This is a recap of this weekend’s games from the Women’s World Cup.
Australia and Japan 0-1
Saturday’s quarterfinals started with Japan showing why they’re the defending champs. Though the match started somewhat slowly despite Australia’s typically aggressive style, the game would develop for Japan with lots of stylish chances on goal and a dominant hold on possession.
So far this tournament, the Matildas have performed above and beyond, showcasing their athleticism and ability to play at speed. This, however was not the case on Saturday. Japan’s style of possession and calm, patient play left the Aussies frustrated, unable to find their groove, especially in the first half. That said, they also were able to hold Japan scoreless for most of the match. It wasn’t until the 87th minute that Japan would find the late goal that would send them on in the tournament.
The goal came indirectly from a set piece, in this case, a corner kick. The kick came into the box, Australia getting the first touch. That first touch however was not enough to clear, and Japan was able to send in a shot. As the ball bobbled around the box, Mana Iwabuchi was at the near post to send it in. Australia appealed for offsides, but the ref got it right. Iwabuchi was onside and the goal was good for a 1-0 lead.
Australia has a lot to be proud of in this tournament, gaining a new respect from many fans of the game. They’ve never been a slouch of a team, but this tournament they found a new gear to kick into. Unfortunately, Saturday was not their day, but I don’t doubt they’ll be a threat for years to come as their program continues to progress.
Japan, much like their next opponents England, seems to be improving exponentially with each match. They’ve always been excellent, but seem to excel in this knockout stage much more so than in the group stages. Players often talk about the importance of peaking at the right time and it seems that these two sides are well on their way to doing just that. On the other side of the bracket, Germany and the US are both delivering performances that vary a bit too much for either to be comfortable. Regardless of how the semi-finals pan out, it should lead to a very interesting final indeed.
England and Canada 2-1
The Three Lionesses of England got the two goals that would send the host nation home before the match was even a quarter over. I expected England to head home two matches ago, but here they are and in the semi-finals they will be. With each match they seem to be rising to the occasion, this time doing enough to win against the team that very much had the home-crowd advantage.
The goals for England came in the 11th and 14th minute, setting a steep hill for Canada to climb the rest of the match. In the 11th, Jodie Taylor’s pressure on the Canadian defense was quickly rewarded as Lauren Sesselmann seemed to lose her footing and coughed up the ball for Taylor to steal away. Taylor then did very well to carry the ball at a sprint until she was challenged at the 18, deftly danced around a step from Allysha Chapman and shot the ball, clearing the reach of keeper Erin McLeod. Not three minutes later, defender Lucy Bronze got her head to a freekick from Fara Williams, sending the ball to the underside of the crossbar where it rattled in for goal two of the game. Bronze also had the winning goal in England’s last match against Norway.
The crowd saw one more goal as Canada continued to fight back, though the one wouldn’t suffice. Just before the half, Canadian hero Christine Sinclair gave the side hope that they might fight back. A half-shot, half-cross was sent in by Ashley Lawrence, and while England keeper Karen Bardsley should have been able to control it, the ball instead trickled away from her gloves and right into the path of Sinclair. Sinclair cooly placed it in the goal and picked it right out again, eager to maintain momentum best she could with a hustle back to mid-field.
The second-half found Canada pressing in hopes of tying things up, with England threatening off-and-on, but the half would go scoreless. Despite having more attempts and more possession, Canada find themselves knocked out of the tournament.
Canada seems to fall into the “always the bridesmaid, never the bride” position in the world cup and Olympics, rarely placing in a memorable spot, but always nipping at the heels of those who do. The exposure of playing hosts this year will hopefully be the boost the program needs to just push them into the success they’re capable of. England’s performance, on the other hand, has been surprising to say the least. Previously known for their somewhat brute style of play, the Lionesses seem to have developed into a much more well-rounded side. Their style is not dissimilar to that of Australia, though maybe not quite as fast paced. That said, it will be interesting to see how they fare in the semis versus Japan. Can Lucy Bronze can pull out a third goal in as many games? Can the straightforward play avoid being overwhelmed by Japan’s ball movement and discipline? Only Wednesday will tell when the two sides meet to decide who will fight for first and who will fight for third.