The U.S. women’s national team faced its most difficult test at this World Cup so far in its match Thursday against Sweden, and it wasn’t much of a test at all. The 2-0 scoreline doesn’t reflect it, but the Americans dominated the Swedes from the first whistle to the last. They possessed the ball 61 percent of the match and created 13 scoring chances.1 Sweden, on the other hand, created just four chances and rarely looked threatening otherwise.
Judging the U.S. women’s probability of winning the World Cup after their first two matches was tricky. They obliterated newcomers Thailand 13-0 and then handily swept Chile to the side 3-0, but neither opponent was expected to advance beyond the group stage, let alone make a run. The Americans were always favored to win those matches with ease. But Sweden entered the tournament with a chance — albeit a small one — of winning the whole thing, and the team has been a thorn in the USWNT’s side in the past.
Blowouts in the first two matches didn’t say much about what the USWNT is capable of against top competition (although Norway, which won the World Cup in 1995, proved that blowout wins in the group stage can be a good omen). But the assertive performance against Sweden proved that the USWNT is ready for all comers.2
Having finished atop Group F, the Americans will play Group B second-place finishers Spain in the round of 16. The FiveThirtyEight model gives the Spanish a 22 percent chance of beating the Americans and advancing to the quarterfinals. Spain’s defense has been stingy — it has conceded just two goals in three group-stage matches — but the team has struggled to find the back of the net. The Spanish are scoring just one goal per 90 minutes — 1.2 goals fewer than their expected goals (xG) tally suggests they should be scoring.
The upside for the Spanish: They are creating chances. The downside: They’ll be going up against an American side that hasn’t given up a goal and has conceded exactly zero big chances in their first three matches, according to data from Opta Sports. If Spain hopes to pull off the upset of the tournament, Jennifer Hermoso will have to capitalize on whatever chances she gets. The forward scored twice in the group stage, but her mark of 0.67 goals per 90 minutes is below what xG suggests she should have. If Hermoso can’t cash in, the Americans will probably advance to the quarterfinals.
The USWNT’s likely opponent in the quarterfinals is host nation France. Les Bleues won all three of their group-stage matches — although one of those wins came as the result of a *cough* controversial VAR decision *cough* that gave star defender Wendie Renard two shots at scoring from the penalty spot against Nigeria — and the FiveThirtyEight model gives them a 77 percent chance of beating Brazil in the round of 16.
But France might have preferred an opponent that didn’t include Marta. At 33, the Seleção legend is decidedly past her prime. But she’s the all-time leading goal scorer in the history of the World Cup — men’s or women’s — for a reason, and she’s still capable of inspiring awe. And Magic Marta isn’t alone: Brazil forward Cristiane Roziera has four goals at this World Cup, which places her one behind Australia’s Sam Kerr and the U.S.’s Alex Morgan in the race for the Golden Boot. If Cristiane draws level with — or overtakes — Kerr and Morgan, the quarterfinal match everyone is anticipating might not even happen. That said, Brazil has to be the least happy of any team with its draw. According to our model, its odds of making the quarters dropped by 29 percentage points, the most of any team remaining.
The Americans and the French might be the two most likely teams to win the tournament, but that doesn’t mean anyone should sleep on Germany. The Germans won all of their group-stage matches with relative ease and, along with the Americans, conceded the third-fewest shots on goal per 90 minutes. Not coincidentally, the Germans, like the Americans, didn’t concede a goal in the group stage. Our model gives them a 91 percent chance of beating Nigeria to advance to the quarterfinals and the third-best chance of winning the tournament.
Indeed, the group stage didn’t end up telling us a whole lot that we didn’t know entering the World Cup. The top of our model looks a lot like it did before the tournament began. On June 7, it gave France the best chances of winning, the U.S. the second-best and Germany the third-best. France and the U.S. have since flip-flopped — the U.S. chances to win jumped from 18 percent to 24 percent, while the French chances to win fell to 19 percent from 20 percent. Germany’s chances to win jumped from 11 percent to 15 percent, but its chances to advance to the quarterfinals jumped by an astounding 19 percentage points to 91 percent.
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Below the top three, it’s a bit of a crapshoot. England won all of its group-stage matches but is scoring less than xG suggests it should be. And it will have to contend with a Cameroon side that advanced to the knockout stages in dramatic fashion on Thursday thanks to a stoppage time goal from forward Ajara Nchout. The Netherlands won all of its group-stage matches and is the current European champion, but the Dutch are scoring more goals than xG suggest they should be and will have to beat a Japanese team that has underperformed so far.
Australia’s World Cup has been a bit of a mixed bag, but the Matildas boast one of the best players in the world in Kerr. Canada has Christine Sinclair — who’s just two goals shy of tying Abby Wambach’s all-time international goal-scoring record — but it has to beat a very strong Sweden side next. All of this indicates that this tournament has already lived up to its billing as the most competitive in Women’s World Cup history, and we expect more of the same going forward.
Still, the marquee potential matchup remains the U.S. vs. France next Friday. If both teams do what’s expected of them in the round of 16, the eventual World Cup champion might be decided by a quarterfinal at the Parc des Princes in Paris next week.
Check out our latest Women’s World Cup predictions.