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USWNT Set for Stiff Test vs. Confident Colombia in Women's World Cup Round of 16

Michael Cummings@MikeCummings37World Football Lead WriterJune 20, 2015

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The last time Lady Andrade met the United States women's national team in a major tournament, the Colombian star gave Abby Wambach a black eye. Three years later, as the two teams prepare to meet again in the FIFA Women's World Cup round of 16, it's clear that Andrade and Las Cafeteras are still up for the fight.

"I hit her; what else I can say?" Andrade told USA Today in an interview published Saturday. "If you look back at the video you'll see she hit me too, but we're Colombia so they don't want to review the whole episode."

That episode occurred during the group stage of the 2012 Olympic tournament, when the U.S. defeated Colombia 3-0 in a game at Glasgow's Hampden Park. Megan Rapinoe, Wambach and Carli Lloyd scored the goals that day, but Andrade delivered the most memorable blow, striking Wambach in the face as the two ran down the pitch late in the first half.

Andrade went unpunished during the game but later drew a two-match suspension. It was a shocking moment of on-field misconduct, but three years later, Andrade and Colombia have a chance to inflict a more deadly knockout blow.

Lightly regarded ahead of the tournament, Las Cafeteras earned a spot in the knockout round thanks to a shocking victory over third-ranked France in the group stage. Now that they've made it this far, Las Cafeteras aren't about to go home quietly.

"They belittle us. They think we're a team they're going to walk all over and it will be an easy game for them," Andrade said in the USA Today interview. "We're going to beat them since they like to talk so much."

The score, according to Andrade, will be either 2-1 or 1-0 to Colombia. Such a result would be a surprise, given the U.S. is ranked No. 2 in the world while Colombia is 28th. But for those who have watched both teams during the group stage, the prediction isn't so far-fetched at all.

Lady Andrade scored two goals for Colombia in the group stage.
Lady Andrade scored two goals for Colombia in the group stage.Elsa/Getty Images

The Americans finished atop Group D, widely considered the "group of death," after beating Australia and Nigeria and drawing with Sweden. But the team's attacking play has been substandard so far, and the midfield has lacked coherence, especially in the middle of the pitch.

Drawn into Group F, Colombia opened the tournament with a 1-1 draw against Mexico, a match in which Mexico had a late winner ruled out controversially. Las Cafeteras then stunned France 2-0, the upset of the tournament so far. Andrade netted the winner in the first half, calmly slotting in after running onto a pass through France's defense. With the score still at 1-0, Les Bleues had a clear penalty claim denied after Daniela Montoya handled the ball blatantly in the box.

Colombia fell 2-1 to England in the final group game, but that should not take away from the team's achievement in reaching the round of 16. Making just their second appearance in the World Cup, Las Cafeteras were the lowest-ranked side in Group F, but they fully deserved their victory over France and had a good chance to advance as group winners.

Abby Wambach scored the winner for the U.S. against Nigeria.
Abby Wambach scored the winner for the U.S. against Nigeria.Rich Lam/Getty Images

For the U.S. to advance, the center back pairing of Julie Johnston and Becky Sauerbrunn must continue playing well. The attack improved in the Nigeria match, when Wambach and Alex Morgan resumed their fruitful partnership following Morgan's injury layoff, but it sputtered against Sweden, when the team was shut out for the fifth time in 14 matches.

The key to the encounter could lie in central midfield, where Lauren Holiday and Carli Lloyd have struggled to slow opposing attackers. As Evan Davis wrote at Deadspin:

In the group stage, Colombian manager Fabian Taborda was able to smother France’s attack, scoring a beautiful counterattacking goal that opened the biggest upset in Women’s World Cup history. Becky Sauerbrunn and Julie Johnston won’t give Diana Ospina and Lady Andrade the space the French did, but Yoreli Rincon could pick apart the lack of shape and communication endemic of Holiday and Lloyd in this tournament.

The Americans have reasons to be optimistic as well. The defense, led by Johnston, Sauerbrunn and goalkeeper Hope Solo, has conceded just once in three games—a stretch of 270 minutes. In addition, Colombia goalkeeper Sandra Sepulveda, who starred against France, will miss the U.S. match through yellow-card suspension.

Forward Alex Morgan is still returning to full fitness for the U.S.
Forward Alex Morgan is still returning to full fitness for the U.S.Rich Lam/Getty Images

"We can attack with confidence if we have a good back line," U.S. coach Jill Ellis said after the Nigeria game, per Perform Media (h/t Sporting News).

Because of the solidity of the back line—and their history as two-time champions—the Americans will bring a healthy amount of self-belief into the match. The U.S., simply put, will expect to win.

But so will Colombia, as Andrade's comments so clearly indicated. One of the lessons we've learned about the U.S. from this World Cup is that other teams no longer fear the Americans like they once did. That seems especially true for this opponent.

In beating France, Colombia showed it has the potential to upset any team on any day. To beat the Cafeteras, the U.S. might have to play its best game of the tournament so far.

Follow @MiguelCominguez

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