Since their 2015 World Cup victory, the US has been considered the heavy favorite to stay atop the soccer universe and repeat as champions this tournament. But while the Americans have been taking care of business, some new challengers have been rising up and ready to dethrone the reigning champs. One of these challengers we’ve known all along—Germany—and all roads currently point to a clash in the final between the two. The Germans, ranked second behind the US according to FIFA, have been tearing through their competition and don’t seem like they’ll be slowing down any time soon. Here’s why Germany seems poised to give the Americans all they can handle should they meet in the final, and also why the US can’t overlook their upcoming quarterfinal match against France en route:
The Germans have played four matches so far and still have yet to concede. That’s 360 minutes plus stoppage time of soccer without giving up a single goal, without making a single costly mistake on the back line. Their ‘bend-without-breaking’ defending and explosive attacking has become their identity, lulling their opponents out of position and swiftly crushing them on the counter. The way they can get numbers forward immediately after regaining possession is frightening and it’s led to an overflow of goals and chances.
This could be a real issue for the Americans, who love to play a high line and push forward. Germany has yet to face an attack as potent as the US, but if Morgan, Heath, and Rapinoe are unable to be clinical in the final third, they will find themselves exposed in the back and the Germans will punish them for it. With Germany’s smart runs and accuracy on services to find those runners, the Americans can’t afford to play sloppy on the back line like they have been. Germany has shown an ability to get early goals and remain disciplined to close out matches, which is bad news for an American side that just conceded a sloppy early goal to Spain in the round of 16. If the US is unable to break through that staunch defense and put balls in the back of the net, they could easily find themselves in a hole too deep to climb, and once again donning silver medals.
The French are a perfect 4-0 heading into the quarterfinals, including wins over very talented Norwegian and Brazilian sides. We all knew France was a strong and ambitious squad, but their level of success has been beyond any expectation (except maybe the French’s). The hosts are quickly becoming this tournament’s team of destiny, and no opponent is safe during magical runs like this—not even a heavily favored American side. Les Bleus have size and pace and are forces in the box. They always seem to create chances out of nothing, a mixture of great effort and good instincts to be in the right place at the right time. The US side is still much stronger, but the focus must be there from the kickoff. A close score late into the match will surely favor France, particularly with their proven ability to snag late goals. If America is unable to get ahead early and put the game away, the French spirit and momentum might just swallow them whole before they know it.