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Australia celebrates their penalty-shootout victory over France.

It’s probably good for the sport as a whole that somebody else gets a turn as the world champion. With Japan’s loss in the quarterfinal round to the Swedes, all the former champions are now out of the running, and one of the four teams left standing will win their first-ever World Cup title. While USA is reassessing not only the tactical decisions but also a newly chaotic system that prices out economically disadvantaged girls from the national training setup, let’s go over the results from the round of 8.

What was the most exciting game in the quarters?
The Australia-France game was decided by the longest penalty shootout in either men’s or women’s World Cup history, as 10 players from each side took shots before a winner was finally declared. As you might expect, such a long shootout had everything.

Did it have a streaker run across the pitch?
Well, no, but…

Scarborough 300x250 2024

Did a plague of locusts invade the stadium?
Don’t be ridiculous. What happened was…

Did the players want to settle the match with a game of Uno?
Shut up! First, France subbed in a new goalkeeper just before the end of the extra time period. Starting keeper Pauline Peyraud-Magnin had looked dodgy in the French net, but her reaction to being changed out for Solène Durand indicated that this was a planned move. Ève Perisset was also subbed in late just for the penalty shootout, a move that looked very bad after the Chelsea right back hit the post with her shot. That gave Australia keeper Mackenzie Arnold a chance to win the match with the fifth shot of the shootout, but she also smashed her shot off the frame. With France edging ahead in the penalty rounds, Katrina Gorry stepped up needing to make her shot just to keep Australia alive. She slotted home, because losing her father-in-law and blowing it for her country in the same week would have been just too cruel. Undaunted, Arnold stopped a shot by Kenza Dali, only for referee Maria Carvajal (who looked overmatched by the physical play offered up by both teams) to correctly rule that Arnold had come off her line before the kick was taken. I’ve never seen a penalty taker fail after being given a second opportunity, but that’s exactly what Dali did, putting a tame shot for Arnold to save. Clare Hunt had her own chance to end the shootout, but her spot kick was stopped by Durand. Finally, when teenager Vicki Bécho hit the post with her shot, substitute forward Cortnee Vine got her kick underneath Durand’s dive to send the Matildas to the World Cup semis, where they’ve never been. I spent Saturday morning looking at videos of fans all over Australia (Rebel Wilson among them) celebrating the winning kick.

Who are the Rebel 15?
A group of 15 Spanish players who quit the national team en masse in protest of Coach Jorge Vilda, alleging emotional abuse, bad tactical decisions, and getting the job due to cronyism. That last bit sounds somewhat credible, given that Vilda’s predecessor got paid for 25 years for sitting on his ass and accomplishing very little. Anyway, the Spanish soccer federation told the 15 to piss off, and 12 of them stayed away while three came crawling back. Two of the latter (Mariona Caldentey and Aitana Bonmatí) have been among the best players for La Roja at this tournament. Vilda can point to an unprecedented result for his team, as well as Salma Paralluelo scoring the winning goal against Netherlands. The 20-year-old Barcelona winger has been one of the World Cup’s breakout stars, and might not have seen the pitch if Spain had their full complement.

What was the best part of Spain’s win?
Dutch winger Lineth Beerensteyn bashed Team USA after the latter’s loss, accusing the repeat champions of acting too big for their uniform shorts. The Netherlands made her the focus of their offense against Spain, aiming long balls over the top of Spain’s high defensive line for her to run onto. This was the correct move, as the Juventus player’s footspeed created numerous scoring chances. The problem was, she wasted all those chances by either missing the net or shooting straight at Spain goalkeeper Cata Coll. With her team down 2-1 late, she had a glorious chance to equalize and somehow skied her shot over the bar from six yards out. Now she’s getting roasted online by USA players and fans. Given her hate for Team USA, maybe she can take over Megyn Kelly’s show.

Can Australia make the final?
The bad news for the Matildas is that England may have finally found their form in their 2-1 win over Colombia that wasn’t as close as the scoreline indicated. The Three Lionesses gave up the early goal and did not lose their rag as you can imagine England’s men might have done. They stormed back through goals by Lucy Hemp and Alessia Russo, showing that in a short tournament, surviving long enough to find your best form is what matters. The problem for England now is that they’ll still be without Lauren James for the semifinal (she’ll come back from her suspension for England’s last match), and beating Australia in front of a packed stadium in Sydney will be different from beating Colombia. Let’s see who comes out with the trophy.

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