Knockouts Begin With Spain-Switzerland and Japan-Norway

Norway’s Ada Hegerberg might be one of the star players missing from the knockout stages because of injury.Credit…Amanda Perobelli/Reuters

The group stage of this Women’s World Cup is officially over, and with it, any forgiveness available for the teams left. From here on out, each loss means players will be headed home, and there are no more draws — penalty shootouts will decide games if necessary. In a tournament full of surprises, that assures that they will continue.

The most vulnerable contender on Saturday’s schedule has to be Norway. The Norwegians barely made it out of a chaotic group, and their star, Ada Hegerberg, is still doubtful with a groin injury. Norway is set to face Japan, a longtime international talent that many seemed to underestimate heading into this World Cup.

Spain, which plays Saturday’s first game, and the Netherlands, which opens Sunday’s schedule (Saturday night Eastern time) will be looking to hold off their opponents or join the ranks of Germany, Canada and Brazil: international powerhouses that failed to perform to their expectations and headed home early.

Switzerland vs. Spain

Switzerland won a group that eliminated one of the tournament’s host countries, New Zealand, and featured at least two major upsets. Not bad for a team that failed to qualify for the 2019 World Cup. But now, the Swiss must face Spain — a top contender for the title that was actually acting like a top contender, decisively beating Costa Rica and Zambia, before stumbling in a rout to Japan, 4-0. The Spaniards now need to answer, and a win over Switzerland would achieve Spain’s goal of advancing deep into this tournament. They’re off to a good start: Spain took a 4-1 halftime lead, and has one foot in the quarterfinals already.

Japan vs. Norway

Norway was in trouble. The Norwegians, struggling with injuries and sniping about their coach, were knocking on the door of an early exit from this World Cup until their rout of the Philippines, 6-0, which saw them through to the round of 16. That result finally made Norway look like the team it thought it was heading into this tournament, one with aspirations of lifting the trophy. Now, anything is still possible — including going home. Elimination will be all the more possible if Hegerberg, Norway’s star striker, still can’t play.

Japan emerged rolled through Group C without surrendering a goal. The message was clear: This is one of the most dangerous teams left in the tournament. Underestimated after a stretch of middling play after it won the 2011 World Cup, Japan is showing itself to be a team to beat again.

Netherlands vs. South Africa

The Netherlands won Group E and was rewarded with avoiding Sweden in the first knockout match. Instead, the Dutch will face South Africa on Sunday in Sydney (10 p.m. Eastern time on Saturday night). South Africa topped Italy, 3-2, in the 92nd minute to secure a spot in the round of 16. The South Africans are not to be underestimated — they have lost only one match so far, to Sweden, 2-1, and are led by striker Thembi Kgatlana, who has already scored two goals in this World Cup.

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