The United States won the World Cup for the third time on Sunday. Their story has been well documented through the year and particularly over the last month. But what about the other 23? Here’s a quick look at all of the teams that left Canada short of winning it all.
Ecuador (0-3-0, 4th place, Group C)
Ecuador was essentially overmatched in their first World Cup, although they left with a glimmer of hope after playing Japan to 1-0 in the final group match after the Nadeshiko had already secured top spot in the group. Cameroon and Switzerland though, overwhelmed them. There is a lot of work to do for 26-year-old coach Vanessa Arauz.
Ivory Coast (0-3-0, 4th place, Group B)
There can hardly be a more difficult assignment than playing Germany in what was essentially the team’s first match of any consequence outside Africa. Sure enough it took less than three minutes for their defense to get torn apart. And when the saving grace of the opening match is that you could have tied the World Cup record for worst defeat but did not (they lost 10-0, the record is 11-0), there is clearly a long way to go. Les Elephants did show that they can attack and they may have outplayed Thailand despite losing 3-2. Head coach Clementine Toure joined the global chorus calling for more support back home when she said after the tournament, “We did not deserve to come here and be humiliated.”
Mexico (0-2-1, 4th place, Group F)
A contender for biggest disappointment, Mexico looked on their way to winning a World Cup match for the first time until letting Colombia back into their first match. They were level with England well beyond an hour before capitulating, and then were run off the park by France. In 2010 they qualified for the World Cup with a shocking upset over the United States but seem to be riding in neutral ever since. Longtime coach Leo Cuellar made a vague announcement about stepping down without offering a timetable.
Nigeria (0-2-1, 4th place, Group D)
In a different tournament, with a different draw, Nigeria could have been in the quarterfinals. But a rough group in which they were unlucky to play the United States third and a complete inability to defend set pieces proved to be their undoing. Coach Edwin Okon began the tournament by saying of his first opponent, “I don’t know anything about Sweden.” He ended the tournament by being sacked. His replacement will inherit talented young players like Asisat Oshoala and Francisca Ordega and a chance to build the Super Falcons into a feared side. Getting two more players signed in NWSL can only benefit the program.
Spain (0-2-1, 4th place, Group E)
It may have been Spain’s first time at the World Cup but they have every right to be disappointed with their performance. They could have feasibly won all three matches and the group if not for some horrific finishing that wasted several good performances by Vero Boquete. When it was over the team, led by Boquete, called for the ousting of coach Ignacio Quereda, who has been in charge of the team 27 years.
New Zealand (0-1-2, 4th place, Group A)
Another team that underwhelmed in a group where every match was there for the taking. In what could have been the final go-round for veterans Amber Hearn and Abby Erceg, the lasting vision might be Hearn hitting the crossbar with a penalty against Canada that could have given them the lead and changed the entire complexion of the group. That match ended 0-0 and next time New Zealand plays a World Cup match, they will still be searching for a first win.
Costa Rica (0-1-2, 3rd place, Group E)
The Ticas should be proud of their World Cup performance. They earned a draw against Korea Republic on Karla Villalobos’ goal in the 89th minute, and hung with Brazil before losing 1-0. They beat Mexico in the CONCAF qualifying tournament and coupled with the World Cup have to feel as if they have slid into the No. 3 spot in the region behind the United States and Canada. Shirley Cruz should have enough years left to build around for one more cycle.
Thailand (1-2-0, 3rd place, Group B)
The only team to win a match and not make it out of the group stage, Thailand showed some promise with a glut of team speed and an organized defense that needs plenty of work on the technical side. Asia is on the rise though and Thailand probably would not have qualified without the exclusion of North Korea. But beating Ivory Coast in a wild, 3-2 match was a great moment for the team. Hopefully it is one that resonates back home to both fans and soccer officials.
Round of 16
Colombia (1-2-1, l. United States)
There has long been a vacuum behind Brazil in South America, but Colombia may have filled it with an inspired performance that included a stunning upset of France in the middle of Group F. They did it by playing a measured, defensive style but without fear of counterattacking when appropriate. Lady Andrade proved she can do more than just be physical with Abby Wambach and Yireli Rincon and goalkeeper Sandra Sepulveda could be stars in the making. They were right in their round of 16 match with the United States until Catalina Perez was sent off early in the second half.
Netherlands (1-2-1, l. Japan)
It was a typical debut for the Netherlands. They played well enough to offer promise going forward, but not so well to suggest their ceiling was any higher than their finish. The team should leave disappointed though, first for a defensive blunder that cost them a draw against China, and second for not being able to get their dynamic attacking personalities to feel comfortable. Lieke Martens scored but 18-year-old Vivianne Miedema struggled as did Manon Melis. But Martens and Miedema should have several more cycles to make their mark.
Norway (2-1-1, l. England)
After signaling a return to prominence by finishing runner-up at Euro 2013, the World Cup was a mixed bag for Norway. Their only two wins were against overmatched Thailand and Ivory Coast. They drew Germany despite being badly outplayed in the first half, and they led England in the second half before allowing two late ones to be shown the exit doors. They did see Ada Hegerberg’s World Cup debut and first three goals at age 19. Going forward Hegerberg is as good a young player as any to build a national team roster around.
Sweden (0-1-3, l. Germany)
Probably the single most disappointing team at this World Cup. Many predicted that Sweden would beat the United States and win Group D, but instead they drew all three group matches in an underwhelming performance and had to sweat out next day’s results to see if they would even advance. Any idea that they would wake up and be a tough out for Germany was quickly put to rest in a match they were never in. They are in a qualifying playoff for the final European Olympic bid after which it seems like a good time to start some significant turnover of the roster.
Cameroon (2-2-0, l. China)
Their best performance was against Ecuador and in doing so they showed a glimpse into what is a program on the rise in an African region that just might be contentious over the next few cycles. The star of the show was 23-year-old Gaelle Enganamouit, who had a hat trick against Ecuador and was dangerous in Cameroon’s other matches. Enganamouit current plays for a team at the bottom of the Swedish league. A transfer to a bigger club could benefit both player and national team.
Brazil (3-1-0, l. Australia)
This was the third straight World Cup Brazil got through the group stage without conceding a goal, but their final standing has declined each of those three tournaments and their last win in a knockout match was the Brianna Scurry/Hope Solo match in 2007. The issues this time were offensive. Marta had her most quiet World Cup, and though they had some close chances it never looked like they had an answer for Australia’s defensive setup in the round of 16. Marta will be 33 at the next World Cup, but the short term for Brazil is the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro next summer.
Switzerland (1-3-0, l. Canada)
Like Cameroon, Switzerland got to unleash the best of their attacking personalities against Ecuador. Fabienne Humm scored a hat trick in five minutes and Ramona Bachmann also had a hat trick. The other matches, however, were a study in missed opportunity. Bachmann can break down just about any defender in the world, but the team often spends too much time watching her. Some final third cohesiveness is necessary to take the team to the next level. They are sound in back as evidenced by a 1-0 loss to Japan with the only goal coming on a 50/50 penalty call.
Korea Republic (1-2-1, l. France)
Korea Republic’s World Cup may very well be remembered most for what happened right before it started. They went to New Jersey and outplayed the United States in a 0-0 friendly at Red Bull Arena. The highlight of the World Cup was a second half comeback against Spain in the group finale when they knew only a win would see them through to knockout play. A younger, less precise replica of Japan, the Koreans are on the march in women’s soccer.
China (2-2-1, l. United States)
If not for the great Chinese teams of the 1990s, this version would be considered one of the budding teams in the world. They are extremely well organized defensively including solid goalkeeping, can get forward on the counter, and played this tournament without their best offensive player. U.S. fans who only watched them in the quarterfinals missed the best China had to offer.
Australia (2-2-1, l. Japan)
Things are looking up for Australia. Alen Stajcic had them in residency for five months ahead of the World Cup, where they trained on a special artificial turf pitch the federation built them to prepare for Canada. And their array of young talent is extraordinary. Caitlin Foord is 20 and has already played in two World Cups and neither Samantha Kerr nor Kyah Simon have turned 25 yet. Stajcic also proved to be one of the best tactical coaches at the tournament. Put them on the short list of legitimate contenders for 2019.
Canada (2-1-2, l. England)
The host country built up a narrative that offered hope they could march all the way to the final. And then the World Cup started and Canada couldn’t figure out how to score. They played admirable defense, though, until two mistakes early in the quarterfinal became their undoing. Could things have been better if Diana Matheson and Carmelina Moscato had a little more time to recover? Maybe, but the quarterfinals was about the right result for Canada.
France (3-1-1, l. Germany)
Oh, France. The best and worst of France was on full display at this World Cup. They were flat in a loss to Colombia that shocked the world. They played some of the most beautiful soccer of the tournament in a rout of Korea Republic in the round of 16. They ran circles around Germany in the quarters only to somehow get to penalties 1-1 and then lose. If you watched every team’s best game you could well think France are the best team in the world. But at this point the only thing that will make that true is a win in a major competition. They will likely be the team under the most pressure in Rio.
Germany (3-2-2, l. United States)
Fourth place is not such a bad standing in the world but considering Germany came in ranked No. 1 and did not score in the run of play over their final three matches, the tournament has to be considered a disappointment. The worst of it was the semifinal when Celia Sasic became the first German woman to miss a penalty at the World Cup and they otherwise rushed bad shots and never made any adjustments as the United States controlled the midfield.
England (5-2-0, l. Japan)
No team had as many different storylines or changed as much as England at this World Cup. Did anyone that watched them drop into an immediate defensive shell against France think they could get to the brink of the final? Meanwhile the four-day odyssey of Laura Bassett may have offered a glimpse into how we can better handle the travails of professional athletes. And coach Mark Sampson helped inspire a nation with his words and the type of soccer his team was playing by the end.
Japan (6-1-0, l. United States)
Japan reached their third straight major final which is nothing to brush off, but in the end they were on the receiving end of one of the great onslaughts in the history of major soccer finals, and faced some very suspect competition to get there. No one in their group had ever been to a World Cup before and neither had round-of-16 opponent, the Netherlands. They manhandled Australia but could not score until the 88th minute and were being outplayed by England when they went through on a fortuitous own goal in stoppage time. Like the United States they had a deep run but have some development and roster turnover questions to answer in the near term.