Football powerhouses Brazil and Italy have both been knocked out of the Women’s World Cup on a mammoth day of surprises, capped off by one of the goals of the year – man or woman.
And the results mean Australia is on track to repeat multiple men’s World Cup opponents, with France looming as a likely quarter-final opponent.
Should the Matildas advance past Denmark, their round of 16 opponent next Monday night, they’ll face either France or the Group H runner-up who’ll be determined on Thursday.
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That could yet be tournament fancy Germany, given they’re behind Colombia and level with debutants Morocco heading into their group’s final match-day.
France and Jamaica advanced out of Group F, after the former took care of business against Panama despite copping a remarkable free kick goal in the opening minutes from Marta Cox.
France then scored twice to gain the lead less than 30 minutes into the contest, while Kadidiatou Diani had a hat-trick 52 minutes in on route to a 6-3 triumph.
In the other game Jamaica held on for a 0-0 draw to knock Brazil out at the group stage for the first time since 1995, meaning an end to the career of the legendary Marta.
Meanwhile the USA faces a mammoth challenge just to make the quarter-finals of the Women’s World Cup after world No.3 Sweden booked a date with the reigning champions.
The 2019 third-placers won Group G on Wednesday, defeating Argentina 2-0 to remain unbeaten at this year’s tournament.
It means they’ll face the Americans next Sunday night at the Melbourne Rectangular Stadium, in a mouth-watering matchups between two giants of the sport.
The USA were expected to win Group E but a disappointing tournament, featuring just four goals scored and two draws, instead saw them finish second behind the Netherlands.
The draw had been set up for the Group E winner to play in America-friendly timeslots but their below-par performance ruined that plan.
The Netherlands will face world No.54 South Africa after they stunned Italy 3-2 with a stoppage time winner to finish runner-up in the group
Argentina 0-2 Sweden, South Africa 3-2 Italy
Panama 3-6 France, Jamaica 0-0 Brazil
South Africa STUN in added time winner | 00:31
POMS STAR SNUBS REFEREE OVER BRUTAL CALL
Lucy Bronze snubbed a handshake with the referee after England’s stunning World Cup win over China.
The Lionesses star defender was the victim of several controversial decisions during the 6-1 thrashing on Tuesday, The Sun reports.
Sarina Wiegman’s side secured their place in the round of 16 as group winners with the victory — their third from three games.
However, defender Bronze was not impressed with referee Casey Reibelt at fulltime and was caught on camera snubbing a handshake with the official.
As players from both teams shook hands with each other and the officials, Bronze could be seen walking past Reibelt despite having just shaken the hand of her assistant.
Fans were quick to spot the snub, with one tweeting: “Lucy Bronze not shaking the ref’s hand, class.”
Bronze had seen two key decisions go against her during the match.
Firstly, she was ruled as being offside in the build-up for a disallowed England goal shortly before halftime.
Lauren James thought she had put the Lionesses 4-0 up in first half stoppage time before a VAR review deemed Bronze offside.
After the interval, the Barcelona star was on the receiving end of a controversial decision again.
Bronze was adjudged to have handled the ball inside the area and was booked for her infringement.
Replays from the VAR review showed she had tried to block the ball in front of goal before it struck her arm.
Wang Shuang stepped up to convert the resulting spot-kick and reduce the deficit.
Cameras picked up Bronze’s perplexed reaction to the decision before she later made her feeling’s known to the officials at full-time.
‘WHAT ARE YOU DIGGING FOR?’: US STAR’S AWKWARD INTERVIEW
The USA progressed to the Round of 16 at this year’s World Cup, although if it wasn’t for a goalpost they would have likely been making their earliest-ever exit from the tournament.
The scoreless draw with Portugal was a wake-up call for USWNT and star forward Megan Rapinoe fronted media after Tuesday’s game to explain what may have been behind the underwhelming performance.
When a reporter questioned whether the team wanted more from the game, Rapinoe didn’t seem too impressed.
“What are you digging for here? I mean of course you want to win every game obviously but ultimately we don’t want to be going home …we’re alright,” she said.
Things only got more awkward though when the reporter made a mistake, reminding Rapinoe the last time the USA finished second in a group they still went on to win the tournament.
“Japan won in 2011 actually,” Rapinoe said in response.
“We did make it to the final but if you want to get to the final you have to get through the group stage I guess.”
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Nothing about their performances so far suggests the holders will find it easy on Sunday in Melbourne if they do indeed face the Swedes, who finished third at the last World Cup.
The USA will also be without key midfielder Rose Lavelle, who will serve a one-game ban after picking up two bookings in the last two matches.
“We could be going home, so we just need to keep perspective,” said Megan Rapinoe, another veteran of the 2015 and 2019 campaigns, who came off the bench against Portugal.
“I feel like I have never been in a tournament, even in 2019, where you just think you are doing amazing all the time and just flying.
“We are through to the next round and that is the most important thing, and we have got four or five days and then we have got a real game.”
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FULL SCENARIOS: What every team needs to reach knockouts
Meanwhile, Vlatko Andonovski says it would be “insane” to question the mentality of his United States team but admitted their 0-0 draw with Portugal was “not good enough”.
The holders only needed a point against the World Cup debutants at Eden Park to advance but they produced a lacklustre performance and almost lost in injury time when Ana Capeta hit the post.
Defeat would have led to the USA being eliminated from the World Cup in the group stage for the first time and their displays throughout the first round have been nowhere near the levels expected.
Having beaten Vietnam 3-0 and come from behind to draw 1-1 with the Netherlands, the USA finish second in Group E behind the Dutch and will most likely meet Sweden next.
US legend Carli Lloyd was shocked by what she saw.
“I am not seeing that passion. I am just seeing a very lacklustre, uninspiring, taking it for granted,” said Lloyd, now a pundit for Fox Sports.
Andonovski, who replaced Jill Ellis as coach after the 2019 triumph and has brought a squad to New Zealand featuring 14 World Cup debutants, staunchly defended his players.
“This team wanted to win this game more than anything else,” he said. “They put everything they could into preparation for this tournament. To question the mentality and willingness of this team to win and compete I think is insane.
“Everyone is entitled to their opinion and they can say whatever they want, but I just know how this team feels.
“It is not like we played well by any means. We owned it, we know it’s not good enough, we are not happy with our performance, but we qualify for the next round and we are moving on.”
Netherlands demolish Vietnam by 7 goals | 01:13
The United States are chasing an unprecedented third title in a row but they have looked far from the force that has so long dominated international women’s football.
The only other time in Women’s World Cup history in which they have failed to top their group was in 2011, when they lost the final on penalties to Japan.
They have never before won just one group game. On the way to lifting the trophy four years ago in France they scored 18 goals without reply while winning all three group matches.
Lloyd, who scored a hat-trick as the USA won the 2015 final against Japan and came off the bench in the 2019 final, also questioned why players were smiling and dancing on the pitch at full-time.
“I have never witnessed something like that. You are lucky not to be going home right now,” she said.
Lloyd also pondered why veteran defender Kelley O’Hara was seen delivering a passionate speech to her teammates on the pitch instead of her coach.
“Cleary she isn’t happy and it is a bit concerning that Vlatko Andonovski isn’t doing that,” she said.
DENMARK COACH WARNS PRESSURE ON AUSTRALIA IN LAST 16 CLASH
Lars Sondergaard said the pressure is on co-hosts Australia in front of a packed house after his Denmark side reached the knockout stages of the Women’s World Cup for the first time in 28 years.
The Danes set up a date with Australia in the last 16 after a 2-0 win over debutants Haiti to take second place in Group D behind England.
They will face Australia in front of a partisan sellout crowd in Sydney on Monday, but Sondergaard said: “Anything can be decided in those kinds of cup games, anything can happen.
“We have a pretty good defence, we have a player like Pernille (Harder) who can decide games.
“So we have a pretty good chance. We know it is going to be difficult but we are looking forward to the game. We are going to see it as a fantastic experience.”
The coach added: “The whole nation are standing behind them. That’s important for them, but it could also be pressure when the game goes into the second half and it’s still 0-0, and anything can happen.”
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Skipper Harder, the undoubted star of the Denmark team and whose first-half penalty put them on the way to victory over Haiti, said her side will not settle for merely reaching the last 16.
“I’m so proud of the girls, proud of the team that we made it through the group stages,” said the Bayern Munich attacker.
“It’s a long time since a Danish team did that at the World Cup so I couldn’t be more proud for the hard work that we put in and I am also excited for the next game.
“It’ll be a full stadium with a lot of Australians in it, so it will be an experience for us and it’s something I’m looking forward to.”
“But of course we are also hungry for more,” added Harder, who also had a second goal against Haiti harshly chalked off after a VAR review.
Australia’s skipper and talismanic striker Sam Kerr is expected to return from a calf injury to make her debut at this World Cup.
Harder knows Kerr well, having played with her at Chelsea before her recent move to Germany.
“I’m looking forward to seeing her, but not playing against her,” she said.
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