Sixteen teams. Eight games. All leading up to the title of World Cup Winners.
Germany v. Nigeria (3-0)
Germany had a great set of performances in the group stage being one of five teams to pick up all nine points as well as the only team outside of the United States who did not concede a goal throughout it. Nigeria got in as a third place team via a win against Korea, but they lost handedly to Norway and put up a great performance in a 0-1 defeat from France off a late penalty.
It would only take 20 minutes to break the 0-0 deadlock in favor of Germany as Alexandra Popp headed the ball into the back of the net, marking an excellent cause for celebration giving her a 48th goal in her 100th international appearance. Immediately after the restart, Germany would steal the ball, and an attempt on tackle in the Nigerian penalty area with studs up to the knee would give Germany a quick second goal via the penalty spot. This time coming from the foot of Sara Däbritz, marking her third of the tournament.
The second half was much more assertive and promising on the counterattack for Nigeria as they began to press higher, but the chances remained limited as Germany continued to dominate possession. The 82nd minute would be the dagger for Nigeria as a poor defensive pass was picked by Lea Schueller who rocketed it into the back of the net. Nigeria nearly got one back in the 91st minute off a beautiful free kick from distance, but captain Desire Oparanozie’s kick went just over the bar.
Norway v. Australia (1-1) [4-1] PK’s
Both teams finished runner up in their groups. Norway picked up two group stage wins and a 2-1 loss to France in the opening rounds. Australia also grabbed six points in a hectic, yet exciting group stage as they lost to Italy on a last minute header, but the Aussies had been on a tear since scoring three comeback goals to beat Brazil and shredded Jamaica 4-1 with a Sam Kerr hat trick.
Australia started lightning quick as Sam Kerr slipped between two defenders but put the ball just wide within the first 30 seconds of kickoff. Norway would answer with a long ball that went wide a minute, and a half later, indicating that as predicted, the world was in for an enthralling contest. Seconds after a blocked Same Kerr shot in the 31st minute, a run in behind two Australian defenders found Isabell Herlovsen with a one on one opportunity against Lydia Williams, which she spiraled into the back of the net for a Norwegian lead. Norway would keep the foot on the gas getting four corners in a row around the 39th minute, unable to clear the ball. Australia would answer the onslaught and a ball in the box found itself bouncing off of Thorisdottir’s shoulder and was given a hand ball. VAR would, however, come to Norway’s rescue and overturn the call.
Much like the first half, Australia started flying out of the gates with multiple opportunities including a 52nd minute cross which Caitlin Foord barely missed poking in. Although, it did not slow the Western Matildas down, and Hayley Raso drew a foul just outside of the box a minute later. The chances would continue to come with a high press, and Sam Kerr would slot it in in the 59th minute, but a few feet ahead, she was ruled offsides. The attacks would continue, although Norway would hold strong and it seemed there was a gate in front of goal. That is until the 83rd minute when Elise Kellond-Knight curled the ball low into the far side off the net from the corner kick. An 89th minute collision in the box likely should have been a penalty for Australia, but the referee decided not to take a second look at it. Norway had a shot at a game winner in the third minute of stoppage time as a beautifully curved ball went off the post and bounced out, a shot that was truly inches away from arguably being the goal of the tournament.
Like every kickoff so far in the game, Australia started off like bullets with Sam Kerr finding herself with the ball 12 yards of the goal-line twice within the opening minutes of extra time. Norway would follow with several tests on target. The 104th minute would give Alanna Kennedy of the Orlando Pride a straight red card for denying a goal scoring opportunity, although the foul itself was not particularly malicious. The red card would allow Norway to generate a flurry of chances, but none which were converted including a screamer off the crossbar from distance. The second half of extra time was much the same and ultimately in the 30 minutes of extra time Norway outshoot Australia 13 to 1.
The difference in penalties could not have been more stark. Norway would go through 4-1.
England v. Cameroon (3-0)
England was another one of several teams to win every one of their group stage games, although they did not pummel teams in a particularly convincing manner. Cameroon is potentially the best story of the tournament, amid torched towns, rampant civilian killings, and civil war, striker Ajara Nchout is calling for soccer as a vehicle for peace on the world’s biggest stage, much like Didier Drogba did for the Ivory Coast many years ago. Nchout, outside of inspiring peace, is also the pedigree player which got them to this point, as they lost their two first games but her second half brace over New Zealand, including in the fifth minute of stoppage time, enough to get them into this game against England. They would come into this game hoping to be the first African team to get past the Round of 16.
Not incredibly dramatic the first 10 minutes, the 12th minute would set up an indirect free kick after a clumsy turnover for Cameroon would lead to a wayward attack at goal and a pass back to the goalkeeper Annette Ngo Ndom who illegally picked it up. Steph Houghton would convert pretty easily into the far corner from the top of the six-yard box. Not an incredibly exciting game, with neither team able to create full opportunities, the fourth minute of stoppage time offered change as Ellen White would get a 5th career World Cup goal after barely being ruled on-sides by VAR.
For the second half, needing to keep their hopes alive, Cameroon came blazing out of the gates, getting a goal from Ajara Nchout in the 48th minute, but the origin pass was offsides, ruling the goal obsolete. Cameroon would continue the attack generating an excellent one-on-one opportunity against the keeper after stealing a misplaced pass in the 53rd minute, but the keeper came to the rescue. Alex Greenwood would ravish hopes of a Cameroon comeback, as unmarked on the corner, she would swing the ball into the back of the net to seal an English advancement.
France v. Brazil (2-1)
One of the most exciting matchups of the Round of 16. France took all nine points from their group, and Brazil, despite being one of the third place teams to advance, took six points away from an incredibly competitive and exciting Group C. In what may have been Marta’s last international game against the host, France, it was going to be an incredibly exciting matchup.
In the 24th minute, Valérie Gauvin put her body on the line in a dangerous collision against Brazilian keeper Barbara, and somehow, someway, the ball found its way into the back of the net. After several minutes of waiting for Barbara, referee went to VAR and the goal was ruled offsides. I disagree with this one because should have been a goal. The keeper had no possession. Outside of the this instance, Brazil was the surprise. They didn’t drastically dominate, but they held their ground, broke up play, and looked the better team having more shots, possession, and better pass accuracy through the first half.
Gauvin would get justice for the earlier poor call at the beginning of the second half. In the 52nd minute, off a beautiful low cross in, she kicked her leg out to link it into the back of the net. Just minutes later, Cristiane had a shot be deflected just off the crossbar by the French keeper, and Brazil would have to keep working to get the game level. The 63rd minute would bring another opportunity for Brazil and Thaisa would be able to slot in her 6th career goal in 82 appearances, leveling the game. The 71st minute brought a free kick which Le Sommer was unmarked and had plenty of space, but she was unable to get a remotely decent contact on the ball, an ideal attacking opportunity would be wasted. Substitute Andressinha put the ball in the back of the net in the 86th minute for Brazil to give a late, go ahead lead, but it was ruled offsides.
In the 2nd minute of the 30 minutes of extra time, the only thing a step up from worst-case scenario occurred when Cristiane went down and stayed down for an extensive amount of time after tweaking something, and Brazil was forced to make a substitution. A few minutes later, it looks like France was about to lose a key player as well when Sarah Bouhaddi went down, making a save off a Brazilian attack. Her departure would have been a massive blow in a situation where the game would go into penalty kicks, but she was able to get back up. France created a multitude of chances, but the physicality of Brazil, and the lack of a final touch for the French was enough to keep the ball out of goal. In the 105th minute, Barbara came up big, holding onto a shot off a corner kick which was rocketed off a French head. It would not take long into the second half of extra time for France to break down Brazil despite being on their backheel most of the game. A beautiful cross in from a set piece hit Amandine Henry running in as she slid it into the back of the net, sending France up 2-1 in the 107th minute. Brazil almost had a second in the 114th minute, but Barbara came up big again, getting a touch on the ball.
The second set of Round of 16 continue tomorrow and Tuesday.