the neutrals. A country with previous history for performing well at tournaments on home soil (the men’s team anyway) versus a nation looking to repeat their triumph of 2015.
Considering the pressure and huge task faced ahead of them, the French squad have kept out all media and fans to focus hard on USA for Friday. Not hard to see why, considering America dominated their group (including THAT 13-0 thrashing of poor Thailand), scoring a whooping 18 goals over the three games. France also dominated their group, with three wins out of three, scoring a moderate seven goals in the process.
Both nations however, were tested in their Last-16 ties, with France needing extra time to see off Brazil 2-1. Meanwhile, America were sloppy against Spain, but two Megan Rapinoe penalties saw off Spain 2-1 eventually.
Prediction: France 1-3 USA. Despite home advantage for France, the USA are a nation who thrive on big games in women’s football (sorry – soccer to them). Even USA midfielder, Rapinoe, hopes the game is “wild and crazy”, suggesting the team is up for a fiery encounter. Expect goals and the USA to book a semi-final showdown, potentially with England. Now THAT’S going to be wild!
Game 3: Italy v Netherlands – Saturday 29th June 2019 – 2pm (GMT)
A match between two nations with not much history at Women’s World Cups, in stark contrast to the history of their male counterparts: Italy are making their first appearance at a women’s finals in 20 years, whereas Holland only appeared at the finals for the first time in 2015.
Regardless of that, one of these sides will make history, as the winner will appear in the semi-finals for the first time, with a match against Sweden or former World Champions, Germany, awaiting them. Italy made good work of China 2-0 in their Last-16 tie, while Netherlands (I’ll stick with this name, as its their official country name) needed a last minute penalty by Martens to advance past previous World Champions Japan.
Prediction: Italy 0-2 Netherlands. Considering Netherlands are the reigning European Champions (its only on the world stage they do not have much history.), they will be seen as the favourites for this one. The victory over Japan will have boosted their confidence even more, which could be the difference against an Italian side with nothing to lose, as much as their tournament journey has been impressive so far. It could be close, but I see the Netherlands edging this contest.
Game 4: Germany v Sweden – Saturday 29th June 2019 – 5:30pm (GMT)
For a nation who have two World Cup triumphs under their belt, the German’s had a very quiet start to their tournament with two 1-0 victories in the group stage, before demolishing South Africa 4-0 and then Nigeria 3-0 in the Last 16. Now they have woken up, Sweden appear to be next.
Or are they? Sweden have been quiet in this tournament, but considering their only blemish was a 2-0 defeat against the USA in the group stage, they may be seen as dark horses. They have good defensive strength, with right back Hanna Glas showing this against Canada in the Last 16, and experienced goalkeeper Hedvig Lindahl, who saved a penalty against Canada, providing a solid last line of defence.
Couple this with striker, Kosovare Asllani, who provided the assist for the only goal versus Canada, Sweden could pose a quiet threat to Germany and possibly avenge their World Cup Final defeat to the Germans in 2003 (yes, a generation ago, but the closest the Swedes have come to World Cup success).
Prediction: Germany 2-1 Sweden. Another close contest predicted here, but I feel the Germans will be too strong for the Swedes. They seem to be getting stronger as the tournament goes on and while Sweden will battle hard, I don’t see them going the full distance. The full 120 minutes, maybe, but nothing longer than that. Germany are fast becoming favourites for the tournament in my eyes.
The Quarter Finals begin tonight, with Norway v England getting us underway and we will start to see glimpses of who could win the World Cup from here. There may be some upsets, there may be some drama and fantastic goals to go with it, but this will be a great advertisement for the women’s game regardless.
And it will be fun to follow how this pans out.
Enjoy the games.