The U.S. Women’s National team managed to survive the proverbial “Group of Death” and survive is absolutely the correct for how they performed in those three matches.
The U.S. didn’t exactly look like the dominating team that came so close to taking the World Cup four years ago. Yes, the defense was much improved, allowing just one goal in the group stage, but the offense was stagnant, scoring just four goals, and a couple of them in the Australia game were quite lucky if you ask me.
But that doesn’t matter now. The group stage is behind and the Americans came out onto of the group, and that has given them a massive advantage on the road to Vancouver over the next couple of weeks.
By winning Group D, the U.S. has put itself in the best possible situation to make a run to at least the semifinals of the tournament. The Americans find themselves in a quadrant with Colombia, the opponent in the Round of 16 on Monday, China and Cameroon. So after going through the toughest group to get to the knockout stage, the U.S. now has the easiest group to reach the semis.
None of these teams in this section of the bracket really should be mentioned in the same breath as the U.S. in terms of level of play. China, who the Americans famously beat at the Rose Bowl in 1999 to win the World Cup, has struggled mightily since. After that tournament, the Chinese have yet to win a knockout round match since. Cameroon, playing in its first World Cup, played marvelously to take two wins and second in Group C, but they’re just not there yet to be considered a threat for the title. And Colombia, who scored an upset over France, has yet to figure out the American squad. If the U.S. plays up to the level it should, getting through these two rounds should be a breeze.
And if the United States gets through those two matches, they’ll likely have an upper hand over who they would play next. The four possible semifinal opponents are Germany, Sweden, France and South Korea, and the three matches in that quadrant will all be brutal. Just as it was with Group D action, those four teams will wear each other out and the winner of that section won’t exactly be 100 percent fit to go in all likelihood. That should benefit the U.S. There are three full days of rest between the quarterfinals and semifinals, just long enough to rest and recover, but not enough to get back to 100 percent shape after a series of long battles.
Of course, these are games and anything can happen. Colombia has pulled off one upset and will be wanting to show up the top team in its hemisphere. Cameroon nearly got to Japan and has the confidence to pull off an upset. And the team coming up in the semifinals would still be no walkover.
But considering how poor the U.S. played in the group stage by its standards, the U.S. is quite fortunate to find itself where it is now. Now the Americans have to capitalize on that.