UPSETS, thrashings and wonder goals have been daily occurrences in Canada this summer as the FIFA Women’s World Cup builds to its final next Sunday. The showcase of the best teams in the world on the global stage has been anything but dull, and from 21:00 tonight we will see the last two semi-final spots filled, one of them by either the host nation or by England’s lionesses. The path to this point has been fraught with challenges for the six teams still in contention, but two of them have already secured a spot in the next round and a moment to compose themselves before the next match.
Germany have had the least tumultuous journey so far, ranked No.1 in the world and many pundits’ choice going into the tournament. Living up to their reputation with a brutal 10-0 dismantling of Ivory Coast in their opening group game (with two hat tricks from the formidable Celia Sasic and Anja Mittag), they went on to top their group on goal difference after a draw with Norway left them joint on points. Moving into the last 16 and matched against Sweden they maintained form and progressed with a 4-1 victory to meet France in the quarter-finals.
This proved to be their first stumbling block with an aggressive French side threatening to score from the whistle and leading after a goal from Louisa Necib in the second half. Were it not for a controversial penalty decision with minutes to go and Sasic’s spot kick the two-time champions would’ve been out. Instead full time elapsed, as did extra time, leaving it to penalties to send France home in their place.
Their semi-final opponents are the equally successful United States, also with two world titles. They too finished top of their group. While they scored less, they’ve only conceded one goal in their campaign so far, a testament to their defence. Once out of their group they eliminated underdogs Colombia (whose escape from the group stage cull was thanks to their stunning 2-0 undoing of France earlier), and most recently put China on a plane home in their quarter-final match after Carli Lloyd headed one of a slew of shots into the opposing net.
In the earlier kick off tonight is Japan, who were one of only two teams to come out of the group stage with all nine points. They remained as strong in their last 16 match against The Netherlands and made themselves a comfortable 2-0 lead before a strange goalkeeping error from Kaihori, who failed to raise her arms and make the save with a shoulder, gave them a late fright.
They play Australia, who made history last Sunday for their country by winning a knockout game at an international final; a first for both their men’s and women’s teams. They qualified behind the USA in their group and were excited to take on one of the best teams in the world, Brazil, in the last 16. It was 80 minutes before a goal was scored despite South American attempts bouncing off posts and the crossbar, and it came at the other end of the pitch from Kyah Simon’s well timed counterattack. The win dispatched Brazil’s Marta, who had this tournament reached 15 goals to become the World Cup’s all-time top goalscorer.
Hosts Canada had a rough time in the group stages despite finishing on top, only taking five points from a possible nine. From winning the opening game against China they could only manage draws against New Zealand and The Netherlands, but have since returned to winning ways by beating Switzerland in their first knockout match 1-0. In pre-match interviews the team are keen for their next game, with manager John Herman “ready to give England hell”.
England have only lost one game thus far, 0-1 to France in their group opener. Since then there have been great goals (the best in my opinion coming from Fran Kirby keeping three defenders at bay and striking into the bottom corner, the opening goal against Mexico), strong tackles and the build of momentum after each win, in particular beating Norway from 0-1 down to win 2-1; an excellent show of resilience from the team.
Beyond this is a wealth of highlights I recommend you take a look at, all are available by clicking the picture at the top of this article. My pick of the bunch is Thailand v Ivory Coast, of all the matches so far the most dramatic and emotionally charged.
Tonight’s fixtures see Australia against Japan kick off at 21:00 and Canada against England kick off at 00:30. Both are available on the BBC.