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The U.S. Women’s national team advanced to the semifinals of the 2019 Women’s World Cup on Friday, with a 2-1 win over host nation France. Both sides entered the fixture as the number one and number two favorite to win the tournament, with many thinking that the winner of this game would go on to win the whole thing. That now remains to be seen, but the USA advance onward to a semifinal matchup vs England on Tuesday.

Megan Rapinoe got the stars and stripes off to a dream start with a free kick goal in the 5th minute of the game. She drilled the kick from the left side of the goal low and hard into a mix of French and American players. Somehow, through all the clutter, the ball squeaked through, and with the goalkeeper unable to see what was in front of her, it found the back of the net. Rapinoe then added on to her stellar game, knocking home a cross at the back post from Tobin Heath to put the U.S. up 2-0 in the 65th minute. From that point, the US went to a 5 player defensive system, a sign of “buttoning down the hatches” to try and close out the game.

In the 81st minute, France got one back off a free kick which found the head of the tallest player on the field in Renard. She powered the header past Naeher who had no chance to make the save, and France had life. The USA did well to hold off France for the final 10+ minutes, and send the host nation home much earlier than they would have liked.

France dominated possession having the ball for over 60% of the game, as well as having 20 shots to the USA’s 10. Despite having more of the ball, USA had more shots on target (8) and had the more dangerous chances of the game. With Rapinoe’s two goals, she now has five for the tournament, and is tied with teammate Alex Morgan and England forward Ellen White for the Golden Boot race.

“That was the most intense match I have ever been a part of” coach Jill Ellis said. “A win is a win in the World Cup”.

Julie Ertz added “We had to defend a lot. That’s what the game gave us. We take a lot of pride of having a lot of tools in our toolbox”. Ertz played a crucial role in midfield for the USA before dropping back into defense when the U.S. switched to a back five.

The USA has not trailed for a single minute of the 2019 World Cup, however, the margins of their victories have gotten smaller and smaller as each game has gone on. Going to a back 5, something rarely done by the USA who are known to constantly attack, shows just how nervy things got. Maybe that is a good thing though. The group heads into the semifinals vs England battle tested, knowing that they can grind out tight games. The Americans are now just two wins away from repeating as back to back World Cup champions, a feat only accomplished by Germany in 2003 and 2007.

The 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup round of 16 concluded on Tuesday and the quarterfinal match-ups have been set. Europe has been dominate so far in this World Cup. Seven of the eight teams remaining are European and the lone outcast is the United States. Here’s how the next round of fixtures will look and a preview of each.

Germany vs Sweden

We start with Germany and Sweden who will face off this Saturday. The Germans were flawless in group play winning all three of their games, and have still yet to concede a goal this tournament. They are looking like a true contender to bring the cup home in typical German soccer fashion. Germany defeated Nigeria 3-0 en route to a quarterfinal matchup against Sweden. Sweden who finished second in their group to the USA is always a threat in the women’s international game. The Swedes narrowly edged out Canada 1-0 in their round of 16 game, a game in which Canada missed a PK to tie the game. This should be one of the better quarterfinal match-ups among the four, played very tightly and tactically.

Prediction – Germany concedes it’s first goal of the tournament, but defeats Sweden 2-1.

Italy vs Netherlands

Next up is Italy who take on the Netherlands on Saturday. Italy were a surprise winner of their group which features the likes of Brazil and Australia. All three teams finished with 6 points but it was Italy who advanced in first place on goal differential, defeating Jamaica and Australia and losing to Brazil. Meanwhile the Netherlands dominated group play with three wins including an impressive victory over Canada. Italy beat China 2-0 in the round of 16 while Netherlands outlasted Japan thanks to a 90th minute penalty kick giving the Dutch a 2-1 victory. Italy typically has the reputation for being very defensive, while the Dutch, very technical, and fluid in possession. If Italy are to win this one, we expect it to be done potentially in extra time or in penalties, but advantage Netherlands heading into this quarterfinal game.

Prediction – Italy defend well and frustrate the Dutch, but it is not enough as the Netherlands narrowly escape with a 1-0 victory.

England vs Norway

On the other side of the bracket, Norway match up with England in the first of the quarterfinal games this Thursday. Norway finished as runners up in their group to hosts France and squeaked by a strong Australia side in penalties after the game finished 1-1. England have had a resurgence in the last couple international cycles and carried that momentum through an undefeated group stage, which included a win over Japan. This game should be another tightly contested match with both teams looking to stay organized and attack off the others mistakes.

Prediction – 1-1 after 120 minutes and England lose on penalties in classic England fashion. Norway goes two for two in penalty shootouts and onto the semi finals.

United States vs France

That leaves us with the matchup everyone has their eyes on, powerhouses USA take on host nation France, kicking off this Friday. This game very well could be the best game of the entire World Cup, and could just as easily produce our eventual champion. The USA enters the match as the favorite to win the World Cup, ever so slightly over France. Both sides won their groups with relative ease, and both played below their potential in their round of 16 matchups vs Spain and Brazil respectively. The result of this finals like matchup in the quarterfinal round will depend on two factors.

First, will France try and play off the defensive like Spain did, and frustrate the Americans in their efforts to attack. This would be the sensible decision, but France, a strong team of its own, and the host nation, may choose to go toe to toe with the Americans, which could be a big mistake. The second key is the goalkeeping for team USA. Alyssa Naeher has had a good year for club and has gotten off to a good start internationally. However, this is her first ever World Cup, and she hasn’t looked like the confident rock we’ve grown accustomed to in goal for the USA like Hope Solo or Brianna Scurry of years past. We expect Naeher to be tested, how she answers the bell will be a huge factor in who wins and who loses this all star matchup.

Prediction – No bias here! USA defeats France 3-1 as the depth and drive of the Americans rises to the occasion and knocks the host nation out of the World Cup!

The semi finals are set to take place on July 2nd and 3rd, and the consolation game and final on June 6th and 7th respectively.

Give us your thoughts on the Women’s World Cup thus far, and how you think it will play out going forward.