The field at the Women's World Cup is down to the final 16. Here's how the group stage survivors stack up ahead of the knockout stage.
The Women's World Cup field has been trimmed by eight.
A rather straightforward group stage has been completed with minimal surprise. Favorites like France, USA, England and Germany all coasted to first-place group finishes, and no team viewed as a contender prior to the competition has bowed out. Given the safety net of four of six third-place finishers going through, that was always likely to be the case. The biggest surprise of all may be Italy, which topped a group featuring Brazil and Australia via tiebreaker, with all three level on six points–but as the 15th-ranked team in the world in a deeper field than ever, perhaps the perception of Le Azzurre should have been a little stronger entering the tournament.
An underdog-less group stage means a powerhouse-laden knockout field, and that's what the competition has been left with for the next four rounds that feature some tantalizing prospects on both sides of the bracket.
Here's how the remaining teams stack up:
(3-0-0, +18 goal differential, vs. Spain in last 16)
The Americans had an admittedly easy group, but they took care of business in the toughest of the three matches by beating longtime nemisis Sweden (even if the Swedes were at less than full strength). The road ahead appears to be brutal. First up it's Spain, a team that frustrated the U.S. in a winter friendly, only to have Christen Press's one moment of magic be the difference in a 1-0 win. Beyond that, the road could very well be the three teams that immediately follow in these rankings–and FIFA's world table. If the U.S. is to repeat as champion, it will have certainly earned its crown.
(3-0-0, +6 GD, vs. Brazil in last 16)
The host nation blew away South Korea to open the competition, but the two matches that followed revealed a squad that perhaps isn't as dynamic and prolific as it appears on paper–or just one that hasn't fully hit its stride yet as it grows into the tournament. France benefited heavily from VAR against both Norway and Nigeria, though, and it's only going to be able to rely on technology for so long. Brazil represents a tricky opponent in the round of 16, and if Les Bleues are too consumed with a potential showdown against the USA in the quarterfinals, they could be caught looking ahead and picked off by Marta & Co.
(3-0-0, +4 GD, vs. Cameroon in last 16)
England completed a professional job in beating Scotland, Argentina and Japan to coast to the knockout stage with maximum points. The Lionesses don't match the explosive capabilities of the USA or France, but that was never going to be their game. In their last 14 games, they haven't exceeded three goals once. What they can do, though, is control a game, play a disciplined style and get results. Its path–Cameroon, followed by either Norway or Australia–is certainly a manageable one to return to the semifinal stage that it reached in 2015, and there's reason to believe England can improve on its bronze-winning performance from four years ago.
(3-0-0, +6 GD, vs. Nigeria in last 16)
Marozsan Watch is officially on. Germany also took maximum points in the group stage despite not having star playmaker Dzsenifer Marozsan for games against Spain and South Africa with a broken toe. She had been ruled out for the opening stage, but the door was left open for a return in the knockout rounds. If she does make her way back, then a run to the title is certainly within reach. In the meantime, Germany is one of two teams yet to concede a goal (the USA is the other) and has a favorable last-16 match against Nigeria for which it can probably get away with resting Marozsan and not expediting her return before necessary.
(3-0-0, +4 GD, vs. Japan in last 16)
There's plenty of talk about the USA and France's attack, but the Dutch's is right up there, with Vivanne Miedema, Lieke Martens and Shanice van de Sanden leading the line. That hasn't necessarily translated into goals, but it certainly has translated into chances, and there's no side in the field that will spook the 2017 European champions. Drawing Japan for the last 16 makes for a challenge, but the Asian power hasn't shown the same quality we've become accustomed to seeing over the last eight years, while the Dutch are very clearly on the rise.
(2-1-0, +3 GD, vs. Australia in last 16)
Norway showed well during the group stage and played France tightly, ultimately succumbing to defeat over a VAR decision to award a penalty. A last-16 matchup with Australia is a tough draw, but the Ada Hegerberg-less side should have no concerns about being able to score on the Matildas. Whether it can stop Sam Kerr is another story entirely. But if there's a dark-horse of sorts–historically speaking, few are as accomplished as Norway–who could make a run from a loaded side of the bracket, it's this one.
(2-1-0, +5 GD, vs. China in last 16)
Le Azzurre not only won a difficult group, it winds up with a pretty winnable last-16 game against China, too. It won't be easy, as China can suffocate the energy out of a game. Italy's all-around numbers were skewed by a 5-0 thrashing of Jamaica, but it's shown it belongs on this stage, and a run to the quarterfinals would exceed anyone's pre-tournament expectations.
(2-1-0, +3 GD, vs. Norway in last 16)
The win over Jamaica juiced Australia's–and Kerr's–group stats in a big way, but there was never any doubt about its ability to score goals. Whether it can keep them out against top competition is a different question, and it's the one that will ultimately determine whether this side can avoid another early knockout elimination and make a run to the semifinals and beyond.
(1-1-1, +1 GD, vs. USA in last 16)
Spain's problem is the opposite of Australia's. It has little problem controlling the ball and defending well. It has plenty of problems translating its play into goals. Of its three goals in the group stage, all of them came in the opener against South Africa, and two came via penalty kick. Spain was shut out by Germany and then China in a loss and draw, respectively, and it's playing a dicey game if its approach is to defend its way to a knockout run–especially with the prolific, in-form USA on deck. Spain can take solace from limiting the U.S. in a 1-0 defeat in January, but the Americans are simply in a different place right now.
(2-1-0, +3 GD, vs. France in last 16)
Brazil entered the Women's World Cup on a nine-match losing streak, and Marta offered some unflattering comments for the squad before its trip to France. Naturally, that resulted in Brazil beating Jamaica and Italy and being in position to beat Australia before collapsing and blowing a 2-0 lead. Marta, who became the all-time leading goalscorer in the history of any senior World Cup, men's or women's, still doesn't appear to be her prolific self, and a showdown vs. France sure figures to be the end of the road. That's the price of a third-place group finish.
(2-1-0, +2 GD, vs. Sweden in last 16)
Like with Spain, the big question surrounding Canada is whether it can score enough. Christine Sinclair got her first of the competition against the Netherlands in the group finale to pull within two of Abby Wambach's all-time international record, but that the 36-year-old remains one of Canada's chief attacking threats at this stage in her career says plenty about the depth of the attack. After winning best young player honors on home soil in 2015, Kadeisha Buchanan has been immense in the back, and the Canadians certainly have what it takes to tame Sweden. Asking to do the same of potentially Germany in the quarterfinals, however, is a bit much.
(2-1-0, +4 GD, vs. Canada in last 16)
It's unclear what to expect from Sweden. Like the USA, it's first two matches were hard to use as a litmus test given the sizable gap in quality. Then, Sweden heavily rotated its squad against the U.S., giving the impression it didn't really care to go all out to win the group when a more favorable route, at least on paper, came with a second-place finish. After everything, we still haven't seen Sweden's best. The 2016 Olympic silver medalist is capable of playing with anybody, but would it really be a shock if it bowed out vs. Canada? Hardly.
(1-1-1, -1 GD, vs. Netherlands in last 16)
Finalists in 2011 and 2015, Japan has been wildly underwhelming in France. There's been little to suggest a third straight run to the final is in the cards, especially with a daunting last-16 matchup vs. the Netherlands. Japan scored just twice in the group stage–both goals coming in a win over Scotland–and is lacking the game-changing qualities that made it one of the world's best.
(1-1-1, 0 GD, vs. Italy in last 16)
When it plays, China definitely typically have the best team in the field, but it is also certainly going to make its opponents work for everything they get. A physical side that only conceded once in the group stage, China won't be an easy out and could perhaps parlay its frustrating style into an upset of Italy and a place in the quarterfinals. We've yet to see the best of PSG star Wang Shuang. Perhaps she can be the difference in a low-scoring defensive struggle.
(1-2-0, -2 GD, vs. Germany in last 16)
Hard-done by a VAR-aided penalty retake that gave France the ammo necessary to win their group finale, Nigeria wound up as one of the top four third-place finishers in excruciating circumstances. First, it was boosted by Argentina's VAR-aided penalty retake that kept Scotland out of the equation and sent things to the final day. Then, watching as Chile, which needed a win by three goals or more to take Nigeria's place among the top third-place sides, hit a late penalty kick off the crossbar and only beat Thailand 2-0, the Super Falcons were cleared for celebration. Germany will most likely spell the end for the African side, but what a thrilling journey it's been.
(1-2-0, -2 GD, vs. England in last 16)
This spot in the last 16 wound up going to the Indomitable Lionesses after a wild last couple of days in the group stage. Cameroon ultimately punched its ticket at the death of its group finale, beating New Zealand on Ajara Nchout's last-gasp heroics. You'd expect England to be a bit more disciplined in defense than New Zealand, but Cameroon will surely have a nothing-to-lose vibe after reaching the last 16 in such thrilling conditions.