Hosts eye top spot, Thailand face daunting challenge

The pure pleasure of taking part in the FIFA Women’s World Cup Canada 2015™ has, with two matchdays gone, already given way to ambition as the Round of 16 begins to take shape.

Almost all of the teams in Groups A and B have something to play for, with the possible exception of Côte d’Ivoire, who have already lost twice and would require an unlikely set of circumstances to qualify for the knockout stages.

Match of the day *Netherlands-Canada, Montreal, 15 June, 19.30 local time *The Canadians have had a solid if unspectacular start to their World Cup campaign, beating China PR in the opening match of the tournament with a last-gasp penalty. But that goal, scored by the dangerous Christine Sinclair, is currently one of the reasons why the hosts sit proudly at the top of Group A, the other being their stingy defence, which has yet to concede a goal in 180 minutes of football.

If Erin McLeod can rack up another clean sheet in the Canadian goal versus the Netherlands, a place in the last 16 will be guaranteed.

The Dutch have also scored just once, but their 1-0 loss to the Chinese sees them occupy third spot, which would put them in a delicate position in the event of a defeat by Canada.

The other matches The Chinese could consider themselves unfortunate against Canada, but they made up for that disappointment with a similarly late victory over the Netherlands. Versus New Zealand, they will hope to get the points in the bag a little earlier and advance to the Round of 16, where they would be forgiven for starting to dream of following in the footsteps of their predecessors, who reached the Final in 1999.

The Football Ferns may only have one point to show for their efforts so far, but they are still in with a chance of advancing, possibly as one of the third-placed teams with the best record.

To do so, they will have to start hitting the back of the net, however, something they proved incapable of doing in their 1-0 reverse at the hands of the Dutch and in their scoreless stalemate with Canada, which featured a missed penalty from Amber Hearn.

In Group B, futures also hang in the balance, but it is hard to see past the experienced pair of Germany and Norway as they take on Women’s World Cup debutants Thailand and Côte d’Ivoire respectively.

The Germans, inspired by the tournament’s top scorer Anja Mittag, will still need to approach their match in a serious manner, because in the event of a surprise defeat, they would relinquish first place in the section, and possibly second spot as well, should the Norwegians win or draw their fixture.

Thailand picked up a hard-fought victory over the Ivoirians in their second match and may throw caution to the wind as they attempt to produce what would be a remarkable upset.

Les Eléphantes, meanwhile, conceded ten goals in their first match and three in their second. It is unlikely to get any easier for them when they take on Norway in Moncton, as the Scandinavians, sitting on four points, looked impressive in their match with Germany, earning a share of the spoils via a fantastic free-kick from Maren Mjelde.

Player to watch The performances of goalkeeper Erin McLeod may have laid the foundations for Canada’s strong defensive displays, but she would likely have many more shots and crosses to deal with were it not for the displays of the hard-working Kadeisha Buchanan.

The Toronto-born defender, still just 19, has not only demonstrated perfect tackles, decisive clearances and accurate passes from the back, but she also poses a serious attacking threat at corners.

The stat 16 – Dutch forward Viviane Miedema found the net no fewer than 16 times during the European qualifying campaign, a goal haul that saw her top the scoring charts and propel the Netherlands to the Women’s World Cup for the first time. Although she is yet to open her account in Canada, she may need to rectify that if her team are to advance to the latter stages of the competition.

The words “We’ve only allowed three shots on target in two matches, and we’ve managed to keep two clean sheets. If our five forwards start to get a nose for goal, we may have a chance of winning the Women’s World Cup,” John Herdman, Canada coach.

Match schedule Group A Netherlands-Canada (Olympic Stadium, Montreal, 19.30) China PR-New Zealand (Winnipeg Stadium, Winnipeg, 18.30)

Group B Thailand-Germany (Winnipeg Stadium, Winnipeg, 15.00) Côte d‘Ivoire-Norway (Moncton Stadium, Moncton, 17.00) All times local