The 2014 FIFA Under-20 Women's World Cup is about to get serious. The group stages wrapped up on Wednesday evening with the final two teams booking their place in the next round and we now know the eight nations that will contest that quarterfinals. We break down the field and try to get a better idea of what might stand between Canada and the title. All listed times are Eastern time, not local.
North Korea - United States - 16th August, 5pm, Toronto
North Korea have looked solid at times in this tournament but they have never really looked like a powerhouse. They got out of Group A in first place by just one goal but were not fully convincing in doing it. Their record of 2 wins and 1 draw with 5 goals for and 2 goals against is impressive considering that Ghana, Canada, and Finland all showed a fair bit of skill through the group stages.
The Koreans will need to find another gear though if they want to avoid a repeat of what happened to them in 2012. That year they were knocked out by the United States thanks to a 2-1 scoreline after extra time. The 2014 version of this Korea team might not have the same fire power as that team did but they are well organized and that will be their key to success should they keep going in this event. An organized team performance might just be enough against a US team that has not really hit their stride just yet but the big question is where will they get scoring from. If they play like they did against Canada they might just have enough quality to make one of their chances count and hold on for the win.
The Americans on the other hand look like a team that has yet to really get out of first gear. They did make it out of a very tough group despite losing their opening game to Germany. A pair of wins against Brazil and China were enough for them to grab second spot but they sure made it tough on themselves. If not for a late winner against Brazil in their second game the Americans could have been packing their bags early.
The good news is that the Americans looked their best in the final match of the group stage. They grabbed a convincing 3-0 win over China in a must-win game which sets them up well for the knockout stages of the event. With Lindsey Horan leading the attack there are goals in this team but if they want to make a return to the finals they are going to need the players around her to step up a notch.
The American's road to the final could look very similar to the one that they navigated successfully in 2012. They could have rematches with North Korea, Nigeria, and Germany who are the three teams they beat to claim the title in 2012.
Nigeria - New Zealand - 17th August, 4pm, Moncton
Nigeria have a history of doing well in this event having finished third in 2012, second in 2010, and reaching the quarterfinals in 2008, 2006, and 2004. So just making it to the knockout stage at this event will not really be viewed as a success for the team who is looking to take that final step and win their first title.
They come out of a fairly balanced group that saw the drama go down to the final round of games with every team in Group C picking up 2 points. Nigeria were able to top the group thanks to an opening round draw against Mexico followed by a pair of 2-1 wins over South Korea and England.
Nigeria is a well organized team that can make life hard for opponents with their athleticism and the fact that they have a wide variety of scoring threats in both the attack and the midfield. One of those threats will have a familiar name to Toronto FC fans as the Nigerian squad features Courtney Dike, the younger sister of TFC forward Bright Dike. She is one of five different players who scored a goal for Nigeria in the group stage which just highlights their balanced attack.
They have already proven they can grind out close results in this event and that is a skill that they will need in the knockout rounds. The good news for Nigeria is that they could be in position to make another deep run in the event given that their side of the draw seems to be very navigable for them with the United States being the biggest potential hurdle on the way to the final.
New Zealand made it to the knockout round from arguably the weakest group in the event. France were the class of that group but the kiwis had enough about them to finish ahead of Paraguay and Costa Rica thanks to 2-0 and 3-0 wins over each country respectively. The only stumble along the way was a crushing 4-0 defeat against France that really showed the difference in quality between this New Zealand team and the top teams in this competition.
If the Kiwis are going to make it any further in this event they are going to need to find another level of play than what they showed throughout Group D play. They won't have a lot of battle testing to call on though as they had the easiest road of anyone (other than the hosts) to qualify for this event out of Oceania and a relatively easy group.
New Zealand have been regulars in this event ever since Australia made the move out of the confederation but this is their first appearance in the knockout rounds. At this point going any further would be a cherry on top of an already successful tournament for this side.
France - South Korea - August 17th, 7pm, Montreal
They may have had one of the easier groups or they might just have made it look easy. Either way, this French team is a very good one and could make a deep run in this event. They won all three games in their group scoring 12 goals and conceding just 1 with their 3-0 win over Paraguay being the closest they got to looking human.
The impressive part for France was that their 12 goals came from a wide variety of sources in the group stage. They had 7 different goal scorers in the three games with a pair of players (Claire Lavogez and Faustine Robert) notching three goals. They are a team that is capable of scoring at any moment and hitting you from anywhere on the field which is why they have the quality needed to win this event.
While France have not really been tested in this tournament thus far they have plenty of experience to call on from last summer when they won the 2013 UEFA Women's Under-19 Championship. They looked impressive in that event as well with their wins over Germany and England in the knockout round standing out as impressive results. In that event they also showed a balanced attack and a strong defence giving up just 2 goals in five matches.
France could be in position for another semifinal matchup against Germany which would be a rematch of last summer but first they will have to get past South Korea. The Koreans needed everything they had just to make it out of Group C as they just did enough to finish in second place behind Nigeria.
South Korea drew their opening game 1-1 against England before losing their second game 2-1 against Nigeria. That left them with a lot of work to do in the final round of games as they needed a win and then some help to book their place in the quarterfinals. They got the job done with a 2-1 win over Mexico which was enough thanks to England losing to Nigeria.
South Korea scored 4 times and conceded 4 times but the concerning part for them will be that two of their goals came from the penalty spot. They will actually need to score a few goals from the run of play if they want to go any further in this event because chances are France will have a few goals in them.
If they can somehow get past France they would be in position to equal their best ever performance at this event. They won the third place match in 2010 having lost in the semifinals against Germany who could be waiting for them if they survive France.
Germany - Canada - August 16th, 8pm, Edmonton
The Germans were a confusing team in the group stages. They looked great in claiming a 2-0 win over the United States in the opening game and a 5-1 win over Brazil in the final game. The issue was the match in between where they wound up drawing 5-5 with China in the highest scoring game this competition has even seen.
The 12 goals that the Germans scored are impressive as they got 5 goals from Sara Dabritz and 3 from Pauline Bremer and Theresa Panfil. That trio give them plenty of fire power in the attack but they are not the only ones who are capable of scoring on this German team. Like France and Nigeria they are capable of getting goals from just about anywhere in the squad and can fill the net up in a hurry.
The big question mark for the Germans is the one that was exposed by China. They are a team that is capable of conceding goals at a similar rate to which they score them at. When they stayed compact and organized against the United States it limited their attacking chances but it also allowed them to dictate the game before scoring twice in the second half. When they opened up and tried to attack China they were exposed at the back and conceded 4 times in the second half of the game.
It will be interesting to see how Germany come out and play in their quarterfinals. They could very well come out and attack with the belief that they have enough quality to outscore Canada and they might just be right or they could go back to the approach that worked against the United States and play a bit more conservative and hope that they can make the most of their chances when they do come.
For Canada, the real test in this game is going to be their ability to slow down all that attacking talent in the German squad. Canada certainly has the talent to do it with the likes of Kadeisha Buchanan proving their quality at the back already in this event. She will need to improve on her player of the game appearance against North Korea though against such a tough opponent which might be a big ask.
If goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan can avoid the mistakes that led to goals in the first 2 games, then as seen against North korea defending may be Canada's strong point which is good news against a team with attacking punch. Canada's question mark continues to be their attacking play. They got enough goals to get the job done in the group stage but most of the scoring happened when they were forced to push numbers forward due to needed goals just to stay alive in the event.
Trying to trade blows with Germany would be asking for trouble so Canada's best chance of moving on might just be relying on their defence and hoping to grab a goal with one of the chances that Germany will almost certainly give up.
If Canada are looking for a recipe for success against this German team their semifinal against France from last summer is probably the better example than that 5-5 draw against China. In that game France were compact and grabbed a pair of quick goals just after the hour mark when the chances finally came. That may just be the only way to beat this German team and it is something that Canada could very well pull off if they can avoid the sloppy defensive mistakes that nearly cost them in the group stage.
This Canada-Germany matchup could prove to be the most interesting pairing of the round with the Germans being one of the top sides and Canada looking strong at times. The real X-factor in this one might just be the home support should Edmonton come out in large numbers again like they did back in 2002.