We're into the Final 8 teams at the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup after an enjoyable Round of 16. There are some interesting storylines to look forward to as well, such as the United States taking on China in the World Cup for the first time since the famous final in 1999.
First, a ranking of the Final 8.
1. Japan. They aren't blowing teams out on the scoreboard, but that is not the kind of team they are. They completely own the field and control the pace of the game by being the best technical team in the world, which can frustrate and wear others down. They also play with a looseness, handling the pressure well. They also have fun personalities. An example: putting a teddy bear on the bench to represent Kozue Ando, who broke her ankle in the first game. One curious thing is they used a different goalkeeper in each group game. Could that hurt the flow in a close game? Just one example of their technical prowess, Sakaguchi's goal against the Netherlands:
2. Germany. The Germans are as good as always, though they also haven't been truly tested until they face France. Their biggest test was against Norway in the group stage, which ended in a draw. However, they are the #1 ranked team in the world for a reason. So many players can get a goal at any given moment, and they won't allow teams to take a big lead.
3. France. Les Blues suffered their shock defeat to Colombia, as well as some frustrations in the match with Louisa Necib throwing a ball at her teammates legs. Aside from that match though, they've been on top of their game. They have a strong technical ability to rival Japan and may be peaking at the right time.
4. USA. It hasn't been pretty, and there are questions about the formation and where players are being placed. After beating Australia they tied Sweden and followed that up with a 1-0 win over Nigeria. However, Nigeria got a red card yet the US couldn't get another goal. Then against Colombia, they couldn't break them down until Colombia got a red card early in the 2nd half. After a missed penalty kick, the US finally scored and then notched a 2nd with another penalty kick. They still have time to find their mojo though. And the defense has been lights out. Hopefully they move to a 4-3-3 formation.
5. England. They're a tough team to pinpoint, as sometimes they look off and sometimes they look in complete control. Their win over Norway showed that, with a mediocre first half. Then they went down and turned it on after, scoring two goals and dominating the rest of the game. They certainly have skill and some composure, now can they play a full game to the best of their ability?
6. Canada. The host nation haven't been scoring many goals, but they have been pretty stout on defense, not giving up many goals either. Still, they'll need to find their scoring boots if they hope to make it all the way to the final. Having the home fans can only take you so far. They have Christine Sinclair, who is perfectly capable of scoring multiple goals in a game which means Canada are never out of a game.
7. Australia. It's tough to put them at 7, as they've been playing lights out since their loss to the US. They shocked Brazil, sending them home before the Quarterfinals for the first time since 1995. If they can break down Japan, they may become the favorite to topple Canada or England to make the final.
8. China. They had some luck on their side, but they have a defense that doesn't allow much to get past it. Their main issue is scoring multiple goals. Having a great defense is fine, but at some point they'll have to score more than one goal to continue their run. It doesn't seem likely it'll come considering they'd have to upset the USA and if they did, Germany or France.
Germany vs. France. #1 takes on #3 in what should be a highly entertaining match with everything on the line. I picked France to beat them before the tournament, and i'll stick with that. This is really a 50-50 toss up though. France will have confidence, as they defeated Germany in their last meeting. The Germans should be in top form though. It will be interesting to just watch this unfold.
USA vs. China. A rematch of the 1999 Women's World Cup final. This won't be played in the Rose Bowl or with Mia Hamm and Sun Wen. The US have struggled to score since the first game, and it might not get any easier when they face a tough Chinese defense, call it the Great Wall. One bonus is they have faced China a bunch of times and should have a good read on them. The US defense has also been great, while China haven't scored many goals recently either. I imagine the US finds their scoring ability and breaks down China in the 2nd half for a win. First, watch that outstanding moment in 1999 when Brandi Chastain buried her penalty kick to give the US their 2nd Women's World Cup.
Japan vs. Australia. These two teams are familiar with each other from playing in the same confederation and offer different styles of play. Australia are tough and physical, while Japan are highly technical. The Matildas are on a hot streak, but Japan have been going about their business like they always do. I think they'll just have that extra bit of firepower to take down the Aussies and control the flow.
England vs. Canada. Another 50-50 toss up here. Both of these teams can be inconsistent at times, so it will be interesting to see if either can take control of momentum and keep it. England really have nothing to lose, with most of the pressure on Canada. I had them meeting in my predictions, and I chose England. Canada did beat them before the tournament, but it was close and i'll stick with England here. They seemed to have found a high level of confidence that could take them to the Semifinals for the first time.