As seen in the previous round anything can happen in knockout football. 8 teams left, but only one will be lifting the trophy. My quarter final previews and predictions as below:-
Norway v England – Stade Oceane, Le Havre – June 27th
I said in my round of 16 blog that Norway have played well this tournament and whilst their match against Australia needed penalties to separate the sides, for me the Norwegian’s dealt with all the pressure moments best and at this stage of any tournament that is a key skill set. They rallied well after Australia’s late equaliser, hitting the post in stoppage time and being the team on the front foot in extra time. They have shown through this whole tournament, you underestimate them at your peril. England did what they needed to against Cameroon, using their experience in a feisty, to say the least, match against their African opponents. I was impressed more by their character and nous than the football, in tournaments like this you cannot be at your best every game, but continuing to get results is key. They have looked very good in patches, but have not really been able to put in a complete performance yet, however they are still winning and have only conceded one goal. They will have to be better against their Norwegian opponents who will be looking for some kind of revenge after losing to the same opposition in the round of 16 in the last World Cup. In my opinion it is going to be a long night in Le Havre, with England, just and I mean JUST outlasting Norway, 2-1 to the English after extra time.
France v USA – Parc des Princes, Paris – June 28th
The hosts survived in a fantastic game against the Brazilian’s. They did just about deserve it thanks to a captain’s goal from Amandine Henry early in the second period of extra time. They had already been pegged back by the South Americans which brought about the additional period, and a crucial block by centre back, Mbock Bathy stopped their opposition from taking the lead themselves. The French did look nervous and they have now not scored a first half goal since their opening fixture. They could do with one to help the nerves especially as they will be facing the tournament favourites in the guise of the USA. The holders struggled in their match against Spain, who set up to frustrate, changing their own possession based tactics to combat the US juggernaut. It worked well and it made Jill Ellis’ team work so very hard for their victory courtesy of 2 penalties the crucial one being pretty soft. The thing is they found a way to get over the line, just like their opponents in this game. This has all the hallmarks of a classic, France will be roared on by an expectant home crowd, though the USA have been followed in great numbers too. What an atmosphere it will be. The States are the better team and I can see them wanting to put on a show for their travelling support 1-3 to the reigning world champions.
Italy v Netherlands – Stade du Hainaut, Valenciennes – June 29th
Italy’s charge continues, they were dominant in their quarter final victory over China and for me, they are right up there as one of the most impressive teams after the USA in the tournament. Ever since their opening match come from behind victory over Australia they have shown a real cavalier spirit with an energised style especially in midfield that as endeared them to all who have seen them play. They have a solid backline marshalled by captain Sara Gama and her centre back partner Elena Linari and have shown that their front three of Giacinti, Bonansea and Girelli can score goals when it matters.The Italians will face a Netherlands side who will already know they are very fortunate to have got this far. They took the lead (through Lieke Martens) versus Japan in their round of 16 game and looked in total control, but as in their previous two matches they surrendered it. The Asian side then dominated them in the second half but just couldn’t find that killer goal thanks to the woodwork and great saves from the Dutch goalkeeper, and yes you have guessed it they were left to rue this as the European side were awarded a last minute penalty which was duly dispatched by Martens to send them into the quarter finals. A lucky win no doubt, but sometimes that is what you need in tournaments like this. This match is hard to call and will be played (if forecast weather at time of posting stays as it is) in stiflingly hot afternoon sunshine with a 3pm kick off. Italy’s usual harem sacrem style may not work as well in these type of conditions and I see the European Champions know how getting them over the line. 0-2 to the Dutch
Germany v Sweden – Roazhon Park, Rennes – June 29th
German efficiency is a well know phrase across the world but as a description it is usually pretty much spot on. Yes this German side is not the all conquering one of previous vintages, but you cannot fault their progress so far. 4 matches, 9 goals scored and none conceded. People can talk about how they might not have played anybody that has really tested them, but you can only beat what is put in front of you. They have scored 7 in the last two games and are looking very dangerous. Bear in mind too they have been playing without arguably their best player in Dzsenifer Marozsán, who broke her toe in the opening game. It has been a huge help that Sara Dabritz has really stepped up to fill that particular void, especially with goals from midfield. Sweden saw off Canada in a game that only sprang to life once Stina Blackstenius broke the deadlock (after a delicious pass from playmaker Kosovare Asllani) early in the second half. Hedvig Lindahl’s penalty save proved to be the key moment and the Swedes now head to Rennes to face the Germans. The Scandinavian’s have performed very well for me in this tournament, remember they gave the USA some troubles in a dead rubber group game. However Germany look to be improving markedly as the tournament grows and I can see them shutting out their fellow European opponents in a way that only the Germans can do. They will be efficient as ever in a 2-0 victory.
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