Football fans are surely still reeling from the effects of the shock results of the group stage matches where Germany (second seeds) and Brazil were sent packing from the competition they had previously been touted favorites for. Debutants Morocco seem to be looking to emulate their male counterparts after the latter’s exploits at the men’s edition late last year saw them break multiple records on their way to the semifinal, where they lost to eventual runners-up France. For the first time, there are three African nations in the knockout rounds, a stat that is sure to be broken in years to come, judging by the wonderful performance each of them has displayed so far. This tournament surely has more surprises up its sleeves, and we are here to revel in every bit of it.
The first match in the knockout rounds see Group A toppers Switzerland take on possession-hungry Spain at Eden Park, the same venue that hosted the first match of the tournament. Playing in just their second World Cup, the Swiss played some solid, if not expansive, football to get through the group stage, like they did, eight years ago. They beat the Philippines on opening day ad drew against Norway and cohosts New Zealand to top the group and seal a place in the knockouts, conceding no goals in the process. Meanwhile, Spain started strongly in Group C, beating Zambia and Costa Rica 5-nil and 3-nil respectively before meeting fellow six-pointers Japan to contest the top spot. Their record was brought crashing to earth, however, as they suffered one of the most surprising losses of the tournament. The Asians executed their counter-attack game well, winning 4-nil via a Hinata Mizayawa brace on either side of a Riko Ueki goal in twenty-eight first-half minutes. Even though Spain recorded seventy-seven percent ball possession, they would fail to put more than two shots on target in that game.
Spain will, however, be looking to reach the quarterfinals in just their third appearance at the global showpiece, after having suffered group-stage elimination and a knockout loss in the last two editions. They will also be more experienced this time around after their loss to Japan. Ivana Andres is a doubt, but Feminin Ballon D’Or winner Alexis Putellas should start in midfield with Aitana Bonmati. The Swiss know their strength lies in keeping their goalpost watertight, which means Spain will have to be wary of counterattacks while also seeking to score against Switzerland for the first time in the competition. The Andalusians are surely favorites, so it will be interesting to see how they approach the match to avoid getting burnt like the last time.
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