And then there were eight.
The 2023 Women’s World Cup has moved on to the quarter-finals, and with the United States eliminated, we will not see a repeat winner this year. In addition, odds are increasing that soccer fans see a first-time winner of the Women’s World Cup. Out of the eight teams left standing, only Japan has enjoyed World Cup glory, having won the title in 2011 when they defeated the United States in the Final.
However, they look like the strongest team in the tournament at the moment.
How do the final eight stack up? Let’s dive in.
Entering into the knockout round we, like many in the media space, pointed to Japan as the team to beat.
Their performance in the Round of 16 did not disappoint.
Japan dispatched Norway 3-1, setting up a heavyweight bout with Sweden in the quarter-finals. Despite Norway employing five defender, Japan’s quick, crisp passing attack still found ways to break down that defensive line, including this incredible through ball from Aoba Fujino to Hinata Miyazawa in the 81st minute that sealed the match for the Nadeshiko:
The goal was Miyazawa’s fifth of the tournament, putting her in the lead for the Golden Boot.
The road for Japan does get tougher, as they’ll square off with the third-ranked team in the world when they take on Sweden. But given what they have done to this point, they deserve top billing, until someone knocks them off.
After being held scoreless by Japan in their final match of group play, Spain rebounded with a 5-1 throttling of Switzerland to book their spot in the quarter-finals. Aitana Bonmati scored within the first five minutes to give Spain the early lead, and despite conceding a bizarre own goal that tied the match at 1-1, La Roja took command with three more goals before halftime, earning a 4-1 lead at the break.
By that point they had outshot Switzerland 18-0.
It was an attacking masterclass from Spain, but one big question remains: How will their defense hold up against better competition? We saw what Japan did to them, with their 4-0 win over Spain to clinch the group, and they’ll now face a Netherlands squad that put seven goals on the board against Vietnam to win Group E, and two more goals in their knockout round win over South Africa. Spain can surely score, but can they defend enough to advance?
The Dutch won their first round of 16 match against South Africa 2-0, but it came with a steep price. Midfielder Daniëlle van de Donk picked up a second yellow card, meaning she is out of the Netherland’s next match against Spain in the quarterfinals. However, the Dutch should keep rolling, because midfielder Jill Roord continues to score goals. She’s second among all players left in the tournament in goals scored and really sets the tone for the Dutch offense. If The Netherlands can control possession like they did against South Africa (72% possession), then they’ll continue to create great chances on goal.
The Aussies just keep on rolling. Unquestionably the Cinderellas of the tournament, the Matildas at playing at an elite level without fully integrating their best player (and captain) Sam Kerr.
Prior to this tournament the expectation was that any hopes for the host country would come solely because of Kerr’s scoring brilliance. If Australia won it would be because of Kerr, and if they lost it would be because nobody could support Kerr well enough. What we’ve seen has shattered these preconceived notions and the Matildas are playing complete team football that every player is buying into.
It wasn’t until late in the win over Denmark that Kerr made her first appearance in the World Cup following injury, with the team clearly taking a conservative approach to integrating her into the attack. Now we have a scenario where the best scorer in the tournament is joining a squad that’s proven it can beat elite teams.
It’s unclear if Australia can handle the juggernauts in this tournament like Japan, Spain and England — but there’s increasing belief that this team has the ability to shock the world.
The good news? The Lionesses are through following a hard-fought victory over Nigeria, which came down to penalties.
The bad news? They will likely be without emerging star Lauren James, who was given a red card for stomping on Michelle Alozie during the match. FIFA will review the penalty and should the red card stand, she would be out for England’s next match. There is also the possibility of an increased penalty, and a three-match ban would effectively end her tournament.
This is already a thin England roster, beset by injuries ahead of the tournament. Keira Walsh, who suffered a knee injury earlier in the tournament, returned for England’s win against Nigeria. But without James, England may struggle to find the attacking form they put on display against China, when they netted six goals in the final match of group play.
This French team finally showed flashes of their ability in their 4-0 dismantling of Morocco, but there are still questions lingering. They had a fairly pedestrian lead up to the World Cup, losing to Australia just before the tournament began — and this lingered with a series of unconvincing performances in the group stage.
We’re left with a team that should be much, much better on paper than they have in practice. If this sounds familiar it’s because it’s a similar issue that the USWNT had, albeit with less expectation.
Midfield defense is where this team really thrives. They’re adept at taking away passing lanes and preventing quality changes, which really threw teams like Panama and Morocco for a loop. When pressured a little, however, the lack of scoring has shined through with France limping to a 2-1 win over Brazil, and playing Jamaica to a draw.
This is a frustrating team with the potential to be a Top 3 team, but they haven’t managed to show it yet.
Entering the 2023 Women’s World Cup, Sweden was the third-ranked team in the world.
Germany, the second-ranked team, failed to advance out of group play.
Sweden sent the top-ranked USWNT home in the Round of 16.
By that logic alone, you could make a case that Sweden is now the team to beat. However, their road only gets tougher from here, as they’re slated to take on Japan, the hottest team in the tournament, in the quarter-finals. Having conceded just once in open play this entire tournament — a goal allowed to South Africa in their first match of group play — the Swedes might be able to slow down Japan’s offensive attack.
If they can attack the way they did against Italy, when they put five goals on the board, it might be enough for them to get past Japan.
However, it is almost a shame that we get this match in the quarter-finals, as it feels like a semi-finals match, or even a potential Final.
For the first time in country history, the Colombian women’s team is through to the final eight of the World Cup. Against a stubborn Jamaican women’s defense, the Colombian women scored a goal in the 51st minute of the game. While 18 year old sensation Linda Caicedo (deservedly) gets most of the attention, this Colombian team has many veterans on the squad that create an experienced and deep team. Catalina Usme scored the goal that broke the deadlock against Jamaica, and goalkeeper Diana Ospina Garcia has consistently been good this World Cup, only allowing two goals over four matches. That experience on the squad is going to be extremely important, as they take on England in the quarterfinals.