The Knockout Stages of the 2015 Women's World Cup began on Saturday with the first two matches from the Round of 16, pitting high-flying Germany against Sweden and China PR against Cameroon.
In the opening salvo, the Germans continued their goal-scoring exploits, laying four down on the Swedes in Ottawa, resulting a 4-1 win and ensuring the tournament favourites would move on to the Quarterfinals.
Anja Mittag netted her fifth of the competition in the 24th minute to open the scoring, winning the ball herself in midfield, exchanging a brief one-two with Celia Sasic, before moving in from the left to place a low, right-footed shot across the Swedish keeper Hedvig Lindahl, just beyond her reach and in at the far-post.
Not to be outdone, Sasic herself would get on the score-sheet in the 36th minute, doubling Germany's advantage after Mittag was felled in the box by Swedish defender, Amanda Ilestedt, prompting the official to point to the spot. Sasic calmly stepped up, dispatching the kick with a low right-footer to the keeper's left, having sent Lindahl sprawling helplessly in the opposite direction.
That was Sasic's fourth goal in Canada and she would go on to tie her teammate, Mittag, for the golden boot in the 78th minute, placing a header into the open net after a drive from Leonie Maier rebounded off the left-post. Maier cut in from the right, attempting to send her left-footer to the far-side, only to be denied by the woodwork, but Sasic was on hand and alert, trebling Germany's haul on the afternoon.
Trailing, the Blagult would make it interesting, albeit briefly, pulling one back in the 82nd minute through Linda Sembrandt, who rose up for a towering header on a free-kick from Therese Sjogran. Sembrandt was totally unmarked on the play, guiding her effort towards the right-side of goal, and that goal may just have given future opposition a glimpse at how to score on, if not beat, the fearsome Germans.
Sweden nearly scored a second minutes later when Sofia Jakobsson was played in alone, but German keeper Nadine Angerer was quick off her line, staying big to deny the chance with a sliding block.
And to alleviate any concerns, Die Nationalelf added a fourth in the 88th minute when Lena Goessling sent a low corner kick to the high near-post, which Dzsenifer Marozsan met, as she slipped, with a right-foot, sailing a shot high to the top right corner.
With that result, Sweden's tournament comes to a disappointing and premature end, while Germany moves on, awaiting the winner of the France-Korea Republic match on Sunday.
The later match saw China PR move on to the next stage with a 1-0 win over Cameroon in Edmonton, courtesy of a 12th minute goal from Wang Shanshan.
A right-sided corner kick was hit deep to the back-side where it was collected by Li Dongna, she in turn found Shanshan at the near-post, taking advantage of a scrambled defense that was caught ball-watching, leaving Shanshan to direct her right-footer to the right-side of goal for her second goal of the tournament, giving the Steel Roses a one-goal lead. Organized defending continued to be a soft spot for the African representatives.
Both sides would see further half-chances turned away. A Cameroonian header from Gaelle Enganamouit nearly pulled Les Liones Indomptablees level, only for her hard won effort to carom off the top of the crossbar.
For China, a looping touch from substitute Lou Jiahui was diverted agonizingly wide by the Cameroonian keeper, Annette Ngo Ndom, late in the second half.
But that early goal would stand as the decisive one, allowing the Chinese to move past a potential upset and onto the next round, where they will face the winner of the USA-Colombia match, set to be played on Monday. Cameroon's exit would come with some tears of disappointment, but they did themselves and their nation proud, and can build upon this showing to become a force in women's football in Africa and beyond.
Day Twelve brings with it a flurry of activity as three more of the eight Round of 16 matches are set to be played.
The action begins at 1 pm (EST or EDT, who can know such things) in Moncton, New Brunswick when Brazil, winners of Group E, defend their unbeaten record against Australia, runners-up in Group D – the Brazilians are yet to concede a goal, but Australia provides a very different challenge to the ones they faced in opening round play.
At 4 pm (ET), France, who overcame a slow start to top Group F, meet Korea Republic, Group E second-placed finishers, in Montreal, Quebec. Was the French performance against Mexico a sign of things to come? Or is Korea Republic, who needed a 78th minute winner against Spain to advance, a more troublesome adversary than the winless Mexicans?
And finally, at 7:30 pm (ET) in Vancouver, British Columbia, hosts Canada look to extend their participation with a knockout meeting against Switzerland. The Canadians topped Group A, thanks largely to their solid defending – allowing just one goal through three matches – but struggled to turn chances into goals at the other end, scoring just twice. The Swiss, who advanced out of Group C as a third-placed finisher, have plenty of fire-power – they scored eleven goals through three games, though a 10-1 win over Ecuador padded that statistic – and will provide a stern test for the Canadians.
Should be an intriguing series of fixtures; enjoy!