The Olympic women’s soccer tournament enters the knockout stages with a quartet of action Friday, featuring at least 33 publicly out athletes. Due to the shifting tides of pool play that saw a host of draws and upsets, the quarterfinals feature matchups more suited to a semifinal or final.
Netherlands vs. United States, 7:00am EDT
The Friday breakfast match is a rematch of the 2019 World Cup Final, but the teams have switched roles here. Netherlands showed dominance in a 2-0-1 mark to win Group F, powered by scoring 18 goals in blowouts wins against Zambia and China. Vivianne Miedema leads the team, and the tournament, with 8 goals.
Even with 21 goals in three games, a question mark surrounds the team in orange. Their 3-3 result against Brazil showed that they could score, and Miedema did twice. Defensively, the Netherlands also showed they could be scored upon, and Brazil’s attack did. The Brazilians also built chances to win the game late in the match as the Dutch defense broke down.
The United States enters this quarterfinal sputtering. Team USA was 1-1-1 in pool play. Sweden shut the World Cup Champions out in the Olympic opener. The team has scored a scant six goals in pool play, all of them in a 6-1 win over New Zealand where six different players put the ball in the net. They ended pool play with a scoreless draw against Australia where the Americans couldn’t stitch an offense together.
There is also the matter of the “Rapinoe Scientific Method” (“You can’t win a championship without gays on your team”). The Netherlands leads the tournament in the number of known publicly out LGBTQ players in uniform. Riddle me this, Megan Rapinoe: Could this be a hidden advantage working against Team USA?
Canada vs. Brazil, 4:00am EDT
Five years ago in Rio, these two teams met for the bronze medal with Canada winning 2-1. This rematch is a tough draw for Canadian hopes to “change the color of the medal” which has been a prime goal after bronze in 2012 and 2016.
In pool play Canada dominated possession offensively and at times was a fortress on defense. However, they couldn’t find the net. In their 1-0-2 pool play effort, they managed four goals, and that lack of scoring punch cost them what should have been a win in the opening match against Japan.
Forward Christine Sinclair scored her 187 career international goal in this tournament, but her heir apparent have shown themselves. Janine Beckie leads the team with two goals and has been within an inch of perhaps two more in this draw.
Defensively, many have stood out. Among those is Quinn in the midfield. The first trans non-binary athlete to compete in an Olympics has made history. They’ve also made plays in containing both Japan and Britain’s skilled and speedy forwards in those matches along with fullback Ashley Lawrence, who was dynamic in pool play and will be needed to be a two-way threat in knockout round.
Brazil’s strength plays neatly against Canada’s sore spot. The Canadians twice surrendered goals in the final 10 minutes of play when they were leading. That is a perfect storm for Brazil’s furious, counter attacking style.
The legendary Marta leads the team with three goals of As Canarinhas’ nine in pool play. Andressa and Debinha follow with two. Formiga at age 43, has been a consistent anchor in Brazil’s tradition of bend-not-break defense triggering the counter against the opponent. Such a strategy could be the key here.
The winner of this match will have a semifinal date with the Netherlands/USA winner.
Great Britain vs. Australia 5:00am EDT
This quarterfinal features two teams who have been knocking on the door to level up in women’s soccer internationally.
In FIFA competition, each of the Home Nations of the United Kingdom have their own sides. At the Olympics, they compete as one British side. The England-dominated group has been paced by Ellen White’s three goals to win Group E at 2-0-1.
Much of the Team GB has been an ensemble cast. Head Coach Hege Riise has gone with different lineups in pool play and substitutes at will, especially in the back. The result so far has been effective. Team GB has only been scored on once in pool play.
Australia was the third team to come out of Group G at 1-1-1. Their headliner has been Sam Kerr. The Matildas all-time leading scorer and team captain has three for the tournament through pool play.
This will be the first-ever meeting among these Commonwealth powers, but many of these players have bumped into each other on the pitch before. Nine members of Australia’s side, including Kerr, play club football in England.
Japan vs. Sweden 6:00am EDT
Sweden is the only team with a clean slate. Three wins in three games, including that gaudy 3-nil shutout of the United States to win Group G. Because of the results in pool play, the looming threats such as USA, Brazil, Canada and the Netherlands will knock heads on the opposite side of the bracket.
Head Coach Peter Gerhardsson should be smiling. Stina Blackstenius (3 goals), Lina Hurtig (2 goals) and Fridolina Rolfö (2 goals) put the ball in the net. The defense is a wall, anchored by midfielder Caroline Seger and goalkeeper Hedvig Lindahl. Both of them in their late 30s and still highly effective.
So why is Gerhardsson a little worried? Sweden drew the host.
Team Japan’s 1-1-1 record was a few plays away from possibly being 2-0-1 or better. The only loss came thanks an Ellen White header late against Great Britain. Mana Iwabuchi’s finish on a long ball late in the game against Canada opened a barrage of late-game chances for Japan in the draw result.
The key matchup will be Japan’s midfielders and defenders against Sweden’s talented forward thrust. In pool play, Japan has held three strong offenses to two goals total. However, given that Japan has scored only twice in those three games, will that be enough to move them past a confident Swedish side that seems to hold all the aces?
Japan’s head coach believes so.
“Sweden were one of the best teams in the group stage. It’s a one-shot game,” Asako Takakura told the-afc.com after the win against Chile. “I believe the players will make something happen.”