The first round of the Women’s World Cup finished yesterday, and overall it was an exciting, intriguing start to the tournament. While all six seeded teams won their groups, many of the newcomers showed impressive flashes of play, there were a few upsets and semi-upsets, and there were very few uninteresting (i.e., blowout) matches. None of the six first-place teams looked dominant, and the two who won all three of their matches, Japan and Brazil, had difficulty scoring. This means that the knockout rounds should be wide open.
As far as the predictions in my post from 4 June, I got all six group winners correct and thirteen of the sixteen qualifiers for the second round correct (I missed Cameroon, Colombia, and the Netherlands), though not necessarily the order in which they would finish. Here are my predictions for the knockout rounds.
Round of Sixteen
Cameroon over China. China have not been impressive and needed several key calls to go their way in order to advance. Cameroon have played confidently and have become crowd darlings. If they play the way they did in the second half versus Switzerland they should have no trouble winning this match, and if they do, they will become the first African team to ever win a game in the knockout rounds of the Women’s World Cup.
U.S. over Colombia. Colombia pulled the upset of the tournament with their defeat of France, so they are a dangerous team. But they were lucky to draw against Mexico and got thoroughly outplayed against England. The U.S. got better in each match in the Group of Death, and should be able to exploit the weaknesses in Colombia’s defense like England did. In my previous predictions I said that the U.S. would win the tournament, and I still feel confident in that prediction, in part because the U.S. have been getting sharper in each match and in part because none of the other favorites were especially impressive.
Germany over Sweden. This is the second round prediction that I feel least confident about. Germany are playing better right now, but they had a much easier group, whereas Sweden nearly got killed in the Group of Death, winning the last third-place qualification spot via goal difference over Thailand. The fact that Sweden are already used to playing difficult matches may work in their favor. If they score first, how will Germany respond? I would not be surprised if this match went to penalties.
France over South Korea. France did a good job of bouncing back in their last match against Mexico after losing to Colombia. South Korea’s defense did enough to get them though a very tricky, evenly-matched group, but won’t be enough against France’s firepower.
Australia over Brazil. The Brazilians have been struggling to score, while Australia were very impressive in the Group of Death (one could argue they deserved a draw against the U.S.) and are playing with confidence. As with Germany-Sweden, the first goal in this match will be especially crucial.
Japan over the Netherlands. Japan have been quietly getting their business taken care of, though they also had some difficulty scoring. The Netherlands squeaked through to the second round with a late goal versus Canada, and have too many defensive weaknesses to pose a real threat to the defending champions.
Norway over England. While the English were impressive in their last group match and it was difficult to get a sense of Norway’s strength because they played in the easiest group, the teams’ previous histories in the tournament weigh heavily in this prediction. England have never won a game in the knockout rounds and have a reputation of not being able to win big matches whereas Norway are former champions. The teams are evenly enough matched that this kind of intangible could make the difference.
Canada over Switzerland. The hosts have been inconsistent, but so have the Swiss. The two teams are pretty evenly matched, but Canada’s experience and home-field advantage will give them the victory.
U.S. over Cameroon. This should be relatively easy for the U.S., but do keep in mind the 1990 quarterfinal in the men’s tournament between England and Cameroon (a match that England manager Bobby Robson infamously told his players would be “a bye;” highlights of the match are here) where the Indomitable Lions nearly pulled off the upset.
France over Germany. This is another matchup that could easily go to penalties. I have the Germans losing because they will be exhausted from their victory over the Swedes.
Japan over Australia. These last two predictions in the “easy” side of the bracket are both toss-ups. In this match, I have Japan’s experience being the deciding factor over Australia’s friskier form, but again, penalties loom large.
Norway over Canada. Norway’s pedigree tops Canada’s home-field advantage. At some point, this home-field advantage will morph into an unhealthy feeling of pressure for the Canadians.
U.S. over France. The U.S. will have the large majority of the fan support (including myself!), but it’s worth noting that this match will be played in Montreal, so France might have decent support as well. The winner of this match will win the tournament. France isn’t quite ready to win the big one just yet, but it is fair to go ahead and pencil them in as favorites when they host the tournament in 2019.
Norway over Japan. I don’t think Japan are good enough to get to the final again, and Norway will be playing with nothing to lose.
As I’ve said, the U.S. will win the final. Japan will beat the French for third place.