24 teams started – 8 have now gone home, 36 matches have been played – only 15 left and we will have a winner. The knockout stage begins this Saturday (22nd June) – NO SECOND CHANCES NOW!!!!!!!

Germany v Nigeria – Stade des Alpes, Grenoble – June 22nd

Whilst not the Germany we have been accustomed to at these global tournaments, they have quietly gone about their business very efficiently, 6 goals scored none conceded. Martina Voss-Tecklenburg only took over at the start of the year (after good work with Switzerland) and you cannot ask more than winning your first three competitive matches. Nigeria scraped through essentially thanks to Chile missing a late penalty against Thailand. But it would have been a travesty as the African side were burned big time by VAR in their final group match, which saw them lose to a debatable penalty award as well as having key defender Ngozi Ebere sent off, hence she is suspended for this clash.. Defence is an issue for Germany and they have given opportunities that their opponents have not taken advantage of. Nigeria are the current African Cup of Nations Champions and they do have the ability to exploit weaknesses especially with their pace up top. I just think the Germans will be too strong in this game, but they will be given a real game by a team who have nothing to lose with the match in the balance until the European side finish the game late on. 4-1 to Germany.

Norway v  Australia – Allianz Riviera, Nice – June 22nd

Norway have played very well so far in this tournament and were not three points worse off than the French in Group A , VAR reared its head in their defeat of the hosts in a match where they held their own and showed they would be no pushover, whoever they were up against. Australia have done superbly to rally from their last gasp sickener of a defeat to Italy in their opening match. At 0-2 down against Brazil things looked bleak, but they battled back to win 3-2 and then guaranted qualification with a 1-4 victory over Jamaica (lead striker and captain Sam Kerr scoring all 4) with the crucial  4th goal being the difference between playing in this game or against the hosts. Two good sides, it will be a seesaw match and for me one that will go the distance – 2-2 with Norway to win on penalties.

England v Cameroon– Stade du Hainaut, Valenciennes – June 23rd

England have been a bit underwhelming so far this tournament bearing in mind they came in as one of the so called favourites but to be fair they have played some lovely football in passages and been clinical showing they will be a big danger to any team who has to face them. Phil Neville has got game time into squad as well as plenty of options across the pitch, time to reset now and be ready for the knockout phase, there is no doubt they are in great shape as we head towards the make or break matches. Cameroon are the 2nd African side in the round of 16 thanks to some incredible drama to secure qualification, they won with essentialy the last attack of their game against New Zealand with an outstanding goal by Ajara Nchout, her second of the game and her first was not three bad either. The celebrations at the end were something to behold with players and coaches hugging each other with so much joy. Gabrielle Onguéné a tricky forward with pace and guile will be a real danger too with, from the little that I have seen, her biggest weaknesses is that she is far too greedy and not always seeking out players in better positions especially in front of goal. Yes this will be tough for the Lionesses to begin with as Cameroon definitely can mix it physically but this is a English side that can cope with that, they will wear their opponents down to end up 4-0 victors, in what will be a statement win.

France v Brazil– Stade Oceane, Le Havre – June 23rd

Wowsers what a match in the Round of 16, it is going to be a fun Sunday night. The hosts have won 3 from 3, beginning with an outstanding performance against what we now know was a very limp South Korea, who finished bottom of the group with a whimper. They had to work much harder to win against Norway and Nigeria, where VAR was the main assist in both games. Manager Corinne Diacre will know they cannot rely on technology and will be hoping they can return to the form at least of their first match. Brazil have navigated their way here thanks to an excellent battling performance against the Italians after their collapse in their previous match when they lost a 2 goal lead to lose 3-2 to Australia. The initial win in their first game when Jamaica were swatted aside seems a long time ago. Funnily enough key player Marta didn’t play in the first match because of injury and despite two goals from the spot in their last couple of games, she still does not look fit and watching her she is most definitely not at the top of her game. This is just the kind of match to keep the French on their toes and as long as they deal with the pressure they will get through this one more comfortably than their last two matches in my opinion. 2-0 and France will progress to the last 8.

Spain v USA – Stade Auguste-Delaune, Reims – June 24th

Spain have looked very pretty on the eye this tournament and deservedly got out of Group B. However if they took their opportunities against the Germans in their second match they may have found themselves with a much easier tie than facing the USA. Jill Ellis’ team have been outstanding – showing flair and quality throughout the group phase scoring 18 goals and conceding none. Even against Sweden in a tough fixture where Scandinavian side had a real go despite conceding early,  they looked a class above. They are the favourites and I don’t see Spain being a team to stop them. 0-3 to the Americans.

Sweden v Canada – Parc des Princes, Paris – June 24th

Sweden have been a breath of fresh air, no longer are they just a team that shows solidarity hoping for bits and pieces in front of goal. They are a very potent attacking unit and even in defeat to the USA they created trouble for the holders and there is no disrespect in losing to a team that good. Canada have played their usual, solid style seeing off Cameroon and New Zealand relatively easily without conceding. Their defeat against the Netherlands showed that they are not necessarily watertight at the back against teams with better and more versatile attackers.The bigger concern is the lack of goals from Christine Sinclair. She scored in their 2-1 defeat to the Dutch, hopefully that’s just the beginning. This game is going to be tight, I think extra time will be needed and Christine Sinclair will be the hero, 2-1 to the Canadians.

Italy v China – Stade de la Mosson, Montpellier – June 25th

The Italians for me have been the biggest surprise of the tournament so far. Not really fancied in a group with Brazil and Australia, they have showed real verve in their opening victory over the Australians with a last gasp goal, which nobody could say they didn’t deserve before demolishing Jamaica 5-0 to secure their place in the last 16 after just 2 matches. Maybe this was the reason for such a lacklustre performance, knowing they were already through, as Brazil, who had to get something beat them 0-1. Next up is China. The Asian side have been very methodical through the tournament, doing the bare minimum. To be fair they were unlucky when losing to Germany, missing a couple of great opportunities but just 1 goal and two clean sheets in their following matches tells you exactly how they will play in this game. They set out for a point in their final group game against Spain secure in the knowledge that a draw would mean qualification as a best 3rd place team. They duly did what they needed to, with a great performance from their keeper, Peng Shimeng, who will be the busier of the keepers in this match up that’s for sure. For me Italy to bounce back to winning ways and sneak it 1-0 and continue their World Cup adventure.

Netherlands v Japan – Roazhon Park, Rennes – June 25th

The European Champions participation in the World Cup nearly didn’t happen as they had to qualify throughthe playoffs but now The Oranje are slowly but surely getting better incrementality game by game. They pounced in stoppage time to beat New Zealand, got the better of Cameroon in a very physical game before topping the group with victory over Canada. They started Euro 2017 in similar fashion and with Vivianne Miedema as their main striker they will be looking to progress deep into this tournament.  Japan have had  a strange World Cup, very average in their first match versus Argentina in a 0-0 stalemate, much more like their usual selves in a 2-1 win over Scotland, then they performed pretty well in their final match against England but lost 0-2. They do like possession but their end product is poor. They will need to be better in front of goal and in transition if they are to get anything from this match. Japan to be fair have made the final in the last two tournaments (winning in 2011) this recent record at World Cups tells me they have nothing to prove to anybody and with an Olympics in Tokyo next year, that is clearly their priority, whilst the Dutch have picked a squad ready to go far in the competition – 3-1 to the European Champions.

So there are my predictions – what do you think?

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