Hosts Germany, England, France and Sweden are preparing for FIFA Women's World Cup quarter-finals at the weekend but for the first time Norway have missed out on the knockout phase of a major female tournament.
Germany pipped France to Group A first place and on Saturday face Japan, with Les Bleues matched with Group B winners England. On Sunday Sweden – who won Group C with a fine 2-1 defeat of the United States – will take on Australia, the team that ousted Norway from Group D.
Not at their best in beating Canada 2-1 and Nigeria 1-0, Germany hit form with a 4-2 success against France on Tuesday, and off the pitch the competition has surpassed all expectations. A European record crowd for a women's game of 73,680 attended the Germany-Canada opener at Berlin's Olympiastadion and the hosts' three fixtures have all been watched by average television audiences of more than 15 million in Germany.
However, the notable aspect of their victory over France was the return up front of Inka Grings for captain Birgit Prinz, left out after two below-par showings. Grings struck twice and fellow scorers Kerstin Garefrekes and Célia Okoyino da Mbabi have also had excellent tournaments. Now coach Silvia Neid has a selection dilemma for Saturday evening's match in Wolfsburg, but Prinz said: "The team were very supportive. All of them have shown me that I am an important part of the team. That made me feel good."
France, whose encounter with England is earlier that day in Leverkusen, looked good in overcoming Nigeria 1-0 and Canada 4-0 to earn a first World Cup quarter-final. UEFA Women's EURO 2009 runners-up England stuttered early on – as in Finland two years ago – being held 1-1 by Mexico and having to come from behind to beat New Zealand 2-1. However, in their 2-0 win against Japan they were as impressive as in their friendly defeats of the US and Sweden earlier this year. The winners will play either Brazil or the US in the semi-finals on Wednesday.
Sweden, like England, hardly caught the eye in their first two games despite defeating both Colombia and Korea DPR 1-0 but became the first team to beat the US in a World Cup group stage to avoid Brazil in the last eight. "We have great respect for the US but we knew we could beat them," forward Lotta Schelin said. "Now we are just focusing on playing well against Australia, and they are a really good team too."
Norway would have been Sweden's quarter-final opponents, just as at EURO 2009, had they accounted for Asian champions Australia yet having led early in the second half through Elise Thorsnes, they conceded within seconds and eventually lost 2-1. Coach Eli Landsem, in her first tournament in charge, was not helped by the retirement of Solveig Gulbrandsen and injuries to Lise Klaveness and Lisa-Marie Woods in the build-up, and reflected: "The feeling of disappointment is indescribable. We had hopes of going further, but now we need to head home and focus on training better and working harder. We'll be back and we'll be a stronger team on our return."
Road to the final
1: England v France, Saturday 18.00, Leverkusen
2: Germany v Japan, Saturday 20.45, Wolfsburg
3: Sweden v Australia, Sunday 13.00, Augsburg
4: Brazil v United States, Sunday 17.30, Dresden
1: England/France v Brazil/US, Wednesday 18.00, Monchengladbach
2: Germany/Japan v Sweden/Australia, Wednesday 20.45, Frankfurt
• Third place match: Saturday 16 July 17.30, Sinsheim
• Final: Sunday 17 July 20.45, Frankfurt
*Best two European teams (other than England) qualify for the Olympics. If two or more go out in quarter-finals there will be two-legged play-offs.
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