With a break in the Copa America and the UEFA u21 Championship today before the quarter-finals and semi-finals respectively, begin, ‘only’ three of the five major international tournaments on-going, see action today. Time to breathe a little, especially after Haiti’s dramatic 2-1 success over Costa Rica last evening.
Over in France at the Women’s World Cup, Italy face China in the game’s first Round of 16 game.
Scoring goals has been China’s problem with only one so far, as the 1999 finalists just about squeezed into the knock-out stages as one of the best third-placed teams. Mind you, they’ve only conceded one goal too, so another tight game is expected.
The Italians have progressed their game in recent years, this being their best showing since making the quarter-finals in 1991. It will be only their second-ever knock-out game at a Women’s World Cup, losing the previous to Norway (2-3).
The sides have never before met at a World Cup, and while Le Azzurre will look to Barbara Bonansea’s searing pace as a potential match-winner, the Chinese have their own secret weapon in ‘Lady Messi’, 22 year-old forward Wang Shuang, who scored 7 goals in 18 appearances for Paris St Germain last season.
The winners will play the winners of today’s second game, when Holland take on Japan, bidding to reach their third final in a row. The 2011 World Champions have stuttered along so far in 2019, coming off an unconvincing second-best against England in the group stages. They also failed to beat Argentina, and enjoyed a narrow success over Scotland.
Coach Asako Takakura recognizes her side has not hit form, however says, “The youngest squad at the finals is now ready to get stuck into the tournament.”
The Japanese defeated the Dutch at the same stage four years ago in Canada, have won 5 of the last 8 meetings between the countries and retain quite a few of the 2015 squad who have been joined by younger talent that tasted success last year in France at the u20 World Cup.
So Japan to win then? Well, not so fast. Their form so far has suggested there's something missing, and European Champions Holland got here after winning all three group matches. It’s do or die for the girls from the land of the rising sun. If Nadeshiko Japan are to even remotely live up to expectation and past achievement, now would be a good time to start performing.
I’m not so sure they can just switch-on like that however, and think Holland look the more likely.
The Gold Cup focus for today shifts to California for a double-header at LAFC’s Blanc of California Stadium.
Honduras has had a torrid time, eliminated after straight defeats, but tonight’s is not any ordinary ‘dead-rubber’. Facing traditional rivals El Salvador, who are still not sure of their place in the quarter-finals, will be incentive enough to not just simply go through the motions. If the Hondurans can possibly spoil El Salvador’s aspirations, they certainly will. A two-goal margin of victory for Honduras will eliminate El Salvador, should Curacao even draw with Jamaica. If El Salvador lose by one, and Curacao draw, it will be down to which team has scored the most goals to tie-break. All to play for then.
Of course should group leaders, Jamaica defeat third-placed Curacao, as expected, then the result of the El Salvador - Honduras match will be rendered academic.
Curacao have already shocked the Hondurans, so the Reggae Boys won’t be taking them lightly.
The side from the little Dutch Caribbean Island though, are likely to be left ruing the stoppage time goal conceded to El Salvador’s Nelson Bonilla at the end of the first-half in their meeting in Kingston. It will ultimately be the difference between qualification and elimination, unless last night’s element of surprise carries over to this evening and we witness something else unusual.
If there’s one country’s association under a cloud after their ladies’ Women’s World Cup antics it’s Cameroon. The West African powerhouse open their AFCON campaign this afternoon against Guinea-Bissau in Ismailia, hoping to project a more positive side of Cameroonian soccer.
It’s bad enough that they failed to get their preparations on time, thus losing hosting rights for AFCON 2019, without the shenanigans in France further sullying the country's name, so here’s a chance to at least partially lift the cloud.
Coach Clarence Seedorf will be hoping for a repeat of two years ago when the Indomitable Lions prevailed, winning AFCON against the odds, although an unconvincing qualifying campaign belies their status historically as one of this competition’s top guns.
Opponents Guinea-Bissau have drawn on players from clubs in Portugal, Armenia, Egypt, England, Lithuania, Saudi Arabia and Slovakia and will hope to surprise as they did during their first-ever appearance in the finals just two years ago.
They’re really on a fairytale ride which included a narrow 1-2 defeat against Cameroon in the 2017 competition, after leading for much of the game.
Cameroon are clear favourites, but Guinea-Bissau will not be slow to take advantage of any lack of focus from their more illustrious hosts.
Ghana, are almost always a joy to watch, and will expect to get off to a wining start in the day’s other game against Benin. Amazingly it’s 37 long years since they won the last of their four African Championships, yet the Black Stars have reached at least the semi-finals in each of the last six editions.
Benin have qualified for the fourth time. In their nine finals games to date, the West African nation has acquired only one point (against Mozambique in 2010). Getting their first-ever win will be considered a success, and they feel that can be achieved when meeting Guinea-Bissau.
Simply and succinctly, the powerhouses of Cameroon and Ghana should qualify comfortably from Group F.
Today’s Games & Where to Watch Them (all EST) -
1200 - Italy v China - Womens World Cup R16 - TSN1, TSN3, TSN4, TSN5, TSN GO, RDS, RDS GO
1300 - Cameroon v Guinea-Bissau - African Cup of Nations - BeIN Sports Canada
1500 - Holland v Japan - Womens World Cup R16 - TSN1, TSN3, TSN4, TSN5, TSN GO, CTV, RDS, RDS GO
1600 - Ghana v Benin - African Cup of Nations - BeIN Sports Canada
2000 - Jamaica v Curacao - Gold Cup - TSN3, TSN.ca, TSN GO, CONCACAF GO
2230 - Honduras v El Salvador - Gold Cup - TSN3, TSN.ca, TSN GO, CONCACAF GO