There has been plenty to talk about in the group stage of the Women’s Olympic tournament, whether it was Brazil’s women’s team showing the men’s team how it’s done, or the unfortunate Zika chants. Here, we breakdown some key takeaways and preview the upcoming quarterfinals.
Surprise of the tournament: Canada tops Group F
Canada looks determined to win some new hardware. Notwithstanding their bronze medal in the 2012 London Olympics, not many had them pegged to come in second, much less first in what’s arguably the toughest group in the tournament with second-ranked Germany and fifth-ranked Australia.
Canada couldn’t have asked for a better start than scoring 20 seconds into their first match of the tournament against Australia. The 21-year-old forward Janine Beckie scored the fastest goal in Olympics history for men’s or women’s soccer, which gave Canada a huge confidence boost. Despite being down a player for 70 plus minutes due to a red card, the Canadians were able to shut out Australia. Captain Christine Sinclair would add another goal late in the game assuring the win.
The Canadians kept the momentum going in their second group match with Zimbabwe. Beckie and Sinclair both added to their goal totals—two for Beckie and a penalty kick goal for Sinclair—in the first half. With a comfortable lead, Coach John Herdman was able to play all 18 players in the first two matches of group play.
Having already secured a spot in the quarterfinals, Canada was able to rest several starters including Sinclair and Beckie against Germany. Nonetheless, the Canadians came out with the same game plan that was successful in their first two matches and were able to contain Germany's potent attack.
After giving up a penalty kick in the 13th minute, keeper Stephanie Labbé came up with several big saves to keep Canada in the game. Melissa Tancredi picked up the goal, scoring for Canada to earn a huge 2-1 victory, ending a 22-year losing streak against the Germans.
Canada not only finished in the top spot in the group, but they were the only team in the tournament to win all three group matches.
Tale of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde for Australia
The Matildas started the tournament timidly, forcing fans into a guessing game—which Australia team would show up to play at the Olympics? Against Canada they left several key players on the bench including Steph Catley, Kyah Simon and their captain Lisa De Vanna.
As mentioned above, Canada struck first scoring the fastest goal in Olympics history as a result of awful defending. Twenty minutes in, however, Australia gained a major advantage, playing a woman up after Canada's Shelina Zadorski was sent off with a red card in the 18th minute. Nevertheless, the Matlidas lacked urgency and failed to create any opportunities against a stingy Canada defense, ending the match with a 2-0 defeat.
In their second game versus a much tougher opponent in Germany, Australia looked like a completely different team with De Vanna, Simon and Catley all in the starting line-up. They played aggressively from the first minute to the final blow of the whistle.
Australia's Samantha Kerr would get on the scoreboard first in the sixth minute and the Matildas would hold the lead for most of the match. Just before the half the Matildas would add another in the 45th minute with a nice goal set up by Lisa De Vanna. Almost immediately after scoring, they let up momentarily and allowed Germany to score in the waning moments of first-half stoppage time.
Unfortunately, a late equalizer off a set play by Germany in the 88th minute ruined what could have been a fantastic upset for the Australians.
Australia would close out their third group match against a much less experienced Zimbabwe. With the opportunity to close the gap in goal-differential with Germany the Matildas came up just short. They finished third in the group but still advanced to the quarterfinals.
USA do just enough to get by
In what is now typical American fashion, the US did just enough to get by as the top seed in the group, but there are reasons for concern. Maybe.
Carli Lloyd headed home the US' first goal of the tournament in the 9th minute to give the Americans the lead against New Zealand. Then, 34 seconds into the second half, Alex Morgan managed to squeeze the ball just past New Zealand's keeper Erin Nayler. Nayler probably should have made the save, but to Morgan's credit, she put the ball the only place it could have gone in near post. The Americans then took the foot off the gas and the match ends 2-0.
The US would battle it out with France in the second match of group play. Much like their earlier meeting with Les Bleues this year, the US were, for the most part, outplayed by France but still come up with the win.
Lloyd managed to strike again and pick up the slack in the 63rd minute. There is no one better at always being in the right spot at the right time when there's a scramble for the ball in the box. Hope Solo also came up big with critical saves throughout the match to keep the shutout against France in her 200th cap.
Colombia stunned the world by beating France in last year's World Cup; this time around, they stunned the world by drawing the Americans. An uncharacteristic mistake by Solo allowed Las Cafeteras to jump ahead in the 26th minute on a set piece by Catalina Usme.
The US would come back in the 41st minute with Crystal Dunn knocking in a rebound by Lloyd. Then, youngster Mallory Pugh would show why she made the team at 18-years-old, getting by several Colombians and scoring in the 60th minute. It was the first Olympic goals for both players.
Unfortunately for the US, a one-goal lead was not enough for the win. In stoppage time, Las Cafeteras earned a free kick outside the box on the right sideline. Goal-scorer Catalina Usme would step up once again and deliver a whipping shot past Solo's fingertips into the top corner of the net to equalize.
The draw and point for Colombia was not enough for them to advance to the knockout stage, but Las Cafeteras continue to earn self-respect proving they can compete with the big boys.
ON TO THE QUARTERFINALS
All quarterfinal matches will be played Friday, August 12th.
USA v Sweden – 12 p.m. ET
The last time the USA faced former coach Pia Sundhage and her Swedish side was in the second match of last year's World Cup, where they drew 0-0. Although Sweden have given the US a hard time in the past, Sweden are perhaps the weakest of the advancing teams, their only victory a 1-0 win over South Africa.
Look for the US to make an easy time of it. Of all the teams left, this is their opportunity to really make a statement and run the score up. The winner of this match will face winner of Brazil-Australia match.
Germany v China – 3 p.m. ET
This tournament has definitely been lack-luster so far for the usually dominant Germany. After routing Zimbabwe, Germany barely managed to get the draw with Australia and struggled against a surging Canadian team.
On the other side, China's not doing much better. They also finished 1-1-1 in group play but really failed to impress against Sweden in their final group match. Germany should get back to their powerhouse ways and put away China fairly early, and often.
Canada v France – 6 p.m. ET
Canada's reward for coming in first in their group is getting to play with France in the quarters, whereas Germany got the easier opponent in China. Nonetheless, if Canada continues to play like they have been, the Canucks will emerge victorious.
Despite having some of the best talent in the world, France just haven't been able to get the ball in the net when it counts in big games. This will be a rematch of the 2012 bronze medal match in which Canada scored the only goal in the 90+2 minute. The winner will face the winner of Germany-China match.
Brazil v Australia – 9 p.m. ET
Host nation Brazil will get a rematch with Australia, who knocked them out of the World Cup last year in the quarterfinal match. Incidentally, the teams also played a friendly warmup match just before the start of the tournament, which ended in a 3-1 victory for Brazil. Both teams therefore know each other pretty well and will be ready to play.
Marta and co. put on a show for the local fans (unlike the men's team) during the first two group matches scoring 8 goals in total – they drew 0-0 in their final match with South Africa. The winner of this match will also depend on which Australia team shows up—the one that played a disastrous 90 minutes with Canada, or the one that led Germany for 88 minutes. Expect a great match with the home team pulling out the win.