The Quarterfinal stage of the World Cup began on Friday with a pair of matches; one more epic than the other.
The day began in Montreal, Quebec where what may have been the match of the tournament got underway in front of another underwhelming crowd. That the combination of seeding and brackets forced a premature encounter between two of the tournament favourites was not lost on any paying close attention, but regardless of such protests, all were turned in to see the two European powerhouses take to the pitch.
Despite a day's less rest, France began on the front foot, inches away from taking an early lead through Louisa Necib, who sent her effort just wide of the left-post after a blazing Elodie Thomis run up the right saw her fling a ball through the box to the back-side.
Having set that early note, Les Bleues would boss the majority of the first half, finding innumerable chances, but falling to capitalize.
The second half began much the same, this time however, come the 64th minute, Necib would put away her look; not without a hefty deflection off the attempted block of German defender Babett Peter. A long ball forward from Jessica Houara was headed down by Peter, straight to Necib, who controlled and shaped to send a right-footer towards goal. In her haste to correct her turnover, Peter stuck out a boot, catching just enough of the shot to send it looping over Nadine Angerer and into the left-side of goal, giving France the lead in front of a partisan crowd.
Die Nationalelf were now faced with a unique challenge – they had never trailed in a match to this point – but they would find the strength to respond, somewhat fortunately, when France's Amel Majri was called for a handball on the edge of the French box, blocking a cross from Leonie Maier in the 84th minute. Celia Sasic would shoulder that responsibility, reinstating herself as the Golden Boot leader with her sixth, placing a right-footer low to the goalkeeper's right, having sent Sarah Bouhaddi guessing in the other direction.
It was a harsh turn of events, given that an earlier handball by the Germans had been missed.
Tied 1-1, the match would advance into extra time, where again France were in the ascendancy, but once more they would fail to make the most of their chances.
One passage in particular echoed Necib's early miss, when a wonderfully worked move saw Kheira Hamraoui slip Houara down the right-side of the area, she picked out Gaetane Thiney unmarked at the back-post, but she could not get herself aligned, redirecting the service agonizingly wide of that left-post.
With that miss, the match would be decided by penalty kicks, the first nine of which were dispatched with ease and in quick succession. The final French kick would be the responsibility of Claire Lavogez, but she neither hit it hard enough, nor tucked it well enough in the corner, placing it to the keeper's left, within reach. Angerer leapt to action, making the save with her knee, and Germany, perhaps underservedly, were through to the semifinals – drawing 1-1, but winning 5-4 on penalties, where they will meet the winner of the China-USA match.
It was a match for the ages, one that had everything: blood, sweat, and finally tears, as the French crash out against old foes Germany.
The evening's other match took place in Ottawa, Ontario, ending very much as expected with the USA moving on by dint of a 0-1 win over China PR.
An early chance for Amy Rodriguez went horribly wrong, before a goal-mouth scramble provided hints as to how the Stars and Stripes would find the breakthrough. A cross from Ali Krieger on the left saw the Chinese keeper, Wang Fei, go walkabouts, allowing Julie Johnston to send an effort towards goal, fortunately for the Chinese, defender Li Dongna had retreated to the goal-line, where she easily cleared the attempt.
Johnston would find another similar chance on a free-header from a corner kick, guiding her effort well over the target.
The Steel Roses were less than forceful, mustering few chances on the night, and that inability to defend aerially would bite in the 51st minute when a deep ball from Johnston was sailed towards the penalty spot, where Carli Lloyd got up ahead of defender Zhao Rong to guide a header down to the bottom right-corner of the goal. The Chinese keeper, having been stung on her travels earlier, was rooted to the ground and unable to get across to make the required save.
China pressed forward in search of an equalizer, but could only find two shots on goal – out of six total – both of which were tame efforts from distance, easily smothered by Hope Solo, who went untested throughout.
With the USA advancing to meet the Germans, another epic match is on the cards, while the Chinese return home with the knowledge that they have much work to do before challenging the status quo of world power.
Saturday sees the other two quarterfinal matches, the winners of which will set the final four, offering a shot at tournament glory.
In the early match at 4 pm (ET) Australia, who upset Brazil to reach this stage, will face defending champions, Japan in Edmonton, Alberta. While the late match, at 7:30 pm (ET), will pit England, who survived a quarterfinal against Norway, against hosts Canada, who progressed past Switzerland on Josee Belanger's goal, in Vancouver, British Colombia.
Today's winners will meet in the other semifinal, so the final, nearly within reach, is the prize. Who will move on? That is the question.