Women’s World Cup power rankings: USA and France lead the way
Germany are cruising, and are favourites for final in non-USA/France side of the draw
Spain’s Nahikari Garcia with Becky Sauerbrunn and Abby Dahlkemper of the USA in their round-of-16 game in Reims, France. Photograph: Reuters/Bernadett Szabo
Spain have lifted the air of infallibility around the world champions, but the USA are the title holders for a reason. Spain gave them a very tough test, providing a blueprint for others hoping to breach a defence that hadn’t conceded since April. America had a huge helping of luck: watch the incident for Megan Rapinoe’s second penalty over and over and from every angle and it is still hard to tell whether there was contact, or enough contact, with Rose Lavelle to warrant the spot kick.
The hosts were unlucky to have Valérie Gauvin’s first “goal” ruled out by VAR in their last-16 meeting with Brazil given that the goalkeeper Barbara did not have the ball under control when Gauvin nodded it beyond her. The forward scored from a great Kadidiatou Diani cross, though. Thaisa’s equaliser showed France remain vulnerable, and Griedge Mbock’s goalline clearance was as magical as Amandine Henry’s winner. Now France face the USA. The winner has to be favourite to lift the trophy.
Germany are cruising, and doing so without the talismanic Lyon midfielder Dzsenifer Marozsan, who has a broken toe. They have scored nine and conceded none on their way to a quarter-final with Sweden. The depth of their squad is scary. They had their fair share of VAR help against Nigeria – the review upholding Alexandra Popp’s header despite an offside Svenja Huth potentially obstructing the view of keeper Chiamaka Nnadozie. Favourites for the final in the non-USA/France side of the draw.
It was hard to draw conclusions from England’s 3-0 defeat of Cameroon. In the second half Phil Neville’s defence looked particularly chaotic but given the crazy circumstances it is hard to analyse. A bottled penalty call and two possible red-card incidents could have seen the score become more emphatic but a marginal offside also saved England from a goal that would have blown the game open. Not really tested yet, and Norway will be tough.
If you have not fallen a little bit in love with the Italians you have not being paying enough attention. Valentina Giacinti and Aurora Galli’s goals against China showed Italy are much more than their rock-solid defence. A 20-year absence from the World Cup has been ended in style. Now they get to test their defence against some of the best forwards in the world when they face the Netherlands in Valenciennes, which will be a sea of orange. Italy, having topped their group above Australia and Brazil, have demonstrated anything is possible.
The brilliantly organised Norwegians deserved to progress at the expense of Australia. With Caroline Graham Hansen back after an injury scare, they dominated. Hansen had 11 of Norway’s 27 shots, the most by a player in any game thus far, and Sam Kerr was kept quiet by the Chelsea duo Maren Mjelde and Maria Thorisdottir. Only Elise Kellond-Knight’s clever goal direct from a cornertook the game to extra time and penalties. Norway will have a field day if England’s defence play as they did against Cameroon.
The European champions took on Asian champions Japan in possibly the most exciting tie of the last 16. A moment of individual magic from Lieke Martens was followed by a superb team goal from Japan. The 2011 winners should have finished off their European rivals as Mana Iwabuchi ran riot but they couldn’t quite make the breakthrough and a cruel handball decision gave the the Netherlands a fortunate 90th-minute penalty. The Dutch look great going forward but remain incredibly fragile at the back.
Former Chelsea goalkeeper Hedvig Lindahl was the star against Canada, pulling off a stunning save to deny Manchester City’s Janine Beckie a late leveller. Sweden had struggled to break down the Canada defence but Stina Blackstenius clipped the ball over Stephanie Labbé to ensure passage. Sweden have not really been tested beyond their 2-0 loss to the USA in Group F. Next up, though, are Germany in a rerun of the 2003 final.
A cruel exit as the influential Lyon player Saki Kumagai’s limp arm got in the way of Vivianne Miedema’s strike to give the Netherlands a penalty, and victory, in the 90th minute. Japan blooded youth in preparation for a home Olympics next year but having found some rhythm they will be frustrated to not have gone through. Very unlucky.
Like Japan they exit with their heads high. The extremely soft late penalty that gave the USA their win was a harsh blow for a resilient side who kept the Americans from scoring from open play. They exposed a weakness in the USA’s backline: press them hard and they will make mistakes. With La Liga Iberdrola pumping significant investment into the league this team will get better.
It is hard not to put Brazil top for Marta’s impassioned call to arms alone. Playing the hosts was always going to be tough for a side who lost nine consecutive games in the run-up, so to come from behind to force extra-time was impressive. Now though, as Marta said, they need a new generation, with this likely to be her, Cristiane’s and Formiga’s last World Cup.
The Matildas continued a poor run against European opposition. A slightly more assured defence helped limit Norway to a single goal, but they lacked fluency and service to Sam Kerr was limited. Penalty misses from Kerr and Emily Gielnik stood in stark contrast to Norway’s confident conversions. Never quite met expectations.
The big question was why didn’t Christine Sinclair take Canada’s penalty which could have levelled the score against Sweden with 20 minutes to play? Having had one saved by Lindahl in a pre-tournament friendly she asked Beckie to oblige. Lindahl saved and Sinclair, Canada’s record goalscorer, will likely always wonder what if. They struggled to score, not having enough support for Sinclair, and their defence could carry them only so far.
Unlucky to fall behind against Germany to another controversial VAR decision having had Wendie Renard’s missed penalty for France against them retaken after their keeper stepped marginally off the line. With Barcelona forward Asisat Oshoala injured and Ngozi Ebere and Rita Chikwelu suspended they had an uphill task from the off. Escaping a group with the financial muscle behind France, Norway and South Korea was impressive. Osinachi Ohale and her Nigeria teammates did well to progress from a tough group.
Failed to reach the quarter-finals for the first time and went out having scored one goal. Key striker Wang Shuang, who plays for PSG, failed to find the net. The European teams have caught up and overtaken China and, with participation in the country low, there are no clear signs of a reversal.
Let’s be clear: Cameroon did not let football down, but they did let themselves down. The elbow to Nikita Parris’s face, the late challenge on Steph Houghton and the tantrums at correct VAR decisions were embarrassing from a team who really impressed in their group.