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The Opening Whistle: Previewing WWC quarterfinals

Dan Lauletta

The World Cup is down to eight following an intriguing round of group matches that illustrated a bit more depth and uncertainty across the globe than most of us thought. Over the last two weeks the United States lost a group match at the World Cup for the first time and failed to finish tops in Group C while CONCACAF sisters Mexico and Canada flamed out of the competition, the latter in spectacular fashion in a 4-0 whitewashing by France. Speaking of the French they appear ready to announce themselves as the newest world power. An intriguing quarterfinal with England looms.

Here is a look at this weekend’s World Cup quarterfinals in the order they will happen.

Saturday, 12 p.m. EDT: England vs France

England struggled despite winning Group B, having to rally from a goal down against New Zealand. France meanwhile took care of Nigeria before carving up Canada to advance to the knockout phase. In a match strictly for positioning they put two goals past the normally impenetrable Germans. These two sides last met in 2007 when a draw sent England to the World Cup. France narrowly missed out on a semi-final showdown with their neighbors across the English Channel at Euro 2009 when they fell on penalties to Holland after a scoreless draw. This could be the most charged of the four quarters and the pressure will be on England with Kelly Smith likely playing in her last World Cup.

Saturday, 2:45 p.m. EDT: Germany vs Japan

Japan has seized the mantel from North Korea (and China before that) as the class of the Far East, and they can turn the sport on its ear with an upset of the holders and heavily favored hosts. While it won’t be easy, Germany will now be facing the same sort of pressure the United States did a dozen years ago when, in the quarters, they had to come from behind twice on home soil against, you guessed it, Germany. This is probably the most one-sided of the final eight matches on paper, but Japan should be free to play fast and loose.

Sunday, 7 a.m. EDT: Sweden vs Australia

Two nations looking for their world breakthough will meet following dramatic victories for both, Sweden’s to take the group from the US and Australia’s to advance at the expense of Norway. Sweden appear the better side and the Matildas are going to have to tighten up in back. One thing we know though and that is Australia never stops playing until the full time whistle.

Saturday, 11:30 a.m. EDT: Brazil vs United States

This was supposed to be the final, but instead has turned into the most contentious quarterfinal in the short history of the Women’s World Cup. Neither side has played to its potential so far but there is a long, tense history between the two. Four years ago Brazil dismantled the US in a match that became as famous for Hope Solo’s comments afterward than anything that happened on the pitch. The US though has had the last laugh in the last two Olympic finals, both in extra time. If the US wins it will be favored to reach the final and keep alive the notion that all things women’s soccer run through the Stars and Stripes. If Brazil win they could find themselves in a fourth straight major final (World Cups and Olympics) and the United Sates will finish worse than third for the first time ever.

Three points of interest

1) Tasha Kai blasted a hat trick to send the Philadelphia Independence over Sky Blue FC 4-3 and into first place by a point in WPS. The Flash though, have two matches in hand.

2) All six WPS sides are in action this weekend including the Independence hosting the Flash on Saturday and the Atlanta Beat visiting the Breakers Sunday on FSC. That leaves magicJack to tussle with Sky Blue, also on Saturday.

3) Regardless of how the US finishes, Germany 2011 has to be considered a poor tournament for CONCACAF. Mexico and Canada were on highs last fall after Mexico shocked the US and Canada won the qualifying tournament. But Mexico failed to win a match, settling for a draw against unheralded New Zealand. Canada, which spent most of this year training in Rome, did not earn so much as a point.


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