We have our final four. When you get this deep into a tournament, anyone who’s not seen as chalk has done something grand, like Morocco’s men’s team last year and Colombia’s women’s team would’ve been this year. The South Americans entered as the lone surprise to make the quarterfinals. They benefited from the laundry list of heavy hitters to take early flights out of Australia and New Zealand. They were the sleeping giants with the right combination of experience and new blood. Catalina Usme is a wonderful leader and Linda Caicedo will be starring on the global stage for decades to come. But it wasn’t enough this year for a bigger breakthrough.
England somehow found a way with its rash of injuries and a suspension to Lauren James to take down Colombia 2-1. Most experts picked the Three Lionesses to be one of the giants vulnerable to an early exit. Instead, other juggernauts will watch the British play two more games at the World Cup. And as much as Colombia punched above its weight, including a dazzling 44th-minute goal from Leicy Santos to give it a temporary lead, England’s composure is what pushed everyone not from Europe or a host country out of the tournament.
Catalina Pérez not controlling an easy save in first-half stoppage time and Lauren Hemp pouncing on it is the exact moment that describes the two teams on paper. Without that mistake, the game was headed to extra time, not an England win in regulation. Alessia Russo’s goal wouldn’t have been the game-winner, but the equalizer. Colombia had more chances, but none could upend the result. And while Colombia had some easy-to-spot errors in the game, like not putting Caicedo in her natural wing position and giving her the time and space to outrun teams, like what led to her goal in the team’s win over Germany, it improved its standing in world soccer.
England will run into Australia in the semifinals, with Spain and Sweden waiting on the other side of the bracket. Not to humblebrag, but my prediction for the final is still intact, although Australia and Sweden advancing to the final was against different teams than England and Spain, but I digress. And all four teams are looking to hoist its first world championship. One former champion didn’t make the knockout rounds, two got cut in the Round of 16 and Japan’s loss to Sweden in the quarterfinals guaranteed a new champion. And other heavy hitters like Canada, Brazil, and the Netherlands are all gone. While the 2019 tournament played out as a display for the United States to express its dominance, the 2023 edition will be remembered for how the rest of the world caught up and possibly even surpassed the Stars and Stripes.
I was expecting a barn-burner between Australia and France in what was pegged as the best game of the quarterfinals. While it was still a good game, no ball touched the back of the net until the 100th minute, when Wendie Renard’s header crossed the goal line. Except for the French veteran dragged down two Aussies to the pitch with her to score a goal, which you obviously couldn’t do, and the tally was waived off. Renard also scored in the 2019 World Cup quarterfinals, when France hosted the tournament, but her marker still wasn’t enough to defeat the United States. The French bowed out of the tournament for a fourth straight time in the knockout rounds short of the final, and third straight in the quarterfinals, on penalty kicks. For Australia, no host has made the final since the USA in 1999. Quite the standard to try and match.