Because my predictions for each team in the group stage went so well, it’s time to predict what will happen in the first round of knockouts…
Germany vs Nigeria
Scraping into the knock-out rounds for the first time since 1999, Nigeria could have had an easier opponent to face in the round of 16. Not having shown their best so far in France, Germany do still boast a 100% record from the group and will not have a better match to take a clear step up to ready themselves for the last three matches (should they progress).
However, the Super Eagles are not a team to be underestimated and arguably deserved more than three points from their three group games. My prediction is, this will be a better game on the pitch than it looks on paper, but Germany will be the first team to claim their spot in the last eight.
Norway vs Australia
Not even looking like they’d make it to the next round at points during their group phase, Australia’s drubbing of Jamaica helped them through as a second placed finisher, saving them an early meeting with France. Although the Matildas’ team largely looks shambolic and lost at sea under a coach that doesn’t know his players, Sam Kerr has been determined to drag her nation through this tournament.
Against Norway’s notoriously calamitous defence (which has been giving a good account of itself this month), it’s unlikely the Football Girls will be able to outscore Kerr unless Maria Thorisdottir and Maren Mjelde had the game of their decade.
England vs Cameroon
A last second goal was enough to ensure Cameroon progressed to the last 16, although the African nation could have had a kinder draw. Up against the team ranked third in the world, the third-place finishers from Group E, are likely to struggle.
Although I still think the Indomitable Lionesses will score against the [English] Lionesses, the conditioning and stature of the European side should shine through in Valenciennes.
France vs Brazil
Although most people have tipped France to go a long way at their home World Cup – with confidence booming after their opening match against South Korea – I have yet to be convinced. Similarly, despite the poor form (nine consecutive losses) Brazil came into the tournament with, the South American giants have impressed in fits and starts this summer, and easily could have finished second in their banana-skin group.
With people already talking about the quarter final in Paris as, “France vs USA”, I very much feel that Brazil will cause an upset – especially if the hot and cold Cristiane, shows up on the day – and it will be a Concacaf-CONMEBOL showdown on 28 June.
Spain vs USA
Having been in attendance in Alicante for the USA’s warm-up match against Spain, it’s hard to see how the possession loving Roja progress. The only team in the last 16 who’d never reached the knockouts prior to this tournament, the pressure could be a factor but largely, Spain’s complete inability to do anything with the ball when they have it will be telling.
Off colour whilst mid-way through their season when they clashed in January, Spain offered little as the pre-season USA had the better of it. Although Jill Ellis’ team were carried by Christen Press in the second half, I expect a complete 11-player performance in Reims.
Sweden vs Canada
Given a real test of their defensive strength against the Netherlands – who have yet to hit top gear – Canada sagged, not at the races on the day. Although the Canucks haven’t shown their best this tournament so far, neither have Sweden and their clash could easily be won by whoever finds their footing first.
Sweden are certain of progression if they can score and if Peter Gerhardsson gets his squad selection right, there is no question, the attack can out-muscle that of the Canadian defence.
Italy vs China
Maybe the unexpected winners from Group C, Italy have shown themselves to be a nation who knows how to play football and will revel in facing a third-place finisher. Although China aren’t a team to be taken lightly.
Coming into the tournament will sub-optimal preparations, the Steel Roses were up and down in the group phase but have shown more than enough quality over 270 minutes – not least in the first 45 against Germany – to suggest they will give Italy a run for their money. Having never failed to make it to the quarterfinals (although this is only the second tournament to have a round of 16), China will not to be in the mood to sully their record.
I’m expecting (or just hoping) for a good match in Montpellier, although I wonder how much pressure will factor for the Azzurre and whether or not China may have peaked in that first half against Germany… But I think Italy will clinch it.
Netherlands vs Japan
Having played each other on a relatively frequent basis over the last few years, both Japan and the Netherlands will go into the clash with a good enough knowledge of each other. The added spice to the fixture, that it’s a re-run of the Netherlands’ first ever knockout match (one Japan won 2-1 in Vancouver, four years ago).
With wildly different results every time they meet, and both teams yet to find their best form in France, it’s not a match to be missed and although it could go absolutely any way, I think the Dutch will edge it. Although not firing on all cylinders at all, should the Oranje progress, they’ll be back as close to home as possible, in Valenciennes, for the subsequent quarter-final.
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