AUCKLAND, New Zealand (AP) — Brazil and Canada are out. Same for Italy and Germany, all powerhouse teams already eliminated from the Women’s World Cup following shocking upsets in group play.
The United States, meanwhile, hardly looks as dominant as it did in winning the last two consecutive titles.
The round of 16 begins Saturday in what’s now a wide-open World Cup with plenty of underdogs still in contention. Morocco, ranked 72nd in the world and in the tournament for the first time, used an unbelievable upset over Colombia to advance.
South Africa made it through to the round of 16 for the first time in its history, and same for Jamaica, which needed a GoFundMe campaign to afford the travel to the tournament. Nigeria is through for the first time since 1999, while Colombia and its 18-year-old star Linda Caicedo made it to the round of 16 for the second time in team history and just four years after it failed to qualify for the tournament.
There are plenty of heavyweights still in play, but one will be eliminated Sunday when the top-ranked United States plays third-ranked Sweden. Australia, England, Denmark, France, 2019 runner-up the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, and Switzerland all advanced, and Japan just might be the new favorite after scoring 11 goals in three group-stage wins.
The knockout round kicks off Saturday when Switzerland plays Spain in Auckland, and Norway faces Japan in the New Zealand capital of Wellington.
Switzerland quietly won Group A with two scoreless draws and a 2-0 victory over the Philippines, which was playing in its first World Cup.
The Swiss have now drawn seven of their last 10 international matches, and in this World Cup, they are one of only three teams yet to concede a goal. The Swiss defense has been exceptional, but La Nati have never advanced to the quarterfinals of a major tournament.
Switzerland failed to qualify for six of the previous eight World Cups, and didn’t enter in 1995. The Swiss reached the round of 16 in 2015, their only previous appearance in the World Cup.
“We played very well in our group stage and we understand that Spain might be the favorites,” said Switzerland coach Inka Grings.
Spain, meanwhile, looked to be a top contender for the title following a 3-0 win over Costa Rica and a 5-0 rout of Zambia. But those two opponents were among the lowest-ranked teams in the tournament, with Zambia a World Cup debutante.
La Roja didn’t look so ferocious when it ran into Japan, the 11th-ranked team in the world. The Japanese struck early and rolled over Spain in a lopsided 4-0 Group C finale.
The loss dropped Spain to second in the group despite scoring eight goals in its first two victories.
Spain was eliminated in group play in 2015, and the knockout round in 2019. La Roja is trying to reach the quarterfinals in its third World Cup appearance.
Japan looked awfully strong in a three-game sweep of Group C, and now faces Norway, which was second in Group A despite playing most of the first round without star forward Ada Hegerberg.
Hegerberg trained with her teammates in Wellington on Friday but hasn’t played in more than two weeks, in Norway’s tournament-opening loss to New Zealand. She was listed in the starting lineup ahead of Norway’s game against Switzerland only to be a game-time scratch with a groin injury.
She didn’t play the finale against the the Philippines, and replacement Sophie Roman Haug scored a hat trick.
Norway coach Hege Riise wouldn’t confirm Hegerberg’s playing status against Japan.
“She’s been following the medical plan and been successful in every step of that plan,” Riise said. “So we will see her in training (Friday) and see how how she reacts to that, like the last step before the game.
“And we prepare for Ada to play or come in,” he said, noting that having two strong choices at forward is “luxury for me as a coach.”
Japan, meanwhile, sailed through group play with 11 goals over its three games. The Japanese have yet to concede a goal this tournament.
“Our team is more confident, that is sure,” coach Futoshi Ikeda said. “But this is the knockout stage, and we only have one chance to win. So our mindset has to change accordingly.”
Japanese midfielder Yui Hasegawa sounded as confident as her coach described.
“Three matches, three clean sheets for us and knockout stage,” she said. “What we have to do is keep that level of performance.”
AP Sports Writer Steve McMorran contributed to this report from Wellington, New Zealand.
AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/fifa-womens-world-cup