With the group stages behind us, the quarterfinals of women’s Olympic soccer kick off tomorrow featuring several intriguing matchups. Among the eight remaining teams are six of the world’s top seven squads, as well as host-nation Great Britain, composed primarily of players from the world’s No. 9 England. The Olympic knockout stage will also feature six of the eight 2011 World Cup quarterfinalists (counting Great Britain as England), and all four semifinalists, making the field as stacked as any in recent memory. Here’s what to watch for as kickoff approaches.
Great Britain v. Canada
The local favorite cruised by overmatched Cameroon and New Zealand squads to start group play, but passed a huge test against Brazil, winning 1-0 to sweep the group stage without conceding a goal. As a result, they’ll play world No. 7 Canada, who survived a nasty group with Japan and Sweden to grab the first “wild card” spot in the quarterfinals. While Team GB is on a roll and has the crowd on its side, don’t count out the Canadians—they’ve hung with the top teams in 2012, managing a victory against Brazil and a draw with Sweden, along with narrow defeats to the US and Japan.
Japan v. Brazil
In what should be Friday’s most exciting match, the reigning World Cup champions take on No. 5 Brazil and the world’s top player, Marta. After scoring two in Brazil’s opener against Cameroon and helping create the only goal against New Zealand, Marta looked rather pedestrian against Great Britain, failing to produce any dangerous chances. However, should she spark a goal or two, Japan may struggle to equalize; despite tallying two against Canada in its opening match, Japan was shut out by Sweden and the 50th-ranked South Africans, while Brazil conceded just once in group play.
USA v. New Zealand
The world’s top ranked team pulled the easiest draw for the knockout stage and will face No. 23 New Zealand, who managed the final wild card spot in the quarters after a 3-1 victory over Cameroon. After a horrific start against the French, the Americans recovered and managed three comfortable victories, becoming the first team (along with GB) ever to sweep the Olympic group stage. But the US shouldn’t expect a cake walk on Friday. New Zealand conceded against Great Britain only once, on a beautiful free kick, and even took a clean sheet into the final five minutes against Brazil before losing 1-0. If they can limit the Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan-led American attack in a similar manner, the Ferns might just manage a tremendous upset.
France v. Sweden
The Olympics’ most erratic team so far has undoubtedly been France, who turned an early two-goal lead into a defeat against the US (2-4), torched world No. 8 North Korea (5-0) and then squeaked by Colombia (1-0), the tournament’s only team that never scored. Across from the No. 6 French will be fourth-ranked Sweden, who topped the former in the third-place game at the 2011 World Cup, 2-1. The teams have scored a combined 14 goals so far while conceding a combined seven, so the scoring could escalate quickly. Regardless of the winner, the road to the gold medal will be difficult, with either Japan or Brazil waiting in the semifinals and potentially the top-ranked US in the Olympic final.
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