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England faces Colombia test, Japan eyes Women's World Cup semis

AUCKLAND, August 11 ------ The Women's World Cup is down to the last eight, with European champions England widely seen as the favorites to lift the trophy following the elimination of holders the United States. AFP Sport looks ahead to the quarter-final action on Friday and Saturday in Australia and New Zealand:

The first quarter-final might be the most-evenly matched, with a Spain side sitting sixth in the world rankings facing the ninth-ranked Netherlands. Spain is in the quarter-finals for the first time despite reigning Ballon d'Or Alexia Putellas struggling to make an impact as she continues to recover fitness following a ruptured ACL. Instead her Barcelona teammate Aitana Bonmati has been the standout.

Coach Jorge Vilda made sweeping changes to his line-up for the 5-1 last-16 win over Switzerland and must decide whether to stick with the likes of Laia Codina in central defense and Cata Coll in goal. The Netherlands, runners-up in 2019, has put the absence at the tournament due to injury of prolific striker Vivianne Miedema behind it and topped its group ahead of the USA. Andries Jonker's team has conceded just one goal so far. They will need to be strong at the back against a Spain team that has notched 13 goals in four games.


Practically written off before the tournament, Japan is the only former World Cup winner still standing following the exits of the USA, Germany and Norway. The 2011 champions have been clinical, scoring 14 goals and letting in just one in wins over Zambia (5-0), Costa Rica (2-0), Spain (4-0) and Norway (3-1).

The player grabbing the attention is Hinata Miyazawa, the 23-year-old leader in the race for the golden boot with five goals. But it is not just about her. "They're so disciplined and very structured in the way they play offence and defense," said Norway's Caroline Graham Hansen after the last 16. World No. 3 Sweden is the top-ranked team left in the tournament after it ousted the USA on penalties. However, it was second-best throughout that game and grateful to goalkeeper Zecira Musovic for several key saves. It has now kept three consecutive clean sheets.

Japan beat Sweden, 3-1, in the semi-finals in 2011, but Sweden won by the same scoreline when they met at the Tokyo Olympics.


Australia appears to be getting stronger as it goes along, surviving a wobble in the group stage before comfortably dispatching Denmark, 2-0, in the last 16. It is aiming to reach the semi-finals for the first time and is boosted by the return to fitness of star striker Sam Kerr, who returned from three weeks out with a calf problem as a substitute against Denmark. "For (other) teams looking ahead it's pretty scary to know that she's back in the team and she's going to be a part of it with us," said Caitlin Foord.

France is hoping Australia suffers the same fate as befell them four years ago, when as hosts they went out in the quarter-finals to the eventual winners, the USA. Herve Renard's team cruised through in the last 16, beating Morocco, 4-0. They have scored 12 goals in their last three games, but they will have to deal with a hostile atmosphere from 50,000 spectators. "It won't be an easy match, but it won't be easy for either team," warned Renard, whose side lost, 1-0, to Australia in a friendly in Melbourne on July 14.


England is the favorite to win the trophy, while Colombia is the surprise quarter-finalists, and 21 places separate the teams in the world rankings. However, England stumbled into the last eight, needing penalties to see off Nigeria, and it cannot afford to take Colombia lightly given the South Americans beat Germany in the group stage and has one of the most exciting players at the tournament in Linda Caicedo. Sarina Wiegman's European champions are also hindered by the absence of Lauren James, with the 21-year-old Chelsea attacker suspended after being sent off against Nigeria for stamping on an opponent.

Colombia reached the quarter-finals for the first time by beating Jamaica 1-0 and will hope to have a lot of support like in previous rounds. "We are dreaming big we can do this," said captain Catalina Usme.



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