It may be difficult for avid fans around the globe to believe, but the FIFA Women’s World Cup Canada 2015™ has already reached the quarter-final stage.
Either of Friday’s two mouth-watering last-eight clashes could easily pass for the Final: one of them – China PR-United States – is actually a repeat of the 1999 showpiece match, while the other – Germany-France – pits a two-time world champion against a rising force determined to win the tournament for the first time.
Match of the day
Germany-France, Montreal, 16.00 (local time)
Germany, top of the FIFA Women’s World Ranking, and France, who sit third, would probably have preferred to meet in the Final of Canada 2015, but as both sides finished in first place in their groups and then eased through their Round-of-16 encounters against Sweden and Korea Republic respectively, they must now face off in the quarter-finals.
The Germans, with two world crowns under their belt and boasting real star quality, will go into the match as favourites. But the French are unbeaten in the teams’ last three matches together, and the gap between the two nations is now nothing like what it once was.
A sign of this phenomenon can be found at club level, where all 23 players in the French national squad play in their domestic league, whereas in the past the Frauen-Bundesliga was the place to be for Europe’s elite female players. Indeed, even German players Josephine Henning, Annike Krahn and Anja Mittag (all Paris Saint-Germain) now play their football in the French top-flight.
The other match
China PR-USA, Ottawa, 19.30 (local time)
Although the second quarter-final may seem a little lop-sided at first glance, with USA, a powerhouse of the women’s game, currently lying 14 places ahead of their opponents in the FIFA Women’s World Ranking, the Chinese have an old score to settle that dates back to 1999.
Then, the two countries met in a memorable Women’s World Cup Final that was eventually won on penalties by the Americans, who, performing on home soil, duly inspired a generation of female footballers, including most of the US team that will take to the Lansdowne Stadium pitch on Friday evening.
The Steel Roses, meanwhile, are doing their best to follow in the footsteps of that 1999 team, having thus far impressed with a swift, free-flowing passing game that helped them to eliminate Cameroon in the previous round. In addition, they are well aware of their status as outsiders, and have nothing to lose.
For these reasons, the Stars and Stripes will be well-advised to approach the match with caution, especially as they will be without two of their key players through suspension, Megan Rapinoe and Lauren Holiday.
*Player to watch
*The Chinese originally owed their place in the knockout stages to their tight win over the Netherlands and a well-deserved draw with New Zealand, having lost their opening match 1-0 to Canada.
Wang Lisi scored in those second and third group games, in the very last minute against the Dutch, and via the penalty spot versus the Football Ferns.
As scoring chances are likely to be at a premium against a well-organised American defence, the Jiangsu Huatai forward will have to be at her clinical best if she is to help her team pull off what would arguably be the biggest upset of Canada 2015.
1 – The quarter-final between China PR and USA will be a particularly poignant moment for Christie Rampone, the only survivor from the 1999 Women’s World Cup Final that set the two teams against each other. The American defender is also the only player in the current squad to have lifted the prestigious trophy.
Rampone remained on the bench during that unforgettable match in Pasadena – the last time that the Stars and Stripes emerged victorious from the Women’s World Cup – and she may well fulfil the role of substitute this time around as well.
*“We don’t have an inferiority complex when it comes to the Germans. To be completely honest, I actually think we’re a bit better,” Sarah Bouhaddi, France goalkeeper.*
*Friday 26 June
*Germany-France (Olympic Stadium, Montreal, 16.00)
China PR-USA (Lansdowne Stadium, Ottawa, 19.30)
(All times local)