We are down to the final four at the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup, and one thing is clear.
Soccer fans will see a first-time winner in a few days.
With Japan losing to Sweden in the quarter-finals, that means the last four teams standing are all seeking their first World Cup title. Sweden has been the closest, with a trio of third-place finishes in their history.
How do these teams stack up? Let’s try and sort that out.
For the first time in their history, La Roja are through to the semi-finals. All it took was another pair of firsts: Their first match at the Women’s World Cup to need extra time, and the first Women’s World Cup goal from 19-year-old Salma Paralluelo to break the deadlock late against the Netherlands.
However, the 2-1 final score against the Netherlands might sell Spain short. La Roja was on the front foot for the bulk of the match, and had a few missed opportunities earlier in the match gone their way, they could have been thinking about the semis by halftime. Spain had a pair of attempts careen off the woodwork in quick succession, and they also had a goal allowed due to offside following a VAR review.
Up next for Spain? A date with Sweden, who are putting together their own magical run. But if La Roja can keep creating scoring chances like they have, they have a very good shot at getting to the Final.
For whatever reason, we brushed aside Sweden’s chances heading into the quarters.
We will not make that mistake again.
After knocking off the top-ranked team heading to the tournament with a win over the United States, Sweden turned around and knocked off the team playing the best during the tournament itself, with a 2-1 victory over Japan. While Japan’s incisive attack had given previous opponents fits during the tournament, it was Sweden who were on the front foot Friday, controlling the run of play in the early going. The first ten shots of the match?
All from Sweden.
“I think we played really, really well,” said Amanda Ilestedt, whose goal in the 32nd minute gave Sweden a 1-0 lead. “That was our best performance of the tournament. We were very happy to get through against the US, but to be honest we weren’t happy with our performance.”
“For the first 45, and the first 20 minutes of the second half, we played really, really well defensively. We were strong, we won a lot of duels. We didn’t let them have the ball much. Our coaches knew that if we let Japan have the ball, it would make it very difficult for us. They are so good technically,” added Ilestedt. “Attacking-wise I think we also did really well. I think we made use of the space they gave us, and our players linked up well and played some really good football. It’s an amazing feeling to be in the semi-finals.”
Having knocked off two of the best teams in the world, it is well past time to take Sweden seriously.
There’s a definite argument to be made that on a pure talent level the Aussies are the least-convincing team left in the tournament, but there’s an X-factor for the Matildas that’s impossible to deny.
It’s myopic to say this team isn’t talented. Obviously they have Sam Kerr (arguably the best player in the world), and Hayley Raso stepped up in a major way due to Kerr’s injury, which kept her out of the lineup for much of the cup. It’s more that the Matildas don’t have the powerhouse roster from top to bottom that the other three teams in the semis have.
What they do have, however, is an unbelievable advantage as they continue to play at home. There was always a risk that the pressure of a nation would damage this team, but instead they’ve risen to the occasion and are feeding off the raucous fans packing stadiums with green and gold. These fans unquestionably propelled tired legs in their PK win over France, and should be even louder at the 83,500 seat Stadium Australia in Sydney.
Whatever doubt once existed about Australia’s chances have washed away, as the Matildas keep rising to the occasion. Now against England they face one of sports greatest international rivalries, and there’s ever reason to think this team can keep shocking the world.
The Lionesses enter the semis after gutting out a 2-1 victory over Colombia in which it took a 63rd minute goal to put England over the top. Alessia Russo and Lauren Hemp are two of the best left in the tournament right now, both being in great form after scoring goals against Colombia. The English side is one of the best in the goal scoring department, having scored ten goals across the entire tourney.
However, the Lionesses will be without Lauren James, who is serving the final game of her two-match ban after stomping on Nigeria’s Michelle Alozie in England’s win over Nigeria in the Round of 16. It’s not the best time to be without her, especially when going into a game against heated rivals in Australia.
England have shown that they can beat the odds before. But against the Matildas with all their fans cheering them on, it’ll be a tough road to get to the final.