Much like the other Group E game taking place simultaneously, Brazil and South Africa could only play out a stalemate, though it wasn’t for want of trying, both with smart build-up play but criminally lacking in the final third. The hosts looking more dangerous after the half-time break especially with the introduction of Marta but Banyana Banyana stood resolute, Roxanne Barker and her defence refusing to be beaten. South Africa consigned to finishing dead last but with a respectable clean-sheet against a free scoring Brazilian side, at home.
Just like the other game in Group E, China vs Sweden ended scoreless, almost as if the four games prior had used up all the goals and there were none left for the last teams. The game started at a leisurely pace and unfortunately never picked up, both offering something in attack but neither willing to fully commit to grab the win. With a draw suiting both the game began to drag to a foregone conclusion before it ever really got going. Both Bruno Bini and Pia Sundhage will hope for so much more from their respective sides in the knock-outs.
After Allysha Chapman felled Mandy Islacker in the box inside of fifteen minutes and Melanie Behringer powered the ball past Stephanie Labbé there seemed like there could only be one outcome to the crunch match. But when Melissa Tancredi threaded the ball through two defenders to beat Almuth Schult mid-way through the first-half it was game on.
With the game wide open and the top spot in the group up for grabs both sides went at each other for most of the next hour. But it was to be Canada’s day as they found their first ever win against Germany when Tancredi notched her second of the match, nodding home a Rebecca Quinn free-kick. Despite a last-minute rally that saw Josée Bélanger clear a shot off of the line in stoppage time, Germany couldn’t find a way through the stubborn Canadian defence and had to settle for finishing second in Group F.
In an attempt to seal a spot in the next round Australia were on the offensive from the get go in their final group game against debutants, Zimbabwe. Veteran Lisa de Vanna opened the scoring just 69 seconds into the match, thundering a Katrina Gorry cross into the roof of the net. Claire Polkinghorne and Alanna Kennedy both contributed headers from dangerous corners to insure the Matildas went into the break with a commanding lead. Kyah Simon took advantage of the tired defence to add a fourth before substitute Michelle Heyman bagged herself a brace five minutes either side of the hour. Despite the score the match wasn’t a one-horse race and Zimbabwe enjoyed sporadic counter-attacks, using their zippy pace to break through a slightly disinterested defence. The Mighty Warriors ending their Olympic adventure with a wonderfully worked team move capped off by Emmaculate Msipa’s low finish into the far corner.
It didn’t take long for the US to begin to steamroll their opponents, Colombia defending for their lives to keep the current World Champions out. However, as time ticked away the South American side grew into the game and began to enjoy more time in the oppositions half. Despite how Colombia had grown in the game no one could quite believe their eyes when Catalina Usme’s free kick curled around the wall and slid through Hope Solo’s knees as the veteran keeper went to claim. The US responded well and drew level just before the break when Crystal Dunn was first to react as Carli Lloyd’s effort thundered off the underside of the bar and back into the box.
The game fell back into a familiar rhythm after the break and the US took the lead just before the hour after some pinball in the box with Colombia unable to clear their lines. Mallory Pugh becoming the youngest American to ever score in an Olympic match as she picked the ball up, carried across the box before slicing her shot low into the back of the net. But that wasn’t where the story ended as Usme restored parity in the last second of regular time, her whipped free kick slipping through Solo’s outstretched hands and just under the bar before slamming into the net. With only stoppage time remaining the US were consigned to the draw knowing they’d topped the group anyway.
It was far from vintage or even that good when the Football Ferns met France in Salvador to stake their claim on a spot in the next round. New Zealand with the better of the early chances but France gradually grew into the game, seeing more of the ball but lacking any kind of cutting edge in the final third. With Les Bleues so blunt in attack, Philippe Bergeroo opted to bring Eugénie Le Sommer on for Marie Laure Delie with ten minutes of the first-half remaining.
The move proved to be an inspired one as Le Sommer was first to react as Elise Bussaglia’s angled effort from outside the box ricocheted off of the bar past a helpless Erin Nayler. The volley far harder than the Lyon striker made it look, it hadn’t been smooth sailing but France finally had the lead. With France well on top the game continued to drag throughout the second-half, neither side unable to find their best but the Ferns doing well to repel most of what Les Bleues could muster. The knock-out blow came just after the hour as Louisa [Necib] Cadamuro headed Elodie Thomis’ whipped cross deep into the ground to evade Nayler en route to the back of the net. Cadamuro capped the night off from the spot, sending Nayler the wrong way as she finished clinically into the bottom left corner.
All four quarter finals will take place on 12 and 13 August and they are as follows;
USA vs Sweden - 5pm GMT KO in Brasília,
China vs Germany - 8pm GMT KO in Salvador,
Canada vs France - 11pm GMT KO in São Paulo,
Brazil vs Australia - 2am GMT KO (13 August) in Belo Horizonte.