After progressing through the first hurdle and topping the so-called “Group of Death,” the United States women’s soccer team now knows its opponent in the first knockout round of the 2015 Women’s World Cup. It is one of the surprise packages of the competition so far, Colombia, which now stands between the U.S. and a place in the quarterfinals.
On paper it is a favorable matchup for the U.S. team. Group D pitted Jill Ellis’ side against two teams ranked inside the world’s top 10, in Sweden and Australia, as well as African champions Nigeria. The Yanks recorded seven points from its three games, and, despite slightly underwhelming thus far, have fulfilled its objectives. Top spot in the group means a more straightforward path to the tournament’s latter stages, and avoided big-hitters like Germany and Brazil.
The U.S. already knows that the winner of China and Cameroon, both ranked outside of the top 10, will await in the quarterfinals, should it get past 28th-ranked Colombia. Still, there is ample warning for the U.S., should it be tempted to embrace any complacency. Colombia produced the biggest shock of the group stage when upsetting one of the tournament favorites, France, in a 2-0 victory. Along with a draw with Mexico, that was enough to move Las Cafeteras onto the knockout phase, despite a 2-1 defeat to England on Wednesday.
But they will be significant underdogs, having made it through the group stage of the World Cup for the first time in what is just its second trip to the finals. Four years ago Colombia managed just a single point and went down to a comprehensive 3-0 defeat to the USA. And it was the same score line when the two teams meet in the group stages of the 2012 Olympics, when Colombia lost all three matches while the U.S. went onto take the gold medal.
But despite the comfort of the United States’ win three years ago, an incident in that contest could well ensure a fiery rivalry between the two teams on Monday in Edmonton. During the first half, Colombian forward Lady Andrade struck U.S. forward Abby Wambach in the eye from behind, with Wambach calling it a “Sucker-punch” and Andrade describing it as an “accident.” FIFA ruled against Andrade, handing her a two-match suspension.
Andrade is sure to be a key figure for Colombia if it is to have any chance of pulling off an upset against the U.S., with the 23-year-old having scored against both France and England. It remains to be seen how much of a role her victim in 2012 will play in the Monday’s meeting, however. The fitness of the 35-year-old Wambach will clearly have to be managed throughout the competition, and, after starting on the bench against Sweden, she played the full 90 minutes when scoring the only goal in a 1-0 win over Nigeria.
Ellis now has more forward options at her disposal, having seen Alex Morgan make her first start last time out following nearly two months out with a knee injury. Morgan lasted more than an hour against Nigeria, and will likely now be given another chance to improve her sharpness against the Colombia defense.
Prediction: The U.S. defense has really impressed in posting shutouts in its past two matches and could make it three in a row against Colombia. Although the Americans’ attack hasn’t been nearly as impressive so far, there were some signs of more fluidity against Nigeria. As the match wears on, the U.S. should be able to make its superiority count to book a place in the last eight.
Predicted score: USA over Colombia, 2-0
Day and time: Monday, June 22, at 8 p.m. EDT.