The Women’s World Cup has proved to be a force on the football stage. With global viewership exceeding expectations, there is no doubt that the quarterfinals will be just as exhilarating as the knockout stage, and it all starts with perhaps the marquee matchup of a round featuring four intriguing clashes.
Germany, the world’s No. 1 ranked team, has gone unbeaten through this tournament, at times massacring its opponents. The Germans are two-time World Cup champions, and under the focused leadership of Silvia Neid, FIFA Women’s Coach of the Year 2013, are gunning for a third. In their way stands a France team on the cusp of cracking the upper echelon on the grand stage.
Ranked third in the world, the French consider themselves “outsiders” according to Manager Phillipe Bergeroo and are maintaining a savvy humility.
In what was considered the biggest upset of the tournament, France lost to Colombia in the group stage. But the unexpected result provided France with a spark, and it went on to thrash Mexico 5-0 and has not looked back. Marie-Laure Delie and Eugenie Le Sommer, with three goals each in Canada, have presented themselves as the forces to be reckoned with, and France followed with a comfortable win 3-0 over South Korea to reach the quarterfinals.
Friday's clash between the fluid French and the steely Germans–a rematch of an October friendly won by France, 2-0; one of two Germany losses in the last two years–will prove to be a test of their goalkeepers. Both sides boast top strikers in the world from European women’s leagues Frauen-Bundesliga and Division 1 Féminine. And they are eager to attack.
Germany’s backstop and captain, Nadine Angerer, currently plays alongside USA’s Alex Morgan, Canada’s Christine Sinclair and Australia’s Stephanie Catley at Portland Thorns FC, and was FIFA’s 2013 Player of the Year. Her cut-throat reputation precedes her and she has only conceded two goals thus far at the Women’s World Cup.
Her counterpart, Sarah Bouhaddi, is the starting goalkeeper at France’s top women’s team Olympique Lyon. Her performances this year have been key in France’s ranking and in her first match on 2015, she shut out the USWNT. That win helped propel les bleues forward with steady momentum and furthered their belief that they can be among the world's elite.
Bouhaddi will be have to be in top form to protect the net against Anja Mittag and Celia Sasic, the tournament's co-leading scorers with five goals apiece. Likewise, Angerer will need to maintain her poise against the bullet-like speeds and attacks of what is known as “la tornade bleue” who are ready to storm the German front.
The Germans, though, will not settle for anything less than a win in their quest to match their male counterparts' feat in Brazil last summer.
Whether one is screaming “Deutchland vor!” or “Allez les bleues!” Friday's clash is between a pair of teams who could easily be, and perhaps should be, playing the same match on the final stage.
Shireen Ahmed is a writer, public speaker and sports activist focusing on Muslim women in sports. Her work has been featured and discussed in The Globe and Mail, Jezebel, VICE Sports, Islamic Monthly, Huffington Post, Best Health Magazine, Muslim Voices, Women Talk Sports, espnW and Edge of Sports Radio. Her blog is “Tales from a Hijabi Footballer.” She is currently working on her first book and lives in Toronto, Canada with her family. She can be followed on Twitter @_shireenahmed_.