WWC 2015: Group stage review, round of 16 preview
Alright then, almost 2 weeks in, everyone’s had a lot of fun (yes you have Ecuador! stop crying!), there’s been 36 games, a just about small enough to be respectable amount of blowouts, the odd surprise here and there, and after all that, we’ve got rid of 8 of the 24 teams. Yay. Now it’s on to the knockout stages, win or go home, extra time, penalties and all that drama, but first a quick review of how we got here.
Canada crushed the group, dominating all opponents behind a rampant Christine Sinclair as we knew they would to end up in 1st place with…..5 points, 1 win, 2 goals, 1 from open play and bajillions of doubts and question marks. But hey, first place is first place, a winnable quarter of the draw clinched, and only conceding one goal in 3 games is something to be legitimately praised. As for the lack of goals, well it’s not like anyone in this group did well in that respect, though it was no group of death, there were no easy games, no teams out of their depth to really flex their muscles against, so in a glass half full way, good preparation for the tougher games that should follow in the group stage. Solid at the back and generally stodgy in attack was always going to be this team’s general description, anything beyond that is probably resting on Sinclair’s shoulders and that’s the really alarming thing to come out of these 3 games. She’s looked incapable of carrying that load, often anonymous and alarmingly unruthless when she has got chances, as mainly seen against New Zealand. Unless something clicks into place with her, Canada won’t happily surprise anyone here.
Behind them, China got 2nd place ahead of the Netherlands on goals scored (both finished with 4 points and an even goal difference) mainly due to a very impressive performance against the Dutch. The Netherlands late equaliser against Canada made their record a respectable one and they advance as a top 3rd place finisher. New Zealand ended 4th with just 2 points, a bit harsh on them really.
The top seed again won what was one of the more lopsided groups, as Germany and Norway both comfortably beat Thailand and Cote d’Ivoire. The one game that really mattered, when the two met ended in a somewhat surprising 1-1 tie, Norway showing they could be a tough opponent to get by in the knockout stages, and hey Norway also did this, so let’s hope they do well (who are they playing? England and then maybe Canada? never mind.). Behind them Thailand’s ugly -7 goal difference meant their 3 points was only good enough for the 5th best 3rd place finish so they go home, as do Cote d’Ivoire on 0. Both teams though can be proud of their part in what was one of the more entertaining games so far, the Ivorains furious late rally coming up short as the game ended 3-2 to Thailand.
The top seed again won, though I’m not sure Japan would be all that pleased as their results haven’t been all that impressive. 9 points, sure, but narrow wins against Switzerland and Cameroon (and Cameroon came very close to tying that game late on) isn’t the type of form to suggest they’ll repeat as champions. Then to only beat Ecuador (who’d lose their previous games by a combined 16-1) 1-0? I didn’t see the game but will assume they rested plenty of players and took it easy, but still, unimpressive stuff.
Cameroon and Switzerland both crushed Ecuador and narrowly lost to Japan, the game that counted was when they played each other, the Indomitable Lionesses coming out on top 2-1 after trailing at the half. That clinched second and Switzerland’s garish 10-1 win over Ecuador meant their goal difference was more than good enough to clinch a 3rd place finisher spot, allowing them to play the villain against Canada. As for Ecuador, well hopefully this was a good learning experience for them and they can come back stronger in future World Cups. best of luck to them.
Group of death, and it very nearly did kill off one of the more favoured teams in Sweden. They only got 3 draws, including a particularly entertaining, if somewhat sloppy, 3-3 against Nigeria, and their 3 points and even goal difference was only good for 4th best of the 3rd place teams, they were a Costa Rica win over Brazil away from being eliminated. But they survived and move on.
Ahead of them, the top seed again won the group, USA getting 7 points without ever hitting top gear and with plenty of controversy and narrative swirling. Abby Wambach has been in and out of the starting lineup, but her influence is clearly still felt in how the team plays with or without her, which so far could be classified as ‘not that good’. Off the pitch, her anti turf campaign is a comically poor distraction from her struggles (maybe the team isn’t that good with you, or maybe having your pre tournament prep being hanging out playing pick up soccer with Nike employees wasn’t such a good plan). A more generous interpretation would be she’s doing a good job of keeping as much attention as possible focused on herself rather than teammates like, oh, I dunno, Hope Solo. Anyway, top of a tough group and with a relatively easy path to the semi finals, not a bad position to be in at all.
The surprise package of the group was Australia, they played a great game against the States before tiring late and losing, then beat Nigeria and tied with Sweden to take 2nd place, a very good showing from the Matildas. As for Nigeria, they’re probably the best team to be eliminated, got a tie off of Sweden and were by no means outclassed by the Americans, it was their preposterously bad inability to hold a defensive line properly against Australia that killed them off, definitely a team to watch in the future though.
The top seed again came first in what was a pretty unremarkable group really, at least results wise and thinking back I barely watched any of these games, so that’s all I’m going on. Journalism! Brazil won all 3 games, though none by a big margin, Behind them South Korea beat Spain which was enough to get them 2nd place, then Costa Rica’s 2 points and Spain’s 1 point saw them both eliminated.
This one got very interesting for a while before eventually ending up as you’d have guessed beforehand. The top seed again won, France dominated England but only won 1-0 before dominating Colombia but losing 2-0 in one of the funnier upsets of the tournament so far, a fact helped by a hilariously obvious missed handball in the box. Then they played Mexico and eventually found their scoring boots winning 5-0, meaning their goal difference was enough to get them to the top of the group. England got 2nd place thanks to 2 comfortable enough 2-1 wins over Colombia and Mexico, though much like Canada they gave no impression they’d be able to compete with the top teams when the time comes. Colombia, well they scored a hell of a goal against Mexico, and got a very good result against France before coming down to earth in their final game with first place ready to be grabbed before an enthusiastically pro Colombia crowd in Montreal. As for Mexico, 4th place is about right really.
So, no massive surprises so far when you look at the final positions, generally it’s the teams you’d expect to be going home that are, you could say the expansion to 24 teams was thus a bit of a flop, but all those teams who maybe weren’t quite ready for prime time will be better for the experience. Want a statistical idea of which teams are playing well and which ones are maybe a bit on the lucky side, check out this from face of the world cup Ben Massey. In other potential controversies, the all women refereeing crews have generally been competent, as much as their male counterparts are. Also the turf, despite Abby Wambach’s complaints hasn’t really been a big factor as of yet, (say, how many rug burn photos like that Sydney Leroux one have been put up on twitter so far? None? Wow, but I thought that that was just what happened on turf every time Huh.) at most it’s been a factor that has affected all sides equally. As for the crowds, there’s been good and bad (Canada game aside, looking at you Montreal!) but generally it’s been respectable there as well. All in all it’s been a thoroughly adequate world cup so far.
Now on to the knockout stages, what might happen there? All 6 top seeds ended up exactly where they were supposed to, and out of those 6 teams, the draw was certainly kindest to Canada and the US. I wouldn’t dare suggest any kind of conspiracy or corruption or anything, after all this is FIFA, but given the draw to decide which top seeds went to which group happened off camera, before the televised portion of the draw, it’s mighty convenient for the 2 North American teams, in a North America based tournament, but anyway, let’s do some predicting.
Germany vs Sweden: We start on Saturday with probably the best matchup on paper. Sweden have only got themselves to blame, but poor Germany, they already had a tough route to the final, probably France in the quarters and US in the semis, the Japan in the final, now due to Sweden dropping to 3rd in their group, they have a tough match here as well, if they win this thing it’ll be well and truly earned. But Sweden dropped to 3rd for a reason, and Germany should definitely have enough to get by them at least.
China vs Cameroon: Saturday’s 2nd game should be interesting as Cameroon were one of the surprise stories here, and Gaelle Enganamouit a standout player so far. The Chinese did enough to get 2nd in a tougher group and if they can play like they did against the Netherlands then they should probably win, but what the hell, I’ll go with Cameroon here.
Brazil vs Australia: Three games on Sunday, starting with Brazil against Australia. This was supposed to be Sweden, but Australia have put up a good fight against some good teams to grab this game rather than Germany, and Brazil have been unconvincing so far against weaker opponents. I’ll predict the group of death toughening up they receieved will help out the Matildas and they’ll cause the biggest shock of the round and send Marta and co home early, and why not, it’ll be on penalties.
France vs South Korea: France will crush them, just a question of if they can score or not, I’ll go with a closer than it sounds 2-0 win for the French.
Canada vs Switzerland: The 3rd game on Sunday is the big one, and really Canada should beat Switzerland. I’ll confidently predict the Swiss will get a maximum of 1 goal, probably 0, it’s just a question of if Canada can get their sputtering attack out of first gear, hopefully Sophie Schmidt’s fit enough to help with that. I’ll go with another unconvincing 1-0 win for les Rouges, after extra time. Quarter finals here we come.
Norway vs England: On to Monday and first up the battle to see who gets to take on Canada in that quarter final. England have looked nothing special so far while Norway did get an impressive draw against the Germans as well as hammering Thailand and Cote d’Ivoire. This one will be dull and it’ll go to penalties, tied 1-1. England will lose the penalty shootout, because that’s just what they do.
USA vs Colombia: Despite a good result against France, Colombia aren’t actually that good (see their PDO in the Ben Massey article I linked, preposterously high) and though they’ll cause the odd problem and might score a goal, the US will have more than enough to get past them. It won’t look pretty (damn that turf!), but I’ll guess at 4-1 so who cares about pretty. The intriguing thing here is that they’ll have 2 fewer days of rest before their quarter final against China or Cameroon. Odd scheduling and potentially a Wambach excuse that shouldn’t be dismissed as ridiculous, that’ll be nice.
Japan vs Netherlands: Japan haven’t been great so far by any means, but they’re a class above the Dutch and should control the play, especially if it’s the Dutch side that played against China that shows up. I’ll go 2-0 to Japan here.