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UB coach Shawn Burke on what to watch in World Cup knockout round

University at Buffalo women's soccer coach Shawn Burke will be providing analysis of the Women's World Cup for The Buffalo News during the tournament. Burke is entering his sixth season at UB and has led the program to five consecutive Mid-American Conference tournament appearances and was named MAC Coach of the Year in 2014.

After two weeks, 36 games and 106 goals, the knockout Round of 16 is set at the Women’s World Cup in France. The group stage was dominated by defending champion United States with a staggering 18 goals for and zero goals against in three matches. France, Germany, England and the Netherlands also were unbeaten in the group stage. Here is a look back and a look ahead as the Round of 16 begins Saturday.

Memorable moments

  • Team USA’s record-breaking 13-0 win against Thailand. It was the most goals in a single game and largest margin of victory. The Americans were led by Alex Morgan’s five goals, which tied a World Cup record for most goals in a single game held by Michelle Akers.
  • Italy upsets Australia in its opener. After a 20-year hiatus from the tournament, the Italians won, 2-1, on Barbara Bonansea’s goal in extra time. Italy went on to win Group C over Australia, Brazil and Jamaica.
  • Emotions of Thailand’s first goal. Despite being thoroughly outmatched in the entire tournament, Thailand scored a late goal in a 5-1 defeat to Sweden. The reaction showed the emotion and pride that comes with representing your country at the World Cup. A video of Nualphan Lamsam in the stands went viral. Lamsam is the general manager of the Thai women’s team and her insurance company hires the players as sales representatives so they do not have to find other jobs while also training and playing for the national team.
  • Ageless wonder Formiga. At age 41, the Brazilian midfielder is competing in her record seventh World Cup. As noted by USA TODAY, 150 players competing in this year’s tournament had not been born when Formiga made her debut.
  • In typical Brazilian fashion, one word says it all. Marta converted a second-half penalty against Italy to become the all-time leading goal scorer (17) in World Cup history, men or women.
  • Scotland’s epic collapse or Argentina’s amazing comeback? Leading 3-0 with 16 minutes to go, Scotland squandered its chance to advance by conceding three goals, including a 94th minute penalty kick.
  • Drama in Montpellier. Cameroon’s Ajara Nchout scored a dramatic 95th minute winner for a 2-1 victory against New Zealand. That sent Cameroon through to the knockout stage and a matchup with England.

Golden Boot race

Team USA’s Alex Morgan and Australia’s Sam Kerr enter the knockout round tied with five goals each. With Australia failing to win its group, Kerr will need a magical run to win the award. She was my pick before the tournament.

Keep an eye on Brazil’s Cristiane (four goals) and England’s Ellen White (three) to remain in the conversation with their team advancing each round. France’s Wendie Renard and American Carli Lloyd have three goals apiece and will be looking to push their teams into July.

Projected matchups to watch

  • USA vs France quarterfinal. As a fan, you wish this was the championship game, but both teams won their group and fall victim to the bracket. My tournament pick (France) will have to be flawless and lean heavily on the support from their home fans. France first will have to get by a veteran Brazilian side in the Round of 16. The U.S. is dialed in and on a mission in 2019. With no more easy opponents, the Americans will be tested, but France might pose the most problems. These are two veteran sides that will not shy away from the bright lights and that should make this the game of the tournament. I expect the winner will hoist the World Cup Trophy.
  • England vs France-USA winner semifinal. England seems to have all the pieces and professional experience to potentially shock these powerhouses. Lucy Bronze and Steph Houghton lead an organized back line that on the right day could stifle these potent attacks. Phil Neville has also been rotating players with the hopes of a deep tournament run. Fran Kirby has shown how dynamic a playmaker she can be, but England will need Ellen White and Nikita Parris to bag goals to advance.
  • Netherlands vs Italy quarterfinal. Italy has been the surprise of this World Cup and won Group C despite dropping the final match to Brazil. A typical stout Italian defense will determine how far they go. Barbara Bonansea and Cristiana Girelli have proved themselves on the world stage and are must-watch attackers. The Dutch have the most balance and are my pick to come out of this side of the bracket. Consistency in the midfield and back line allow them to dictate play and play to their rhythm. Lieke Martens is the star in the attack, but does not need to bear the entire burden. With Germany, Sweden and Canada not overly impressing throughout the group stage, I expect the Dutch to play in their first World Cup final.

Final thoughts

The United States has arrived in France with something to prove. Given the depth of the roster, you could argue that the Americans have the best two teams in the tournament.

France, England and the Netherlands are potential and formidable opponents that possess stars and talents to be champions.

However, the U.S. has an edge that shows with every player who steps on the field.

Based on what the Americans have shown so far, there is no reason to think Team USA won’t win its second consecutive World Cup trophy.

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