Breaking down the WWC knockout round
⚽ The setup
After 32 countries squared off in a thrilling group stage, 16 teams — the top two from each of the eight groups — have advanced to the WWC knockout round.
These single elimination matches begin tomorrow morning at 1 a.m. ET starting with the Round of 16, where the eight group winners are seeded against the eight runners-up.
- The victors ultimately advance to the quarter-finals, the semifinals, and finally, the 6 a.m. ET August 20th final. Mark your cal.
Because it’s win-or-go-home, matches can’t end in draws. If teams are tied after the regular 90 minutes, they’ll play two 15-minute extra time periods. And if there’s still no winner, squads face off in the anxiety-inducing best-of-five penalty shootout.
🌟 The top contenders
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🇯🇵 No. 11 Japan: The young “Land of the Rising Sun” squad dominated Group C. Led by 23-year-old midfielder Hinata Miyazawa’s four goals, the 2011 WWC champs outscored their foes 11–0 and are the only team to enter the knockout stage with three dubs and three clean sheets. TL;DR? They’re scary good.
🇺🇸 No. 1 USWNT: The four-time champs’ group stage performance raised more questions than answers, and finishing Group E in the second spot means they must contend with their nemesis No. 3 Sweden on Sunday morning. That said, the Americans have gritted out WWC trophies from tough group stages before.
- The bright spot for nervous USWNT fans? The red, white, and blue’s defense, which has only conceded a single goal so far thanks to stellar performances by WWC debut centerback Naomi Girma. And you know what they say…
🇫🇷 No. 5 France: Les Bleues have been knocking at the door of a major international tourney win for over a decade, and with a new manager and top-notch group stage performances by captain Wendie Renard and forwards Eugénie Le Sommer and Kadidiatou Diani, France ’s knockout path could finally lead straight to triomphe.
🇸🇪 No. 3 Sweden: The always-a-bridesmaid Blue and Yellow are also seeking their first-ever world title, and their strong three-dub start (a record matched by only two other squads) is making success smell like lingonberry. They’ll have to find a way to defeat the U.S., though — a task they’ve only completed once in six previous WWC matches.
🇳🇱 No. 9 Netherlands: The 2019 WWC runner-up eked out their revenge over the USWNT by winning Group E (and the likely easier path through the knockouts). Their strengths lie in their midfield, led by swimmer Daniëlle van de Donk, but they’ll also need solid attacking from players like Lieke Martens to counter the penetrable Dutch back line.
🏴 No. 4 England: The last to snag three group stage wins are the 2022 Euro champs, whose true team effort (six players combined for eight goals) powered the Lionesses through, despite devastating roster losses to injury. Teamwork clearly makes the dream work, but can it make football come home…again?
🧨 The best of the rest
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🇪🇸 No. 6 Spain: Cue Katy Perry, because La Roja’s group stage was hot and cold. After dominating No. 36 Costa Rica 3–0 and No. 77 Zambia 5–0, Spain tasted their own shutout medicine at the feet of Japan, losing 4–0. Considering Spain’s off-pitch drama this year, this squad will need to focus on what’s ahead.
🇦🇺 No. 10 Australia: It was a rollercoaster, but the Matildas are waltzin’ now: They won Group B by eliminating the reigning Olympic champs CanWNT with an eye-popping 4–0 scoreline…all without injured superstar striker Sam Kerr, who’s expected back on the pitch next match. Oi, oi, oi.
🇳🇬 No. 40 Nigeria: The Aussies’ lone round-robin loss was to the Super Falcons. That win and two draws were all Nigeria needed to clinch their spot in the knockouts. They’ll need five-time African Women’s Player of the Year Asisat Oshoala to find her offensive swagger, and more stellar defense, to topple the Brits on Monday.
🇨🇭 No. 20 Switzerland: There are no holes in this cheese, as the Swiss have yet to concede a goal this tourney. However, La Nati only scored two measly goals en route to winning an easy Group A. They must light an attacking fire against No. 6 Spain tomorrow at 1 a.m. ET. As luck would have it, if any squad can hype themselves up, it’s this one.
🇳🇴 No. 12 Norway: It was a struggle for the 1995 WWC champs, but they managed to make the knockouts despite dropping the tourney’s opening match to now-eliminated host No. 26 New Zealand and losing 2018 Ballon d’Or Feminin winner Ada Hegerberg to injury before their final must-win group game.
- There’s no definite news yet on if the striker will return for tomorrow’s 4 a.m. ET tilt against No. 11 Japan, but the good news is the Norwegian offense stepped up in Hegerberg’s absence — particularly forward Sophie Román Haug and her hat trick.
🐎 The dark horses
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🇩🇰 No. 13 Denmark: Tight is the name of the Danes’ game — no Red and White match has been decided by more than two goals since 2022. They squeezed through to the knockouts — impressive considering they failed to qualify for the last three WWCs — but they’ll need a lot more to beat the Aussies on Monday.
🇯🇲 No. 43 Jamaica: After horrendously having to crowdfund to make it Down Under, the Reggae Girlz — one of only three squads yet to concede a goal — became the first-ever Caribbean team to advance to a WWC Round of 16. Respect, earned.
🇲🇦 No. 72 Morocco: Nobody’s blazed a hotter trail this tourney than debutants Morocco. In just 11 days, the Lionesses of Atlas became the first Arab team to play in a WWC, to win a WWC game, and to clinch a spot in the knockouts after yesterday’s mind-blowing Group H finish that ousted No. 2 Germany. Who’s cutting onions?
- Defender Nouhaila Benzina also became the first to play wearing a hijab at the WWC last Sunday. Look good, feel good, play good, break barriers good.
🇨🇴 No. 25 Colombia: After failing to qualify for the 2019 WWC, Colombia is back, baby. They may have fallen 1–0 to Morocco yesterday, but they took down both No. 2 Germany and No. 17 South Korea to win what arguably became the tourney’s wildest group. They have a spicy date with the Reggae Girlz on Tuesday, so don’t sleep on this squad.
🇿🇦 No. 54 South Africa: Admittedly, the Banyana Banyana had a major assist from No. 16 Italy’s heartbreaking own goal to advance to the knockouts for the first time in the nation’s history, but they’re also the only team to score on No. 3 Sweden so far. Underestimate their offensive prowess (and joy!) at your own risk.
📺 How to watch
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Prep that java — the “Team No Sleep” party rages on when No. 20 Switzerland faces No. 6 Spain tomorrow morning at 1 a.m. ET before No. 11 Japan’s 4 a.m. ET match against No. 12 Norway. Just like the group stage, all matches are airing across Fox’s networks in the U.S. and TSN’s in the Great White North.
As for our lone home squad still standing, the No. 1 USWNT will need all the energy they can muster to defeat the No. 3 Swedes at 5 a.m. ET on Sunday. Time to nap and caffeinate.