Group D is the only group left with any real drama. Norway and Australia battle for the final available quarterfinal spot. Barring a serious upset, Brazil will win the group and face the second place finisher from Group C. That will be either the United States or Sweden. Those two teams face off in the later Wednesday to see who gets to avoid Brazil in the quarterfinals but potentially face a Germany semifinal. Here’s a six pack of questions entering Wednesday’s action:
1. Who claims the final spot? Will Norway or Australia take the final spot in the quarterfinals? Both teams have shown serious weaknesses in this tournament, particularly in the back. Servet Uzunlar had a nightmare at centerback to gift Equatorial Guinea two goals on Sunday. She is in the starting line-up again today against Norway, so Tom Sermanni clearly has faith in her.
2. Abby or Alex? Abby Wambach continues to insist that she wants to play, but it does not sound like the U.S. coaching staff and trainers are ready to push her sore Achilles. It is pretty tough to say no to a determined Wambach, though. If she does not start, Alex Morgan should fill her role up top, although crazier things have happened.
3. Can Brazil put in a full 90? The Brazilians played their best half of soccer in the final 45 minutes of Sunday’s 3-0 win over Norway but have not put together a complete performance yet. There is no better opportunity to do that than on Wednesday against a far inferior Equatorial Guinea side. This should be the ultimate match-up of wacky formations with Brazil’s 3-4-3 squaring off against Equatorial Guinea’s…uh, 3-4-3? It was so out of sorts against Australia that it looked to be something like a 5-3-2.
4. Is Sweden for real? Sweden has been far from impressive in victories over Colombia and North Korea. Wednesday’s match against the United States is a chance for Sweden to prove that it can compete in the knockout stage. That starts with putting the ball on frame.
5. Who has the better youngsters? North Korea is the tournament’s youngest team and Colombia features a good deal of young players as well. So who is the better up and coming team? The battle between these two teams on Wednesday – a battle for nothing more than third place in Group C – should tell us. Colombia features five players under the age of 20, while North Korea incredibly features nine players under the age of 20.
6. Will the shutout streak continue? The United States is yet to give up a goal and Hope Solo’s shutout streak has surpassed the equivalent of eight games. Will it continue? If the U.S. back line stays compact and disciplined and Sweden continues to blow chances as it has been, the answer should be yes.