Ahead of the first quarterfinal game of the 2023 Women’s World Cup, here are some things to know about each matchup.
Spain vs. the Netherlands
Both Spain and the Netherlands are about par with each other throughout the tournament. In the group stage, Spain had only one loss which came against Japan. The Netherlands did not have a loss, but did draw to the United States, who failed to reach the quarterfinals. So looking at this match, it will truly be a battle.
Spain has a very young and inexperienced team, which could actually benefit them in the end. While that may seem impossible, inexperience makes it difficult for other teams to scout them and adequately prepare their tactics before the match. But what Spain has shown so far at this World Cup is that they have a stellar offense, which will be a major threat to the Dutch.
Key players for Spain’s offense have been Aitana Bonmati and Jenni Hermoso. Bonmati and Hermoso combined are responsible for scoring six goals out of 13 goals that Spain has scored throughout the group stage and the Round of 16. So, with Bonmati and Hermoso on the field, you can expect that they will have shots on target, if not goals.
Spain’s main weakness would be their defense, only relative to the Netherlands. The Dutch have only allowed one goal this tournament, compared to Spain, who allowed Japan to get four goals past them in the group stage. If Spain’s defenders can lock down the Dutch frontline, they’ll have a decent chance of advancing.
Although a very talented team, the Netherlands’ weak point going into this match will be the loss of Daniëlle van de Donk. After playing 299 minutes across four matches, Van de Donk will be sitting out due to yellow card accumulation. She received a yellow card against Portugal in the group stage and against South Africa in the Round of 16. This could prove to be a major hit to the Dutch roster as Van de Donk is an integral asset for the team.
The Netherlands’ defense has been a major success for this team so far in the tournament. The only goal allowed thus far was scored by Lindsay Horan of the U.S., in the 1-1 draw. On the offensive side, they have scored 11 goals in four matches. The Dutch are going to look at Jill Roord to be the greatest offensive threat. Roord has scored in three out of the four matches she has played in, and will look to break through the Spanish defensive line and score more goals for her team.
Japan vs. Sweden
Japan and Sweden is going to potentially be another close match. Both teams have won every game they have played in so far this World Cup. This is the match of the undefeated.
Before the start of the World Cup, many fans slept on how much of a force Japan would be. In every single match, Japan has decimated their opponents and have only allowed a single goal. Their narrowest region of winning was by two goals in their match against Costa Rica (2-0) and their match against Norway (3-1). Overall, Japan has scored 14 goals in four games, averaging 3.5 goals per game.
Every Japanese midfielder and forward that steps onto the pitch is a major threat to any team they face, so much so that it is difficult to highlight just one or two players. The key for Japan to beat Sweden is to continue using their technical fervor and pass out of pressure.
After making it out of the Round of 16 by a millimeter, Sweden will need to improve on their Round of 16 performance to contend with the Japanese, particularly in the attack.
However, they’ve shown moments of brilliance up top when Fridolina Rolfö and Amanda Ilestedt have the ball at their feet. If they can score and score early, this will be the key to a Sweden victory.
Sweden’s biggest strength though is goalkeeper Zećria Mušović. Mušović was unreal against the U.S., stopping 11 shots on target and single-handedly keeping Sweden in the game. If Mušović continues this performance in goal, it might not matter how many shots Japan gets on target.
Australia vs. France
Both of these teams have been on an upward trajectory throughout the tournament. Australia started this World Cup with a nervy 1-0 win against Ireland in the group stage, while France was held scoreless by Jamaica in a 0-0 draw. Contrast this with each team’s Round of 16 performance, where Australia beat Denmark 2-0 and France won over Morocco 4-0.
Australia, led by recently healthy captain Sam Kerr, will want to give their home fans something to cheer about. The Matildas are lethal in transition — their speed and pinpoint-accurate passes through the midfield can cut through most teams defenses like a knife. Couple that with expert-finisher forwards such as Hayley Raso and Caitlin Foord, and Australia could easily move on to the quarterfinals.
That being said, Australia’s greatest strength is also their greatest weakness. They are excellent in transition, and yet the team needs to be more alert in these transitional moments. Denmark was able to exploit the gaps in the Aussies’ midfield on the turnover, and France is capable of doing the same.
France not only has the talent to win this game, but the audacity. All of their forwards (specifically Kenza Dali, Eugènie Le Sommer and Kadidiatou Diani) are confident enough to shoot from anywhere. Often, these shots will somehow end up in the back of the net. Diani is brilliant at creating space for herself to take these shots, or she can draw defenders to her and quickly pass to an open teammate.
That being said, France needs to be more vigilant on set pieces. In the group stage, World Cup debutant Panama was able to score three goals against France. Two of these goals came from set piece opportunities. The second of these was technically off of a second ball, another area where France needs to be more proactive.
Overall, this game could go either way. France may edge out as the favorites, but Australia has risen to the occasion in this tournament.
England vs. Colombia
This will be a fascinating game. Colombia, the World Cup debutant, will square off against England, who is in their ninth World Cup after winning the Euros last summer. While this could seem like a David vs. Goliath matchup, it’s far from it.
Colombia, led by phenoms Linda Caicedo and Catalina Usme, have scored some of the best goals of the tournament. Both of these players can seemingly make something out of nothing. The team also has a great ability to string passes together and find players like Caicedo or Usme in space. This starts with the backline, who only conceded two goals in the tournament thus far.
That being said, those two goals both came from penalties. Colombia needs to be extremely careful when defending in the box. They cannot afford to give a penalty to England. Goalkeeper Catalina Pérez also has to remain attentive, as her tendencies to come off her line to make defensive tackles can occasionally get dangerous.
England won every group stage match, although not as comfortably as one may expect from the Euros winners. Their only goal against Haiti was a penalty. Their only goal against Denmark came early from striker Lauren James, who will not be eligible for the Colombia match because of a two-game suspension earned after stepping on Nigeria defender Michelle Alozie’s back. In that Round of 16 match against Nigeria, England only managed four shots on target. For a team with such a robust scoring unit, England needs to increase their level of finishing or they may find themselves at the mercy of Caicedo and Usme.
Despite their lackluster showings, England seem to be extremely comfortable as a team. Their tactics are working, and it’s obvious the players have faith in them. Captain Millie Bright can easily initiate an attack from the backline, and once the attacking switch is flipped, the team goes all in. The midfield is able to easily see the ball through to the forwards. If the England that scored six goals against China comes to play Colombia, this could be a lopsided scoreline. But if England repeats their form from the Nigeria game… they could see themselves in an early exit.
This is the wildcard match of the quarterfinals. Anything could happen. There are so many question marks, such as James being out for England, that it’s genuinely difficult to predict. That’s just the magic of the World Cup.