The first part of the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup came to a close Thursday in France. Group play concluded as the field was trimmed from 24 teams to 16 as the tournament shifts to the knockout stage starting Saturday.
Most soccer fans are accustomed to the World Cup seeing the top two teams in each group advancing, while the others having to pack it up and try again in four years.
The men’s World Cup has done it that way since expanding to 32 teams in time for the 1998 edition held in France.
The Women’s World Cup, however, still has 24 teams. So while the top two teams are guaranteed qualification into the knockout round, that only accounts for 12 of the 16 advancing teams.
What about the remaining four? That comes from the top third-place finishers among the six groups. They are ranked in order by how many points they attained in group play followed by goals scored, fair play points and , finally, a random draw.
Here’s a look at the knockout round participants and how they qualified, specifically the four third-place finishers:
The tournament hosts won Group A with nine points, outscoring opponents 7-1 in three victories. The French don’t draw an easy opponent in the Round of 16. They will take on Brazil.
While feeling a little unlucky with a VAR (video assistant referee) decision that went France’s way, Norway got through as a group runner-up with two wins and plays Australia in the Round of 16.
It was a tense-filled final day of group games for the Nigerians. With one win, Nigeria had three points in group play, but also had a goal differential of minus-two. The Super Falcons had to sweat out Thursday’s match between Chile and Thailand in Group F, because Chile could surpass Nigeria on goal differential as the last third-place finisher to qualify. Both Nigeria and Chile finished with three points, but Chile’s 2-0 victory over Thailand left the Chileans one goal short in the differential tiebreaker. They even hit the post on a penalty late in the second half that would have eliminated Nigeria. Now Nigeria faces Germany in the Round of 16.
One of the pre-tournament favorites, the Germans outscored opponents 6-0 in three group victories to win the group and earn passage to next round. Germany plays Nigeria in the Round of 16.
Four points from three group matches, including a 0-0 draw in its final group game against China helped Spain earn the group runner-up honors. They had a plus-one goal differential, which was one better than the Chinese, who also finished with four points. Spain plays the U.S. in the Round of 16.
Beat out by Spain on goal difference for the runner-up spot, China was guaranteed one of the best third-place finishes prior to Thursday’s action. That’s because both Group E and F had its bottom teams without any points heading into the final group stage day. China plays Italy in the Round of 16.
Three teams in this group defeated each other, while beating Jamaica to each finish with six points. Italy won the group due to the goal difference tiebreaker. The Italians had a plus-five goal difference, which was two better than Australia and Brazil. The Italians face China in the Round of 16.
The Matildas took the runner-up in the group after tying Italy and Brazil on points with six. The Aussies also tied Brazil on goal difference with a plus-three margin. However, Australia had eight goals scored compared to Brazil’s six, so that’s the tiebreaker that has Australia in the runner-up position. Australia plays Norway in the Round of 16.
The Brazilians had the best performance among any third-place team as no other third-place team earned six points. They were locked into a Round of 16 berth well before Thursday. They just didn’t know who they’d play next, until Thursday’s action concluded. Brazil’s reward? Playing tournament host France in the Round of 16.
The Three Lionesses won all three group games, outscoring opponents 5-1, to win the group. England plays Cameroon in the Round of 16.
Runners-up in the last WWC, Japan finished as a group runner-up with four points. The team Japan beat, Scotland, looked like a third-place qualifying team, but saw a 3-0 lead over Argentina evaporate in the second half and end in a draw that eliminated both teams from becoming a third Group D club to advance. Japan plays the Netherlands in the Round of 16.
A 2-1 victory over Canada on Thursday sealed up the group for the Dutch. The Netherlands earned nine points and outscored opponents 6-2 in three victories. The Dutch face Japan in the Round of 16.
The Canadians were already going to the knockout round before Thursday, but were playing for first place in the group. A 2-1 loss to the Netherlands, the reigning European champions, means Canada plays Sweden in the Round of 16 as a group runner-up.
Arguably the biggest winner Thursday was Cameroon. They started the day on the outside and were about to exit the tournament, before scoring on the final play of their game against New Zealand to win 2-1. That lifted Cameroon to three points and tied them with Nigeria in the third-place rankings with a minus-two goal differential. However, Cameroon scored one more goal, with three, than Nigeria to rank one spot above them in the third-place standings. They face England in the Round of 16.
The U.S. Women’s National Team outscored opponents 18-0, including a World Cup-record 13-0 win over Thailand, in three group games. The three victories netted Team USA with nine points and first-place in the group following Thursday’s 2-0 win over Sweden. The U.S. faces Spain in the Round of 16.
The Swedes were already qualified before Thursday’s showdown with the U.S. They earned six points through wins over Chile and Thailand. A 2-0 loss to the Americans means Sweden plays Canada as a group runner-up.