PARIS — The most interesting stat of the round of 16 was seven. As in, the number of European teams that advanced.
That’s right. The United States’ win over Spain was the only thing keeping the World Cup quarterfinals from being an all-European affair. Italy and the Netherlands rounded out the field Tuesday, joining host France, England, Germany, Norway and Sweden.
This is the most teams Europe has sent to the quarterfinals, topping the five in 1991 and 1995, when the tournament had only 12 teams. The U.S. women reached the quarterfinals then, too, as did two teams from Asia.
Germany, Norway and Sweden are traditional powerhouses in the women’s game and are expected to make runs into the knockout rounds. But the overall show of European dominance should not come as a surprise, either, given the increased interest and support for programs there in the last five years.
Clubs in France and England’s men’s domestic leagues have realized it doesn’t take a huge influx of cash to field a top women’s team, which in turn benefits the national team. Olympique Lyonnais, for example, has willingly paid (relatively) big salaries for top players like Amandine Henry and Eugenie Le Sommer, and spends money on support staff and services, too.
Of the 23 players on France’s national team roster, seven are from Lyon. And as these teams have success, it generates interest with fans back home, which leads to even more investment.
The Dutch were never particularly competitive, nor were their fans all that interested. But their surprise win at the 2017 European championship was transformational. The Netherlands has a legitimate chance to make the July 7 final, and their merry band of orange-clad fans has been a delight here in France, turning each host city into a pop-up carnival as they march through the streets.
The strength of teams or, in this case continents, can be cyclical. But Europe’s showing here is not a fluke, and the rest of the world needs to be prepared to adapt.
Here are the other winners and losers from the round of 16:
SPAIN: If you’re looking for an early pick for the 2023 World Cup, Spain would be a good bet.
The support of La Liga, which took over the women’s domestic league, is a game-changer, and its impact could already be seen last year. The Under-17 team won its World Cup and the U-20 squad finished as the runner-up at its tournament, and those players will bolster the senior team over the next five years.
But given the challenge Spain gave the United States in the round of 16, it appears ready to contend earlier than expected. Spain played with confidence and savvy, easily adapting. The moment never seemed too big, either.
“We should all be really proud of what we did,” Spain coach Jorge Vilda said. “In terms of competitiveness, we were able to be the equals of the best in the world and give them a run for their money.
“We are going to grow from this defeat and we’ve shown our potential for growth.”
The world can consider itself warned.
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June 13: Marta Vieira Da Silva, left, after scoring for Brazil against Australia. (Photo: Guillaume Horcajuelo, EPA-EFE)
MARTA: With an impassioned speech to girls in Brazil, the best female player in history might have laid the groundwork for the team’s future success.
This is likely the last World Cup for Marta, 33, and Brazil’s other longtime cornerstones, 41-year-old Formiga and Cristiane, who is 34. It is time for others to step up, Marta said after the Seleção’s loss to France.
“It’s wanting more,” she said. “It’s training more. It’s taking care of yourself more. It’s being ready to play 90 plus 30 minutes.”
“This is what I ask of the girls,” she continued, turning her head to address the camera directly. “There’s not going to be a Formiga forever. There’s not going to be a Marta forever. There’s not going to be a Cristiane. The women’s game depends on you to survive. So think about that. Value it more.
“Cry in the beginning so you can smile in the end.”
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VAR: The acronym has become a dirty word at the World Cup.
It’s bad enough that it has gummed up games, bringing action to a grinding halt and routinely adding seven minutes of stoppage time to the second half. But it has also made a mockery of its original purpose, which was to correct obvious mistakes. Offside has been called when there is barely daylight between the attacker and defender, and encroachment penalties given when a goalkeeper’s foot is inches off the line.
When VAR was implemented for the men’s World Cup last summer, the fear was that it was going to ruin the game. Turns out, that prediction was a year off.
CANADA: You let someone besides Christine Sinclair take the penalty kick that would have tied the score in the second half? Again, you have Christine Sinclair, the same player who has scored 182 goals in international play, second only to Abby Wambach, and you don’t use her when it matters most?
Yeah, that makes a lot of sense.
Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.
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