The women’s World Cup took its first breather on Monday, and the host nation certainly needed one. Not only to give fervent fans across the nation a rest but also to give the German team time to focus and get its act together.
After two one-goal victories in front of sellout crowds, Germany is through to the quarter-finals but is currently second in Group A and needs a win Tuesday against France to avoid playing the Group B top team in the next round.
One of the most enticing options possible is a Germany vs. England quarter-final, always a gritty match like few others.
While Germany has been winning but struggling despite fielding star player Birgit Prinz, France showed sparkle and sweet skills in scoring four goals against Canada to head the group and advance.
Six of the eight quarter-finalists are already through, with Japan, the United States, Sweden and Brazil joining Germany and France. Even though there will be few cliffhangers during the final group games, the tournament has shown that there is a lot more parity among the women’s teams than there used to be. Just ask Germany.
As hosts, they were overwhelming favourites to win a third world title, bu tbeating Canada 2-1 and Nigeria 1-0 doesn’t merit such an exalted status.
"We have more potential than that we have shown so far," said forward Alexandra Popp. They will have to show it against France, which has a playmaker in Louisa Necib who can make the difference with a single move. Still, it’s time for Germany to show its quality, said Popp. The team was roughed up and intimidated by Nigeria and now expects a more open game against France.
"France suits us better than Nigeria," Popp said. "When we play like we know how to, then we can also win."
The crowd certainly will want it. From the opening day, when the 73,680 sellout crowd roared on its players in Berlin, the whole nation has lived for the women’s team with such fervor that the TV audience for one game was bigger than for the German men’s match in South Africa last year.
"An athlete can hope for nothing better," Popp said.
Also on Tuesday, Japan plays England, with the Three Lionesses able to advance with a draw. Even a loss might do, depending on how Mexico fares against already eliminated New Zealand.
Things really get tricky on Wednesday. Sweden and the United States play in Group C, with the right to avoid Marta and the Brazilians in the quarter-finals the likely reward for the winner.
Brazil only needs a point against already eliminated Equatorial Guinea in its last match to win the group, leaving Australia and Canada fighting it out for second place.
After losing to Brazil in the opener, things weren’t looking good for Australia, but its 3-2 win over Equatorial Guinea combined with Brazil’s 3-0 winover Norway leaves the team in second place and needing only a draw against the Scandinavians.