WWC quarterfinals preview
Lauren Cheney's move to left flank has sparked the best moments of U.S. play
Brazil lost to U.S. in last two Olympics but relishes chance to play U.S. in quarters
Germany will try to take advantage of a somewhat suspect Japanese goal-keeping
It's down to the final eight teams as the Women's World Cup. Let's take a peek at what lies in store for the elimination round.
(Sunday, 11:30 a.m. ET)
Storylines: This is the big one: which team can bear the pressure? The U.S. hadn't lost in 17 group games dating back to 1991 before the defeat to Sweden on Wednesday that set up this mouthwatering encounter with Brazil. Opinion about Pia Sundhage's USWNT has been swinging around like a weather vane in Kansas in the past year; a quarterfinal exit would be another unwelcome first. Having lost the last two Olympic finals to USA teams, the Brazilians would be more than happy to oblige. Both teams have generally been better in the second half -- only scoring one goal each before half time in six group matches. Will this produce a slow burner, or will both coaches look to change that?
Players to watch: Lauren Cheney's move to the left flank has been an unexpected but spectacular success and she's been at the heart of the USA's best moments. With Abby Wambach now off the mark, can she have the same effect she did in Athens in 2004, when she scored the gold-medal winner in extra-time? Or will we see another master class from Marta, Cristiane and Rosana (all with two goals each so far).
Who'll win: The fact that nobody wanted to meet Brazil this early tells you a lot, though few sides would have relished bumping into the U.S. so soon, either. It may be unfortunate that Brazil is one of them.
(Saturday, Noon ET)
Storylines: The French have been a real threat on set pieces so far in this tournament, with three of their seven group-stage goals headed in from corners (usually delivered with devastating accuracy by Sandrine Soubeyrand). England finally lived up to the promise of its qualifying campaign against Japan, but still looked vulnerable when the ball was sent from wide areas into the box. At the other end, substitute goalkeeper Celine Deville -- at her first World Cup -- will play in place of the suspended Berangere Sapowicz; can England take advantage of any nerves?
Players to watch: Left-side midfielder Louisa Necib has been spellbinding, whether jinking toward the goal herself or spraying the ball around for others to do the damage. Speaking of which, Montpelier forward Marie-Laure Delie (two goals so far) has looked dangerous. Everton midfielder Jill Scott has pulled the strings for England, which also has Ellen White (scorer of one of the goals of the tournament) up front.
Who'll win: This is a tight one. The head-to-head record between these two nations favors France, and that 4-0 whipping of Canada shows what Bruno Bini's side is capable of doing to disorganized opposition. England has grown in to this tournament, though, and if it can come out on top in midfield, it has players to capitalize on the defensive weaknesses we've seen from France.
(Saturday, 2:45 p.m. ET)
Storylines: We still don't know just how good this Japan side is. The "Barcelona of the World Cup" may have had lots of possession, but it was only against a bewildered Mexico defense that they looked as irresistible as Messi and Co. Are they capable of an upset? The big talking point for Germany has been the benching of a slow and clunky-looking Birgit Prinz. In her place, Inka Grings (only a year younger, but 10 times as sprightly) has been enjoying her first World Cup since 1999. Prinz was set to retire after this tournament; will Grings hand Prinz her slippers early with another sizzling display?
Players to watch: Japan's principal threat is Aya Miyama, whose casual demeanor disguises lethal dead-ball capabilities. She combined well with hat-trick scorer Homare Sawa against Mexico, but Sawa's competitiveness in midfield could be the more important factor. Germany's Kim Kulig and Simone Laudehr have been excellent in that area -- but would miss the semifinal if they picked up a yellow card here.
Who'll win: Germany finally hit its stride against France, and will have another noisy full house. Even if Japan has most of the ball, the Germans know how to make the most of their chances, and Japan has conceded three goals despite facing only eight shots on target.
(Sunday, 7 a.m. ET)
Storylines: Australia is the youngest squad to survive the group stage by more than three years -- the Swedes are, on average, five years older -- and it has come through a couple of (thrillingly) tight games to get here. Defender Servet Uzunlar's confidence must be paper-thin after several blunders -- does Tom Sermanni stick with her when Lotta Schelin (not to mention Jessica Landstrom) offers a robust challenge? Sweden's attacking players have their own point to prove in a tournament that will be remembered for the prevalence of shots from distance. Each of their four goals has come from close range (vs. Colombia and North Korea) or a set-piece (penalty and deflected free-kick vs. USA).
Players to watch: Australian forward Caitlin Foord is still only 16-years old, but was not intimidated as she charged down the right against Norway -- which sets up the possibility of an interesting tussle with Sara Thunebro and Therese Sjogran, who have been influential on the left for Sweden.
Who'll win: The exuberance of Australia's run has had more appeal for the neutral than Sweden's, so the Matildas will have plenty of people rooting for them. But the Swedes' daunting efficiency -- they haven't had more than 47 percent possession yet, and beat the U.S. without creating more than a couple of chances from open play -- makes it difficult to bet against them.
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