4 Key Battles Set to Decide the Quarter-Finals of the Women's World Cup

Andrew Gibney@@gibney_aFeatured ColumnistJune 25, 2015

4 Key Battles Set to Decide the Quarter-Finals of the Women's World Cup

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    And then there were eight. Japan’s 2-1 win over the Netherlands completed the round of 16 match-ups at the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Canada.

    The quarter-final round is set to be one of the most open and evenly balanced round of games yet and should provide entertainment, excitement and tension to rival any past tournament.

    With Germany, France and the USA all on one side of the draw, there is a huge opportunity for one of the four teams on the other side to go all the way to the final in Vancouver.

    Here are four key battles that will help determine the outcome of this weekend’s World Cup quarter-finals.

Germany vs. France

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    Leonie Maier vs. Laure Boulleau

    As dominant as Germany have been in making their way to the quarter-finals, there have been hints and signs that they may have a weakness at full-back.

    The Ivory Coast showed that Germany could be vulnerable down the right—although they didn’t have the quality to make it count.

    There is no problem going forward, and Leonie Maier has been a constant threat down the Germany right, but she will likely be more conservative on Friday as she comes up against Louisa Necib and Laure Boulleau. Necib’s tournament has been disappointing so far, but the attention teams are giving the Lyon star has helped her Paris Saint-Germain colleague attack down the left and create chances for Les Bleues.

    Boulleau is making that left side an intimidating side. #KOR was still 3-on-2 in the box, though. #FRA #FIFAWWC pic.twitter.com/XjDQHKeW6N

    — Richard Farley (@richardfarley) June 21, 2015

    Maier will have to show her defensive skills if Germany are to stop France from marauding down the flank.

China vs. USA

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    Ren Guixin vs. Carli Lloyd

    Without Megan Rapinoe and Lauren Holiday through suspension, the United States will further look to the performance of midfielder Carli Lloyd to get them through Friday’s match against China.

    Regardless of who Jill Ellis picks to play beside the 32-year-old, they will have to do battle with Ren Guixin, voted Player of the Match against Cameroon via the official FIFA website. 

    The sun now fully out, and #CMR just a little too over aggressive instead a few more side passes, good tackle by Ren Guixin on Zouga.

    — Andrew Jerell Jones (@sluggahjells) June 20, 2015

    Against the threat of the African side’s pace and power, Ren remained solid and authoritarian. Her positioning was excellent, often finding herself being the player breaking up the attacks. The Chinese midfielder will have to be at her best once again to combat the power of the U.S. attack.

Japan vs. Australia

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    Saki Kumagai vs. Lisa De Vanna

    Olympique Lyonnais’ Saki Kumagai is regarded as one of the best central defenders in women’s football, and her class and excellent reading of the game has definitely been one of Japan’s strongest assets in this tournament.

    They may have been troubled by the pace and strength of Switzerland, Cameroon and the Netherlands, but the back line was rarely breached.

    Australia have been a joy to watch so far, with Lisa De Vanna’s strong runs a key component of their success. Either on the left or the right, the Melbourne Victory forward loves running at defenders. She will either look to go past her marker or try to slip in one of her team-mates.

    Kyah Simon & Lisa De Vanna have been menaces this whole tournament. Deserved goal to go up 1-0 on #BRA. 1st goal conceded by Brazilians.

    — Grant Wahl (@GrantWahl) June 21, 2015

    For the Matildas to have any chance of progression on Saturday, they will need to hope that De Vanna can find a way to break Kumagai’s back line—easier said than done.

England vs. Canada

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    Steph Houghton vs. Christine Sinclair

    Her World Cup opened with a 92nd-minute penalty against China, but since that moment, it has not been a great tournament for Christine Sinclair. However, the striker, no matter how well she is playing, comes with a physical presence and an aura that needs to be respected.

    Column: In defence of Christine Sinclair. Questions continue to surround her but are people asking the right one? http://t.co/hsJ7fPZBFw

    — Kristian Jack (@KristianJack) June 22, 2015

    Against Switzerland at BC Place stadium, it was Sinclair's strength and touch that helped create the winning goal for Josee Belanger.

    Through the leadership of Steph Houghton on the pitch, England have shown that they are a very well-disciplined and organised team under Mark Sampson.

    With 155 international goals to her name, Sinclair will provide England with a constant threat, and one that Houghton will need to be very wary of if she and the Three Lionesses are to have any chance of winning a place in the semi-finals.