It’s been a whirlwind of 36 games in just under two weeks, filled with upsets, late comebacks, and a lot of really fun soccer. This year’s World Cup has set new records in viewership in a number of countries and brought to light the stories of remarkable women across the world, many of who found success despite sexism and a lack of investment in women’s programs by a number of federations.
The end of the group stage brought the elimination of eight of the initial 24 teams, with the remaining 16 — including all four countries that the Thorns are representing — advancing to the knockout round.
How did the Thorns do in the group stage?
Ellie Carpenter was one of the brighter spots in a very poor Australian defense. That isn’t to say she was incredible — there were times (namely the first half of the Brazil game) when her youth was extremely evident. However, she did have a number of moments that showcased her capabilities going forward, driving up the right side of the field or cutting centrally to get a dangerous ball into the box. Despite an injury that kept her out of training ahead of the final game of the group stage, Carpenter has so far played every minute of her first World Cup.
Despite making the squad, Hayley Raso didn’t appear on the field for the Matildas in 2015, something that’s already changed this time around. In fact, she’s recorded minutes in all three matches of the group stage, earning a start against Italy and coming on as a sub in the Brazil and Jamaica games. Her speed and energy have been a bright spot on the right side of Australia’s attack and she’s played well off Carpenter moving up the flank. Although she wasn’t officially credited with the assist, it was Raso’s ball in that created Sam Kerr’s third goal against Jamaica.
Goal against Brazil aside, Caitlin Foord has had a relatively quiet World Cup. Some of this can be attributed to the role she’s had to play for Australia, oftentimes dropping further back into midfield to find the ball. Spending less time at the forefront of the Matildas attack served to limit her chances, though she was able to find a couple good looks across the three group stage games.
Andressinha played just one match in the group stage, starting against Italy in place of the injured Andressa Alves. She showed well for Brazil; her creativity and technical flair provided a new look to their attack. Andressinha’s performance was highlighted by a free kick early in the second half. Although her ball went just off the crossbar, it showcased her potential as a contributor on set pieces going forward.
The obvious Christine Sinclair story of this World Cup centers around the record for international goals: is this the tournament where she’ll beat Abby Wambach’s record? Sinclair was able to bag one goal in Canada’s loss to the Netherlands on Thursday, putting her total just three away from that elusive 185. Team-focused above all else, Sinclair’s play has challenged defenses and helped her teammates find success; the deflection off her headed shot led to Nichelle Prince’s goal against New Zealand.
United States (3-0-0)
Lindsey Horan has continued to put up performances at a level comparable to the play that won her the NWSL MVP award last year. She has two goals in her first three games, and her versatility has proved vital; Horan was called to fill in for Julie Ertz — who had to sit out after picking up a minor knock — as a six in the final match of the group stage.
Advertised as one of the USWNT’s potential breakout stars at this World Cup, Tobin Heath has yet to live up to the title. She hasn’t been bad by any means, but was relatively quiet in the United States’ 13-0 thrashing of Thailand and sat out the match against Chile as part of Jill Ellis’ squad rotation. Heath looked better against Sweden; it was her play that created the USWNT’s second goal, even if FIFA credited the ball as coming off Jonna Andersson.
Emily Sonnett’s only appearance has been as an 82nd minute sub against Chile, a match where the United States wasn’t really threatened on defense. (The only moment of panic was a dodgy play by Alyssa Naeher that was ultimately called offside.)
Unsurprisingly, Adrianna Franch has yet to make her World Cup debut.
Norway vs Australia (Saturday, June 22, 12:00 pm)
Despite a second place finish in their group, Australia has yet to put together a convincing performance against a good team. Even Jamaica, one of the most underfunded teams in this tournament, presented a challenge to the Matildas — though the 4-1 scoreline would suggest otherwise.
Overlooked by many going into the World Cup, Norway has looked solid in the early stages of the tournament, with their only loss coming to France. If Australia’s defense continues its substandard performance and they can’t put together enough goals to make up the difference, Norway can very well take this one away; it won’t be all that surprising to see the Matildas make an early exit.
France vs Brazil (Sunday, June 23, 12:00 pm)
Brazil looked less than excellent coming into the World Cup and — though they’ve made significant strides in the group stage — could easily find themselves knocked out by a talented French side. If they play up to their full potential, France should be able to win this one; the question becomes whether Les Bleues will fall victim to their habit of under-performing at major tournaments.
Spain vs United States (Monday, June 24, 9:00 am)
After scoring a record-breaking 18 goals in the group stage, the USWNT is expected to continue their run of dominance against Spain. Even if Ertz’s injury keeps her out of this one, the midfield trio of Horan, Rose Lavelle, and Sam Mewis looked promising for the United States against Sweden.
Spain is a good and organized team, but doesn’t have a true target striker; this is a match the USWNT should be able to put in the bag.
Sweden vs Canada (Monday, June 24, 12:00 pm)
Canada has looked to be a solid team in the tournament, though their emphasis on organization and slow buildup play has made them one of the less exciting sides to watch. In contrast, the Swedes haven’t quite lived up to expectations in the group stage: can they put together a strong showing against Canada? With neither country boasting a particularly potent offense — though both have the ability to score goals — it’ll be interesting to see how this one plays out.