The knockout stages of the 2015 Women's World Cup start this afternoon with Germany, one of the favorites, playing a familiar foe in the form of Sweden. The Germans have scored 15 goals thus far thanks in part to landing in a group with two minnows, but in their one true test they showed that they might be flawed. Norway had to hang on for dear life at times, but the second half was a closer affair and the Norwegians snagged a 1-1 draw thanks to Maren Mjelde's free kick, arguably the goal of the tournament.
Germany will still be favored heavily over the Swedes, who have disappointed thus far. Their opener against Nigeria was a thriller, but it also involved getting one point from a game they lead 2-0 early and 3-2 late. While their 0-0 draw with the United States was commendable in terms of organization and showed more smarts when it came to dampening the game's tempo - and let's not forget that unpunished Sydney Leroux handball, or Meghan Klingenberg's header off the line - it also relied quite a bit on the US's long ball addiction. They then spent 10 minutes of their third game facing a 1-0 deficit that would have put them out of the tournament. As is, they were the fourth-best team in the pool of 3rd place finishers, making them the de facto 16 seed here.
Make no mistake: Sweden can still upset Germany. They were in good form before the tournament, and the reason everyone is so down on them right now is because they are capable of beating anyone. In Caroline Seger, they have a midfielder capable of disrupting the German central midfield, and Lotta Schelin could still come to life and spark their attack. Sweden is also one of a few teams that can compete with Germany in terms of size.
Some of Germany's stars - Anja Mittag and Celia Sasic come to mind - have delivered, but others haven't. Dzsenifer Marozsan may be better further up the field, and Alexandra Popp has not really hit great heights either. In a way, Germany's easy group may work against them here, as they haven't been pushed beyond limbering up yet. Sweden, meanwhile, came through the tournament's toughest group and are the more battle-tested team at the moment.
The other game between China and Cameroon could go either way. The Chinese were robbed in their opener when Canada was handed a dubious stoppage-time penalty kick, but bounced back to dominate the Netherlands. It looked like they weren't going to get the goal their play richly deserved, when they got karmic payback for that PK. Wang Lisi's 91st minute game-winner was less a shot and more an attempted trap that skewed off the turf oddly, but they all count. They can be a bit predictable going forward - they love to try to play their attackers in behind, especially as the game wears on - but China is a technically sound, fit team that in Wang Lisi has a confident scoring threat.
However, when it comes to confident scoring threats, the player to watch in this game is undoubtedly Gaelle Enganamouit. You can't miss her shock of blond hair, but you also can't help but notice her game: Powerful, fast, and to the point. China will struggle with Enganamouit's physicality and movement whether she's on the wing or up front, and she may be the decisive factor in this game. However, this is hardly a one-woman show; otherwise, they wouldn't have gone very close to completing their comeback bid against Japan. Their deep attack and strong belief in themselves make them one of the more fun teams to watch. This game will likely hinge on whether Cameroon gets the open game they'll want, or if China can take advantage of the space that approach leaves on counters.
Round of 16: Germany vs. Sweden
Kickoff time: 4:00pm Eastern
TV/Streaming: Fox Sports 1, Telemundo, Fox Sports Go, Fox Soccer 2Go, NBC Deportes En Vivo Extra
Venue: Lansdowne Stadium (Ottawa)
Round of 16: China vs. Cameroon
Kickoff time: 7:30pm Eastern
TV/Streaming: Fox Sports 1, NBC Universo, Fox Sports Go, Fox Soccer 2Go, NBC Universo Now, NBC Deportes En Vivo Extra
Venue: Commonwealth Stadium (Edmonton)
What are you drinking?: The gin weather continues. If I get to the store in time, I might get fancy and make a cucumber basil gimlet. If not, gin & tonic maintains its recent stranglehold on my answer to this section.
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