Last eight braced for knockout battles
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Some of the remaining eight sides in the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup Costa Rica 2014 have broken new ground for their countries, while others have broken records. For all of them, however, the competition enters a new phase this coming Thursday, when the quarter-finals take place.

They promise to be keenly contested, with some experienced outfits going up against largely untried yet ambitious opposition. And with the spectre of the dreaded penalty-shootout lying in wait at the end of normal time, the players will be doing all they can to get the job done in 90 minutes.

Match of the day
Japan-Mexico, Liberia, 27 March, 17:00
Victorious in every game they played in the first round – all without conceding a goal – Japan head into the knockout stage as tournament favourites. Though the Little Nadeshiko racked up 15 goals in their three group outings, head coach Asako Takemoto Takakura said after their comprehensive defeat of New Zealand that her side has room for improvement ahead of the quarters. Yet with Korea DPR and Germany already out of the competition, the in-form Japanese will be starting to fancy their chances of going all the way at Costa Rica 2014. 

For their part, the CONCACAF champions are making their debut at this stage of the competition, having learned the lessons of their disappointing showings in 2010 and 2012. The Mexicans qualified for the last eight in double-quick time, winning their first two matches before going down to Nigeria

The other matches
Africa meets Europe as Nigeria go head to head with Spain in Liberia. Like Japan, the Nigerians have been hugely impressive, advancing from the group phase with a 100 per cent record and scoring seven goals and conceding two in the process. Meanwhile, Spain recovered from their opening-day defeat to Japan to qualify in style with a 7-1 defeat of Paraguay – their biggest ever victory – and have high hopes of matching their performance at Trinidad and Tobago 2010, where they finished third. 

The other African side still in the hunt are Ghana, who will be banking on the experience they acquired at the last two FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cups when they take on Italy. The Italians, who won their first two group matches before falling to Venezuela, have a daunting task against a team that finished third at Azerbaijan 2012 and topped their group after accounting for both Korea DPR and Germany. 

Venezuela surprised everyone by winning all three of their first-round matches, a perfect record that has secured them a meeting with Canada. The Canucks, who will need to keep a close eye on the tournament’s leading scorer, Deyna Castellanos, squeezed into the knockout phase thanks to a brace by their star act Marie Levasseur against Ghana and face a difficult assignment against the confident South Americans. 

Player to watch
Nigeria spearhead Uchenna Kanu has been a thorn in the side of opposing defences at Costa Rica 2014, continually making herself available for her team-mates and showing off the full range of her passing skills. In finding the back of the net against Mexico, she became only the second player in the competition to score in every group match, Venezuela’s Deyna Castellanos being the first. 

The stat
209,658 - The total attendance for the 24 first-round matches at Costa Rica 2014, a new record for the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup. 

The words
“We came here with the goal of reaching the quarter-finals. We’ve done that and we know that only the top teams are left. We respect Japan and we are well aware that we’ll have to play our best game here so far to stay in the competition,” Mexico coach Leonardo Cuellar.

The quarter-final schedule:
Venezuela-Canada (Estadio Nacional, San Jose, 14:00)
Ghana-Italy (Estadio Nacional, San Jose, 17:00)
Japan-Mexico (Estadio Edgardo Baltodano, Liberia, 17:00)
Nigeria-Spain (Estadio Edgardo Baltodano, Liberia, 20:00)
(all times local)