The quarterfinal field is nearly complete after England and the United States booked their places with wins on Monday at the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup.
England came from behind to defeat Norway 2-1 in Ottawa—the first knockout victory for the Three Lionesses in Women's World Cup history. Up next, England will face host nation Canada in the quarterfinals on Saturday in Vancouver.
In the late game, the U.S. moved on with a 2-0 victory over Colombia. The scoreline might suggest an easy win, but it was anything but simple for the Americans, who still have not found their attacking form in the tournament.
Here are the key takeaways from Day 17 at the Women's World Cup.
U.S. wins ugly again, but that's still all that matters (for now)
Ranked No. 2 in the world before the tournament, the U.S. entered the World Cup as one of the favorites. So far, the results have reinforced that status, but unlike fellow favorites Germany and France, the Americans did not impress in their round-of-16 match.
Instead, Jill Ellis' side labored to a hard-fought 2-0 victory over Colombia. The U.S. did enough to win, but it should be noted that Colombia had to play almost 45 minutes with 10 women—and with a third-choice goalkeeper—after Catalina Perez was sent off early in the second half. Despite pulling out a third win in four attempts in Canada, the U.S. was plagued by the same issues that have caused problems throughout the tournament.
In short, the midfielders and forwards are still not linking together the way they should. As a result, the Americans are not playing the attractive attacking soccer the world has come to expect. Goals from Alex Morgan and Carli Lloyd were enough to see off Colombia, but the South Americans earned plenty of admirers for their entertaining style.
Meanwhile, the U.S. is still sputtering in the final third.
"Perhaps if the goalkeeper was not sent off, the scoreline would have been different," Colombia coach Fabian Taborda told FIFA.com. "These players have developed greatly throughout the past four years. The future is set to shine for us."
For the U.S., victory came at a cost, with midfielders Megan Rapinoe and Lauren Holiday set to miss the quarterfinal against China through suspension for yellow-card accumulation. But there was also reason to be optimistic as the defense starred once again, particularly center-backs Becky Sauerbrunn and Julie Johnston.
For now, the most important thing is that the U.S. survived and advanced. But a showdown with either France or Germany is looming—that is, if the Yanks can beat China in the quarterfinals on Friday. A repeat of Monday's performance won't be enough to beat any of those three teams.
Fortunately, the U.S. still has time to figure it out in the attacking third. Unfortunately, we haven't seen any indications so far that Ellis and the Americans will do so.
England making history—and proving credentials as challengers
Lucy Bronze scored one of the best goals of the tournament to finish off England's impressive 2-1 comeback victory over Norway in the day's first game in Ottawa. Norway had led through Solveig Gulbrandsen's header, but Steph Houghton equalized for England before Bronze's golazo gave the Three Lionesses a first-ever knockout victory in the Women's World Cup.
England coach Mark Sampson raised eyebrows with his team selection, making three changes to his back four as Bronze, Claire Rafferty and Laura Bassett came into the starting XI after they weren't used in the final group match. His side was decidedly second-best throughout the first half as Norway dominated possession and controlled the tempo of the match.
The Grasshoppers then took the lead in the 54th minute and seemed set for the quarterfinals. As it turned out, Sampson had them exactly where he wanted them.
Moments before the goal, the England coach brought on forward Jill Scott for Fran Kirby, a move that seemed ill-advised as soon as Norway scored. But Scott's presence transformed England. The Three Lionesses were instantly improved, and the equalizer arrived just seven minutes later.
Sampson then brought on Jodie Taylor in the 63rd minute, and it turned out to be another wise move. Along with Scott, Taylor helped set up Bronze's winning goal in the 76th minute with a fine sequence of passes.
Bronze's goal, it should be noted, was a thing of beauty. Receiving a lay-off pass near the corner of the box on the right, Bronze hit an unstoppable first-time shot off Ingrid Hjelmseth's hand and into the top corner of the net.
By that point, England was by far the better side. After weathering Norway's dominance in the first half, the Three Lionesses appeared significantly fresher in the second half. Sampson's game-planning was certainly responsible.
Sampson, in fact, got all his decisions right and coached masterfully, outperforming a legend and World Cup-winner in Even Pellerud. With Canada up next in the quarterfinals, there's no reason England shouldn't expect to replicate the result.
The hosts have hardly impressed in the attacking third, and Sampson's squad is now full of confidence after winning three straight matches. England may not have the technical quality of teams like Germany and France, but it might not matter. The Three Lionesses are on the more manageable side of the bracket, and with momentum mounting, they are beginning to look like legitimate contenders.
"The names of these players, this team, will go down in English football history—but make no mistake, this journey is not over," Sampson told FIFA.com. "Based on our second-half performance, we deserved to win that match."
Sampson added: "We're going to enjoy today because it is a big win for our country, and then it'll be back to business and we're determined to keep this journey going."