Champions eye last three places


Spread over four days, the Round of 16 of the FIFA Women’s World Cup Canada 2015™ began with five matches over the weekend and comes to a conclusion with the final three ties on Monday and Tuesday, when reigning champions Japan continue their defence against the Netherlands, while former holders USA and Norway take on Colombia and England respectively.

Match of the day* Norway-England, Ottawa, 17.00 (local time)*

Of the last three games, this is the hardest to call. While the Norwegians still have an imposing reputation thanks to their 1995 world title and their vast experience, the fact is that the English lie five places above them in the FIFA/Coca-Cola Women’s World Ranking, in sixth. The Scandinavians should have plenty of energy in reserve, having barely broken sweat in brushing Côte d’Ivoire and Thailand aside in a group in which they also earned a creditable draw against Germany.

England did not have things quite so easy in their section, going down narrowly to France before bouncing back with hard-fought wins over Mexico and Colombia, which will stand them in good stead for the challenge posed by Even Pellerud’s side.

A place in the quarter-finals aside, both teams are also gunning to become one of the top three European sides at Canada 2015, which will earn them the right to represent the continent at the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament Rio 2016.

The other matches Colombia took on the mantle of dark horses after their surprise defeat of title contenders France. A loss to England quickly brought Las Cafeteras down to earth, however, and consigned them to a meeting with the mighty USA. Yet after scoring their maiden win in the competition, the South Americans have nothing to lose on their debut outing in the knockout rounds and will make for dangerous opponents.

Having negotiated the so-called “group of death” with a minimum of fuss, the Americans will now be banking on the big match experience of Hope Solo, Christie Rampone, Abby Wambach and Carli Lloyd to secure them a place in the last eight.

While title holders Japan might not be the same compellingly creative force as they were four years ago, they remain daunting opponents, imbued with the confidence that comes from being world champions. That said, the Nadeshiko were not entirely convincing in topping a group that also featured tournament first-timers Cameroon, Switzerland and Ecuador, though they did so without dropping a point.

As fate would have it, another debutant now stands in their path. Having spluttered on their way into the last 16, the Netherlands may well find the defending champions a challenge too far, though they do have a formidable weapon in Lieke Martens’s long-range shooting.

Player to watch In goal for Colombia’s opening 1-1 draw with Mexico, Stefany Castano will be donning the gloves again for the USA tie, with first-choice keeper Sandra Sepulveda serving a suspension after picking up yellow cards against France and England. The 21-year-old Castano plays in the States for Graceland University, and could give her future employment prospects a timely boost if she turns in a confident performance against the powerful Americans.

The stat 17 - The number of matches the Dutch have played in their Women’s World Cup adventure to date: ten of them in their qualifying group, four in the play-offs and three since their arrival in Canada, more than any of the other 23 teams to reach the world finals. The Netherlands’ record reads 12 wins, three draws and two defeats.

The words “We need to be patient, try to play our game and do the things we know how to do. That way we’ll keep our confidence levels up throughout the whole match. After that it’ll just be a case of scoring and believing in ourselves.” Loes Geurts, Netherlands goalkeeper.

Match schedule Round of 16

Monday 22 June Norway-England (Lansdowne Stadium, Ottawa, 17.00) USA-Colombia (Commonwealth Stadium, Edmonton, 18.00)

Tuesday 23 June Japan-Netherlands (BC Place Stadium, Vancouver, 19.00)

All times local