Europeans turn on the style as World Cup enters knockout round
MONTREAL: England and France qualified in style for the last 16 of the women's World Cup on Wednesday, with the tournament looking as though it will be dominated by a strong contingent of European sides.
On the evidence of the first round the winner could well come from a group that includes Germany, France, England and Norway, while defending champions Japan and the United States, who although not at the same level as the others, benefit from massive fan support and could go on a run.
England have picked up momentum as the tournament progressed and showed an impressive mix of pace and power as they beat Colombia 2-1 in Group F to set up a last 16 encounter with Norway.
Coach Mark Sampson has already used 21 of his 23 players, giving game time to every team member apart from the two back-up goalkeepers, and praised his side's versatility.
"Whatever we're going to face in the latter stages, we know we have got something to throw back," he told reporters.
"We have got the bonus of a lot of people getting game time and a lot of people who are fighting fit," he said.
England's pace might come in useful against an experienced Norwegian side that has looked ponderous at times. The winner of that game could well end up playing hosts Canada in the quarter-finals in Vancouver.
France, ranked third in the world, blasted Mexico 5-0 with four first-half goals in Ottawa to win Group F.
"When you win 5-0, a coach is always going to be happy ... we know we played very well," said coach Philippe Bergeroo.
France should be too strong in the second round for a South Korea side that qualified after a bad error by Spain's goalkeeper in their final Group E game on Wednesday.
Germany, who are due to meet a weak Sweden in the second round, look to be the outstanding team of the World Cup so far.
Japan should brush aside Switzerland and could then meet Brazil, who are beginning to look past their best.
High-scoring Cameroon play China in the second round while the United States meet Colombia.
The number of teams in the World Cup was expanded this year to 24 from 16 and some sides have struggled badly, but the standard of play should now improve and Canadian organizers will also be hoping more people at the games.