Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Who's in, who's out and storylines to watch in the Women's World Cup round of 16

Japanese midfielder Hinata Miyazawa, center, celebrates after scoring her team's third goal during its match against Spain earlier this week. Japan is one of three teams to win all its games in the group stage.
Marty Melville
/
AFP via Getty Images
Japanese midfielder Hinata Miyazawa, center, celebrates after scoring her team's third goal during its match against Spain earlier this week. Japan is one of three teams to win all its games in the group stage.

The World Cup group stage can be fun, breathless, a globe-spanning festival of sport. So many teams! So much soccer! In the middle of the night!

Now the knockout stage of the Women's World Cup is upon us, heightening the intensity and pressure of each match. A loss and your team is sent packing. Tied at the end of regulation? Get ready for extra time and the possibility of penalty kicks.

Only Japan, England, and Sweden won all their games in the group stage. Those squads have significant momentum going into the round of 16.

Here's what else to watch for as the field has been cut in half.

The round of 16 includes some notable early exits

Germany

The two-time Women's World Cup champion Germany is out, failing to advance out of the group stage for the first time ever. The team has in fact always advanced to at least the quarterfinals. After trouncing Morocco in the first game, Germany lost to Colombia, and then tied with South Korea 1-1 in its third match. South Korea had yet to score a goal in the tournament before that game.

Alexandra Popp, Germany's team captain, is tied for most goals at the tournament so far β€” four. She was named player of the match, but she's headed home.

"We are very disappointed. It's very, very hard for me to analyze this match," the German striker told reporters after the game, as CNN reported. "It's hard to say [what was missing]. We needed one more goal, but we didn't [find it]."

Germany was also eliminated in the group stage of the men's tournament in December β€” a surprising outcome for teams that are considered among the world's strongest. The women's national team is currently ranked 2nd in the world.

Brazil

The Seleção came out swinging early with a 4-0 win over Panama. But a loss to France and then a scoreless draw with a strong Jamaican team knocked the South Americans out of the running. It was far from what they'd hoped for – and marked the end of the World Cup career for the legendary Marta, who has scored more goals in the tournament than anyone.

Canada

The Canadians won the gold at the Olympics in Tokyo two years ago, but they couldn't put the pieces together this time around. They played to a scoreless tie with Nigeria, beat Ireland, then lost 4-0 to Australia to end their run.

The U.S. β€” facing Sweden once again β€” could be in trouble

The Americans came into this World Cup ranked, as usual, No. 1 in the world. But due to injuries, the team is missing several of the veterans who were key to the USWNT's victory four years ago in France.

A lack of cohesion and, well, goals has left the U.S. looking distinctly beatable. Following a tie with the Netherlands, the U.S. very nearly was eliminated from the tournament by Portugal in their last game of the group stage. Had a late shot by Portugal not struck the goal post, the U.S. would be home right now.

The U.S. survived to play again. But their tie with Portugal means they took second place in the group, putting them on a tougher path forward.

They now must face Sweden, a team they've met in the last six World Cups. Sweden, who won all of their group stage games, most recently beating Italy 5-0 and Argentina 2-0. The U.S. had a loss, a draw and a win against Sweden in the most recent three World Cups.

Sweden's Linda Sembrant, left, and Sofia Jakobsson challenge Argentina's Paulina Gramaglia for the ball on Wednesday in Hamilton, New Zealand. Sweden won its group and will face the U.S. in its next match.
Abbie Parr / AP
/
AP
Sweden's Linda Sembrant, left, and Sofia Jakobsson challenge Argentina's Paulina Gramaglia for the ball on Wednesday in Hamilton, New Zealand. Sweden won its group and will face the U.S. in its next match.

U.S. coach Vlatko Andonovski made no changes to the starting lineup β€” even as they floundered β€” until the final game of group play. He will have to find someone who can fill in for Rose Lavelle, the creative midfielder who will be sorely missed as she sits the game out due to two accumulated yellow cards.

The U.S. second-place group stage finish also means that their next match, despite FIFA's carefully laid plans, is at a sub-optimal time for U.S. fans at home: 5 a.m. ET on Sunday.

Morocco slides into the next round β€” and will face France

It was quite the dramatic end to the group stage. Having finished their match, beating Colombia 1-0, the Moroccan team gathered around a phone to watch the final minutes of the Germany-South Korea game β€” which would determine their fate.

The result β€” a tie! β€” meant Morocco was through to the next round. The team erupted: jumping, crying, cheering. It was a huge moment for the first team from North Africa and the first majority Arab nation to be at the Women's World Cup.

Morocco will now take on France, ranked No. 5 in the world. Morocco's ranking? 72.

The game will have echoes of the men's World Cup in December, when Morocco became darlings of the tournament before facing off against France in the semifinals, losing 2-0.

Morocco's players communicate in a mix of Arabic, French and English. Some grew up in Morocco, others in Europe. The team has quickly won fans back home, including many who said they had not watched the team until now.

Their coach, Reynald Pedros, is French, and previously coached the powerhouse French club team Olympique Lyonnais to two Ligue 1 titles.

It's a striking turn of events for Morocco, which lost its opening match to Germany.

"After the first match of the tournament, I think 98% of people thought it was over, apart from us," Pedros said, according to the AP. "We thought we could do something, because football is magic."

They play Tuesday, Aug. 8 at 7 a.m. ET.

Jamaica's Reggae Girlz advance

The flip side of the early exits are the scrappy successes. Several teams are advancing despite lackluster support from their soccer federations. The teams that go far in the World Cup tend to be from countries that have funded and cultivated the women's game. (Pay issues abound in women's soccer, including in rich countries: The U.S. women's national team settled with the U.S. Soccer Federation last year and received $22 million in back pay.)

Jamaica, who eliminated Brazil from the tournament with a 0-0 draw and pulled off a stunning tie with France in its opening match, has managed to advance with reportedly very little help from the Jamaican federation. The team has resorted to crowdfunding in recent weeks to support the team at the Cup and after.

Jamaica celebrates qualifying for the round of 16 after tying Brazil in Melbourne on Wednesday.
William West / AFP via Getty Images
/
AFP via Getty Images
Jamaica celebrates qualifying for the round of 16 after tying Brazil in Melbourne on Wednesday.

The Reggae Girlz played in their first World Cup in 2019, an achievement made possible by support from Bob Marley's daughter Cedella.

The team is led by captain Bunny Shaw, a top striker at Manchester City, and includes several players born in the U.S. and England. Shaw expressed the team's "utmost disappointment" with the Jamaican Football Federation in an Instagram post in June, describing "subpar planning, transportation, accommodations, training conditions, compensation," among other things. She called for immediate and systematic change in the federation.

Now, Jamaica is the first Caribbean nation to make it to the round of 16 – and the only team from CONCACAF β€” the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football β€” to do so other than the U.S. and Canada.

Will the Reggae Girlz keep making history? Their next opponent is Colombia, on Tuesday, Aug. 8 at 4 a.m. ET.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Corrected: August 4, 2023 at 12:00 AM EDT
An earlier version of this story said Germany beat Colombia. In fact, Germany lost to Colombia.
Tags
Laurel Wamsley is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She reports breaking news for NPR's digital coverage, newscasts, and news magazines, as well as occasional features. She was also the lead reporter for NPR's coverage of the 2019 Women's World Cup in France.