So, the quarter-finals are upon us and it appears to be a European spectacle with the exception of World Cup holders the United States. Who are favourites to make it through to the next round and what key players should we look out for in these upcoming fixtures? Chelsea Harper is here to guide you through all four fixtures.
Norway vs England
After that controversial game against Cameroon, the Lionesses are set to face Norway on Thursday evening in the first game of the quarter-finals. In 2015, the two sides met in the round of 16 where England claimed a 2-1 victory. Since then the Lionesses have continued to progress, but after Norway’s promising run in this year’s competition, this game is expected to be extremely close.
In terms of Norway’s strengths, Martin Sjögren’s squad pose a real threat up front. Isabell Herlovsen scored the opener in the Norwegians win over the Matildas, but it was Barcelona’s new signing Caroline Graham Hansen who really made an impact during the game. With an impressive 11 shots on target and a superb penalty in the shootout, she could be a real problem for England’s defence – especially with doubts surrounding Steph Houghton and Millie Bright in Thursday’s line-up.Embed from Getty Images
As for the Lionesses, their inconsistency and their tendency to drop back could be a major fault for them against this Norwegian side. That being said, let’s not undermine Phil Neville’s squad. So far, they’ve only conceded one goal in the competition and have won every game up to this point.
France vs United States
Excluding the Lionesses of course, this match is the one we’re most excited for. Following shaky games from both sides in the round of 16, the reigning champions and hosts both have a lot to prove in their quarter-final match on Friday.
Despite going up against a third-place team after topping their own group, France had their work cut out for them as they battled a passionate and highly talented Brazilian side. France were only able to net the winner in a 2-1 victory in extra-time. Since their opening match, Diacre’s side haven’t been able to show off their full potential and it appears the pressure has finally caught up with them.Embed from Getty Images
One of the biggest shocks of the last round was USA’s game against Spain. Firm favourites from the offset, the US were given their biggest test against this Spanish side who were wrongly underestimated. The US who won 2-1 after they were awarded two penalties and conceded their first goal of the competition – to an absolute stunner by Jennifer Hermoso – were finally exposed and their defence often appeared sloppy.
Although France may be determined to win a World Cup on home soil, the US’ confidence should guarantee them the win.
Italy vs Netherlands
Dark horses Italy have continued to exceed expectations and impress in this year’s competition. Their 2-0 win against China guaranteed a first quarter-final since 1991, following a 20-year absence from the tournament. Italy’s key player during the game and one that would prove crucial in their upcoming match against the Netherlands is forward Valentina Giacinti who appeared lively and hungry for success – giving Italy an early lead after her first attempt was disallowed for offside.
Meanwhile, Netherlands’ win over Japan was perhaps the least convincing victory in the last round. The Dutch team secured their quarter-final spot after a last-minute penalty was awarded, following a harsh decision that went against Japan as a shot by Vivianne Miedema hit the arm of Saki Kumagai. Despite Lieke Martens scoring both goals, Danielle van de Donk’s performance also makes her one to watch in their upcoming game against Italy alongside Arsenal’s Vivianne Miedema.
Although Holland undoubtedly have a wide array of talent in their ranks, Italy have a good shot against them in the quarter-finals – and the confidence they have gained over their recent victories could give them exactly what they need to reach the semis.
Germany vs Sweden
Germany are proving to be the strong team we always anticipated would turn up at this tournament. Ranked second in the world, the Germans are yet to concede a goal in the competition and have won every game up to this point with big wins over South Africa and Nigeria. The German captain Alexandra Popp has proved vital, scoring in her 100th appearance against Nigeria. She is expected to lead her team to victory yet again against Sweden.
Sweden managed a 1-0 win against the highly ranked Canadian side with Hedvig Lindahl making a crucial save against a Janine Beckie penalty. Stina Blackstenius scored the only goal in the game – and against Germany, her and Kosovare Asllani are expected to be the prime stars of the show.
However, Germany’s World Cup experience and strong team means they remain firm favourites and Sweden will need something special to defeat them.
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