FIFA Women's World Cup quarterfinals takeaways and power rankings
Michael Chow-USA TODAY Sports

FIFA Women's World Cup quarterfinals takeaways and power rankings

Media and fans: "The United States vs. France is the real Final of the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup." England: "Nah, football's coming home." Off the right foot of American icon and "President" Megan Rapinoe, the U.S. got through its toughest test, tournament hosts France, with relative ease considering a third goal was controversially removed from the scoreboard. The Three Lionesses will want to show they're more than a mere stepping stone standing in the way of the Americans' union with destiny. 

Sweden scoring two goals in a single game while facing actual competition was a bet worth avoiding following the Round of 16. The fact the Blue and Yellow achieved such a feat against Germany, the tournament's best team at the start of the quarterfinals, is downright astonishing, but that victory came with what could be a massive loss. That surprising match outcome only bolsters an opinion held by American optimists back on June 1:  

This World Cup is the United States' to lose. 

 
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Australia got jobbed

Australia got jobbed
Photo by Xinhua/Sipa USA

There's a sad irony in Norway surrendering three goals to England on June 27 considering a trio of decisions aided The Grasshoppers past Australia in the Round of 16. No disrespect meant to the side missing protesting Ballon d'Or winner Ada Hegerberg, but Norway was nearly run off the pitch before halftime of its quarterfinal showdown with England, and neutrals were left wishing Sam Kerr and the Matildas were, instead, serving as the opposition. England likely would've toppled Australia and maybe scored four or five facing that lackluster back line. Unless you're a Norway supporter, you're lying to yourself if you believe the right team advanced to the Round of Eight to lose to the Three Lionesses. 

 
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Best in the world?

Best in the world?
Martin Richard/Presse Sports via USA TODAY Sports

"Lucy Bronze is the best player in the world, without a shadow of a doubt," England boss Phil Neville said in the post-match interview following his side's victory over Norway, as noted by the BBC. Neville isn't alone in sharing that opinion. The 27-year-old, two-time PFA Women's Player of the Year winner produced a masterclass performance in the quarterfinals, delivering one of the tournament's top hammer-strikes and ensuring she will receive an opportunity to shut down Megan Rapinoe on the biggest stage of them all. Bronze vs. Rapinoe could be worth the price of admission on its own. 

 
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Clean

Clean
Photo by PA Images/Sipa USA

One's immediate reaction to the Netherlands pitching a shutout in its 2-0 win over Italy on Saturday may be to point out the Azzurre aren't necessarily known for their attacking flair and also that oppressive heat which caused multiple stoppages for hydration breaks limited both sides. That's fair, but Holland's first clean sheet of the World Cup came against a side that put two past Australia, scored five times against Jamaica and turned a knockout game vs. China into a makeshift exhibition for the final half-hour of that contest. Italy had no answer for forward Lineth Beerensteyn once she came on 11 minutes after the break. She won multiple free kicks and reminded the remaining three teams she may be the best substitute option left in the tournament. 

 
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Still waiting

Still waiting
Photo by Xinhua/Sipa USA

Perhaps we're all being harsh on the Dutch in criticizing the fact they've hardly played like European champions since June 11. Each of the remaining three nations have, however, enjoyed standout games. The United States beat Thailand 13-0 and bested France at the Parc des Princes. England made light work of Norway. The Swedes are the new upset darlings of the tournament. Italy hardly troubled the Oranje, but a Holland attack advertised as one of the world's elite continues to underwhelm. A pair of set piece goals against Italy doesn't inspire too much confidence. Then again, if it's true Holland's best is to come, that team is probably winning this World Cup. 

 
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Costly win

Costly win
Jerome Prevost/Presse Sports via USA TODAY Sports

By far the biggest shock of the knockout stages, if not of the entire competition, was Sweden downing Germany 2-1 on Saturday. The Blue and Yellow handled the high temperatures better than the opposition and also survived some poor in-the-box marking at the death to secure a date with the Netherlands. But the win came after defender Nilla Fischer went down to an injury in the 66th minute. On a different day and with its shooting boots properly laced, Germany would've equalized and maybe even jumped in front after Fischer departed the pitch. As long as Holland's attack tolerates the heat better than it did against Italy, that unit may relish facing a Swedish back line that doesn't include Fischer if she can't go. 

 
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In form

In form
Photo by Xinhua/Sipa USA

Sweden advanced through a weak group, minus the United States, needing a goal scorer to step up during the portion of the tournament in which it couldn't rely on keeping clean sheets vs. top-tier attacks. Enter Stina Blackstenius, who matched her cool finish against Canada in the Round of 16 with a poacher's goal and match-winner to down Germany. The leaky Holland defense absolutely will gift Blackstenius with chances to hit the target. If she opens the scoring early, Sweden could drop up to seven players back, as it did, at times, on Saturday, and frustrate a Dutch side that couldn't break down Italy in open play. 

 
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Doubters silenced

Doubters silenced
Photo by PA Images/Sipa USA

All of you who lamented United States head coach Jill Ellis forcing Crystal Dunn into a left back position unnatural to the 26-year-old owe Ellis and Dunn apologies. Dunn held her own facing Kadidiatou Diani, one of the competition's most imposing attackers who won multiple battles but never delivered a knockout blow against a defender who refused to quit. Even Fox's Alexi Lalas had to eat his words after the match. England will test Dunn early and often. She's the weak link in the back line. The Americans will make the Final if she answers the call as she did against France. 

 
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She's back

She's back
Photo by Xinhua/Sipa USA

Leading up to Friday's epic quarterfinal between the U.S. and France, Megan Rapinoe failed to deliver a truly noteworthy outing during the World Cup. She underwhelmed so much in the victory over Spain despite twice converting from the spot that one couldn't have blamed Ellis for relegating the captain to a role of second-half substitute. Rapinoe thoroughly owned her flank, particularly in the first half, against France, so much so that she could've been criticized for not notching a hat trick had the Americans somehow blown their two-goal advantage. Her work rate, vision and ability to find teammates outmatched anything Les Bleues threw at her. Now just imagine what Rapinoe will accomplish if she actually locates her form. 

 
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Power rankings No. 4: Sweden

Power rankings No. 4: Sweden
Jerome Prevost/Presse Sports via USA TODAY Sports

Make no mistake about it. Sweden can gut and grit its way to a Final and to winning the World Cup. The Swedes enter the semifinals coming off their best game of the tournament, a complete end-to-end showing where they proved they weren't afraid to play a more open style rather than parking the figurative bus and hoping to hit on a counter. Questions about Nilla Fischer's status make it difficult to rank them any higher, though. 

 
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Power rankings No. 3: Netherlands

Power rankings No. 3: Netherlands
Photo by PA Images/Sipa USA

The Netherlands won each of its World Cup contests, but it sure doesn't feel like it. Something is missing or not clicking with this team. It's almost as if the players are saving themselves for, well, this part of the tournament. The Oranje need Lieke Martens — the 2017 UEFA Women's Player of the Year who started vs. Italy despite suffering a foot injury while celebrating her game-winning goal against Japan, as Mark Gleeson of Reuters (h/t Daily Mail) explained — at 100 percent against a tough and organized Sweden defense. 

 
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Power rankings No. 2: England

Power rankings No. 2: England
Martin Richard/Presse Sports via USA TODAY Sports

England forward Ellen White scored her fifth goal of the competition in the 3-0 win over Norway, and her pursuit of the Golden Boot books her a meeting with American goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher, who played well against France but, as Hope Solo pointed out for the Guardian after the U.S. downed Spain, hasn't been without her flaws. England may ask the previously mentioned Bronze to offer her best "Kieran Trippier in a semifinal" impersonation. 

 
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Power rankings No. 1: United States

Power rankings No. 1: United States
Michael Chow-USA TODAY Sports

The queens are back atop their thrones, and all is right with the footballing world. Before the start of the World Cup, no country matched the U.S. in overall talent and depth, on paper. It's not overlooking England or the other semifinalists to suggest the Americans have proved that an accurate assessment. Ellis now must say and do whatever possible to prevent her players from mentally hoisting a trophy they haven't yet won. 

 
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Prediction: Sweden vs. Netherlands

Prediction: Sweden vs. Netherlands
Pierre Lahalle/Presse Sports via USA TODAY Sports

Two wishes for this contest: that the heat lets up around kickoff, at least, and that Sweden embraces the bold style it featured vs. Germany to gift casual viewers and fans with zero ties to either nation the best game, to date, of the World Cup. Plenty about this tournament has been a letdown (VAR), so that will probably be the case here. Sweden is playing with house money and can afford to take risks. Holland, though, is better in quality and did well to erase memories of its awful second-half showing against Japan over the weekend. 

The Dutch win 2-1

 
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Prediction: United States vs. England

Prediction: United States vs. England
Michael Chow-USA TODAY Sports

The planet's two best teams as of June 30 meeting in the semifinal is a bit of a bummer, but don't pretend this is a coin flip. Assuming Dunn's confidence is sky-high coming off a man-of-the-match performance, nothing from Friday's game leads an observer to believe the Americans won't emerge triumphant on July 2 en route to punching a deserved ticket to the Final. Stop lowering expectations for this side either out of fear the players won't achieve their own championship-or-bust goal (NSFW language) or to further some narrative that the gap between them and the rest of the field is smaller than you want it to be. The USWNT goes through with a 3-1 result

Zac Wassink is a football and futbol aficionado who is a PFWA member and is probably yelling about Tottenham Hotspur at the moment. Erik Lamela and Eli Manning apologist. Chanted for Matt Harvey to start the ninth inning of Game 5 of the 2015 World Series at Citi Field. Whoops. You can find him on Twitter at @ZacWassink

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