The Group Stage of the Women’s World Cup is over and the Round of 16 is set. The Group Stage featured some difficult goodbyes and some surprise teams going onto the Round of 16. Italy won Group D, topping both Brazil and Australia in the standings. They will go on to face China in the Round of 16. Nigeria and Cameroon both qualified for the Round of 16, marking the first time two African teams will compete in the Round of 16 in a Women’s World Cup. There are lots of great matchups coming up, but here are the top three games I think you should watch.
France vs. Brazil: Sunday, June 23rd at 3:00pm ET
All Americans should be keeping their eye on France, since the two teams are currently on course to meet in the Quarterfinals. I think France will beat Brazil, but this is definitely going to be an interesting game. Coming into this tournament, Brazil had lost their past nine games. But they seem to have found some of their lost rhythm in the Group Stage, defeating Jamaica and Italy. They only lost to Australia because of a Monica own-goal.
While Barbara is a fantastic keeper, I don’t think Brazil’s backline will be able to stand up to the likes of Diani, Le Sommer, and Thiney. If France can win the battles in the midfield and maintain possession, they should be able to comfortably control this match. But I also think Brazil will be able to test France’s backline. Don’t be surprised if Cristiane, Marta, or Debinha puts one past Sarah Bouhaddi. If they can disrupt France’s possession, they could make this an interesting match.
There weren’t very high expectations for Brazil coming into this tournament. But if there is one thing they have shown in the Group Stage, it’s that they won’t be packing their bags without a fight. This might be the last World Cup match for Marta, Cristiane, Formiga, and other Brazilian stars. They will definitely make it count.
Sweden vs. Canada: June 24th at 3:00pm ET
Sweden and Canada both finished in second place in their groups, meaning they will go head-to-head in the Round of 16. Sweden finished their group with six points, earning wins over Thailand and Chile, but losing 2-0 to the United States. Canada also finished with six points, earning wins over Cameroon and New Zealand, but ultimately losing 2-1 in their final match against the Netherlands.
These are two of the most equally matched teams in the Round of 16. Sweden had an easier group than Canada, but also earned more commanding wins and scored more goals. Canada struggled in their first match against Cameroon, but certainly went toe-to-toe with the Netherlands and earned a convincing 2-0 win over New Zealand. Canada might have a slight edge over Sweden in the attack, especially considering the motivation of Christine Sinclair, but Sweden’s attack will surely test the Canadian backline as well.
Losing both Christine Sinclair and Marta in the Round of 16 would be sad. I think Canada has a slight edge over Sweden, but this game could genuinely go either way. Don’t be surprised if this one goes to extra time or even penalties.
Netherlands vs. Japan: June 25th at 3:00pm ET
The Netherlands vs. Japan feels like the old guard versus the new. The Netherlands won all three matches in their group: 1-0 over New Zealand, 3-1 over Cameroon, and 2-1 over Canada. Japan, on the other hand, struggled a bit more in Group D: they played to a scoreless draw against Argentina, beat Scotland 2-1, and lost 2-0 to England. They have featured in the last two Women’s World Cup finals, winning it all in 2011. Could they really be packing their bags in the Round of 16?
I think the Netherlands will likely win this match. Their first match against New Zealand was a bit shaky, but they seem to have settled into this tournament. They’ve scored 6 goals in three games compared to just two from Japan. Scoring on the Japanese defense won’t be easy, but if the last fifteen minutes of their match against England is any indication, I think the Japanese will really struggle to get that final touch against the Dutch.
In these three matches, I think France and the Netherlands have a clear advantage. But all six of these teams will have to be 100% locked in. Any slip up will be capitalized on by their opponents, and even one bad move could send any of these teams home.