AUCKLAND, New Zealand (AP) — The United States’ hold on the Women’s World Cup is over, and two-time champion Germany also exited the tournament. Olympic gold medalist Canada was bounced, and Marta and her Brazil team were knocked out before she had a chance to become the first player to score in six World Cups.
Yes, the heavyweights of women’s soccer have all been eliminated, and yes, it has created a wide-open World Cup.
The eight teams that advanced to the quarterfinals represent some traditional powers, one previous World Cup winner and two teams making their debut in the final eight.
England, the European champion, is the betting favorite on FanDuel Sportsbook. But a foolish and violent tackle by Lauren James late in England’s knockout win over Nigeria means the Lionesses will be without the star forward when they face Colombia. The Superpoderosas are feisty and were led by 18-year-old star Linda Caicedo into their first quarterfinals just four years after Colombia failed to even qualify for the tournament.
Australia, the co-host, has been to the quarterfinals three times previously, but now faces an experienced France team that has won 16 of 18 matches in 2023. France’s only loss? A 1-0 defeat to — surprise, surprise — Australia in a friendly a week before the start of the World Cup.
Spain makes its first appearance in the quarterfinals behind 13 goals scored through its four games. It faces the Netherlands, the team that lost to the United States in the 2019 finale. The Dutch failed to qualify for the first six editions of the World Cup, but once they made it in, they’ve been among the best. The Netherlands made it to the knockout round in its 2015 debut and the championship game four years ago, and now is hoping for a second shot at the title.
And finally, Japan, the only team remaining to have a World Cup title. The Japanese last won the championship all the way back in 2011 — they beat the U.S. — and the Americans avenged the loss four years later when Japan wound up runner-up. Japan has rolled to four easy wins so far in this tournament and has conceded only one goal.
The Japanese play Sweden, the team that ended America’s run toward an unprecedented third consecutive World Cup title. Sweden, which dealt the United States its earliest exit in tournament history, has been to the semifinals three different times, including in 2019.
The third-ranked Swedes are the top-rated team by FIFA still in this World Cup, and Sweden is a three-time tournament bronze medalist. Sweden was runner-up to Germany in 2003.
A look at the final eight teams still playing in the wide-open Women’s World Cup:
Sweden plays Japan on Friday at Eden Park in Auckland in one of the better pairings of the tournament.
The Swedes have played in all nine editions of the World Cup, and four times they’ve had the title nearly within reach. Sweden lost to Japan in the 2011 semifinals, its third and most recent World Cup meeting with the Japanese.
Sweden goalie Zecira Musovic was spectacular against the United States; she had 11 saves in the 0-0 draw, helping Sweden advance 5-4 on penalty kicks.
Japan is the only team remaining with a World Cup title and the Japanese have steamrolled their way into the quarterfinals.
Japan blasted past Zambia and Costa Rica, then handed Spain a jarring 4-0 loss. That win over a strong Spain squad made Japan a quiet contender. Japan then knocked off Norway 3-1 to continue its offensive onslaught.
With so many big teams out, this is the Netherlands’ chance to finally close out a World Cu p title. But the Dutch play Spain in the New Zealand capital of Wellington without star midfielder Danielle van de Donk.
She’s the one who tussled with American captain Lindsey Horan earlier in the tournament, and her yellow card in the Netherlands’ 2-0 win over South Africa means she won’t play in the quarterfinal.
Spain was commanding in wins over Costa Rica and Zambia, but then was stopped cold by Japan in a humbling group play defeat.
La Roja rebounded with a 5-1 rout of Switzerland in the knockout round. Spain coach Jorge Vilda made five changes to the the lineup that was embarrassed by Japan, and two of the moves were the players’ World Cup debuts.
Aitana Bonmati stepped up and scored twice in the Spain bounceback.
Australia finally got Sam Kerr back onto the field after the Matildas’ superstar missed all of group play with a thigh injury. She only came on in the final 10 minutes of Australia’s quarterfinal win over Denmark, but she was supposed to be the star of the tournament.
More than 75,000 spectators attended the Matildas’ quarterfinal victory and the Sydney Opera House was alit in the yellow and green team colors. The pressure is on for the co-hosts to deliver.
France slid under the early radar with a scoreless draw against Jamaica in the opening round, but Le Bleus have been a force since. The fifth-ranked team has cruised into the quarterfinals. France helped knock off Brazil and Marta, and has outscored its opponents 12-4 in the three games since.
France is coached by Herve Renard, who led Saudi Arabia to a shocking upset of eventual champion Argentina and Lionel Messi at least year’s men’s World Cup.
England is the enigma. The European champion not winning the World Cup with so many challengers already out would be a bit of an upset.
The Lionesses are fourth in the FIFA rankings, right behind Sweden, but haven’t had consistent play. They won a penalty shootout against Nigeria to advance to the quarterfinals.
But they also lost James, who was given a red card for a violent tackle late in the Nigeria game. The Chelsea forward is out at least against Colombia on Saturday in Sydney.
Colombia is new to this big stage and at 25th is the lowest-ranked team still playing in the tournament.
But Colombia is no pushover and has been very physical to get to the quarterfinals four years after failing to even qualify for the World Cup. The competition knows to expect a bruising match — one week before the tournament, Ireland abandoned a friendly against Colombia after only 20 minutes because of “overly physical” play.
Colombia is led by Caicedo, a rising star for Real Madrid, and the teenager dazzles on the field and also with her wide smiles that play to the cameras. Caicedo has had health issues; she battled ovarian cancer when she was 15, and during group play had at least two frightening episodes with what Colombia has called exhaustion. The team has insisted Caicedo is fit.
AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/fifa-womens-world-cup