Soccer

Women's World Cup rankings: Where USWNT stands among quarterfinalists

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USATSI

Women's World Cup rankings: Where USWNT stands among quarterfinalists

Eight teams remain in contention at the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup, and all but one of them hails from the same federation.

The United States Women's National Team is the only team that doesn't play in UEFA, and is surrounded by seven European sides in the quarterfinals. Still, the USWNT entered the tournament with a No. 1 ranking by FIFA, and they remain the standard other teams aspire to. 

That could change as soon as Friday, when they square off against France in Paris. The two have been on a collision course since groups were drawn, and Friday's match ensures that one of the tournament's best teams will be out before the semifinals. 

So, just how well does the USWNT stack up against France and the rest of the quarterfinalists? Here are our rankings from No. 8 through No. 1.

8. Norway

Ada Hegerberg's absence hasn't slowed down the Norwegians, although they would be among the favorites if the reigning Ballon d'Or winner was with the team. Norway's four goals scored from open play are the fewest of the remaining sides, but Saturday's win over Australia was Norway's best of the tournament from a shot-quality perspective.

The close scoreline in a 2-1 group-stage loss to host France was a bit too kind to the visitors, but England's own struggles against Cameroon in the Round of 16 could give Norway an opening. But with the best player in the world skipping the tournament protesting Norway's inequitable treatment of its men's and women's teams, the Norwegians lack the extra bit of finishing needed up front to take advantage. 

7. Italy

The Italians reached the quarterfinals for the first time in 28 years, back when the tournament consisted of just 12 teams. Italy advanced Tuesday thanks to a 2-0 win over China, behind goals from Cristiana Girelli and Aurora Galli.

Once again, Italy conceded the lion's share of possession as its defense held firm. Italy's two goals conceded are tied with France for fourth-fewest among the quarterfinalists, but the Italians will easily face their stiffest test of the tournament thus far in the Netherlands, the reigning European champions. Still, Italy's defense is good enough to spring the upset. 

6. Sweden

Thanks to a dramatic penalty save from keeper Hedvig Lindahl, Sweden knocked Canada out of the World Cup with a 1-0 win Tuesday. The Canadians' conservative style did the talented North American side no favors, but the Swedes only conceded a single shot on target. 

Sweden avoided a quarterfinals match with France by finishing second in Group F behind the USWNT, but now has to beat Germany in order to advance to the semifinals for the third time in its history. Germany won a friendly between the two countries back in April, but the two-time winners aren't playing as well as results would indicate and Sweden's well-rounded attack -- seven different Swedes have scored -- could pose problems.

5. Netherlands

Welcome to the "Contenders With Question Marks" portion of these rankings. The Netherlands did not lose and conceded just three times en route to a European crown two summers ago, but this World Cup has not been nearly as dominant.

The Dutch have conceded in three straight matches, and beat Japan thanks to a late penalty Tuesday -- even though the Japanese had better chances in the Round of 16. Italy probably is not as good as Japan, but the Oranje simply isn't in tournament-winning form. 

4. England

Controversy with Cameroon aside, England's performance in the Round of 16 shouldn't encourage manager Phil Neville. The Three Lionesses benefitted from two (correct) VAR calls and took the lead thanks to an indirect free kick in the 14th minute. The English retained 69 percent of possession, but the 3-0 scoreline wasn't wholly indicative of their performance.

Neville has rotated his side throughout the tournament, but he is in danger of losing his two first-choice center backs. Steph Houghton, who has played every minute of England's World Cup campaign, was on the receiving end of a hard challenge in the Round of 16 and is doubtful for the quarterfinals. Millie Bright, who is dealing with a "virus," also could miss Thursday's match. With star right back Lucy Bronze also feeling under the weather, England should still be able to withstand Norway. But Neville's squad could be vulnerable beyond that. 

3. Germany

The good news? The Germans are the only team that hasn't conceded in the tournament, and only the Americans have scored more goals. The bad news? Their three wins haven't been as impressive as the collection of clean sheets would indicate.

Germany's finishing has mostly out-paced its chance generation, which isn't too surprising considering the team's talent and how short the tournament is. The absence of Dzsenifer Maroszan (broken toe) hasn't slowed Germany yet, and might not until the final considering the other countries on the Germans' side of the bracket. Don't be surprised if Germany trips up before then, though.

2. USA

After an uninspiring win over Spain, the USWNT is in danger of its earliest-ever elimination at the World Cup. Midfielder Lindsey Horan likely won't be left on the bench again, but the Americans have looked ill-protected along the back line at times throughout the tournament. Jill Ellis' side is talented to overcome that -- as well as her own tactical decisions -- so far, but Friday's quarterfinal is a different matter entirely. 

The match with host nation France easily is the most-anticipated of the tournament, and would be fitting of a World Cup final in just about any other year. France has already beaten the USWNT earlier this year and is strong enough to exploit their weaknesses. 

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1. France

The hosts have had almost the opposite experience of Germany at the World Cup, and have left goals on the board in each of their last two matches. A 1-0 win over Nigeria ensured a perfect group stage, while a 2-1 win over Brazil in extra time sent France through to the quarterfinals. In both matches, France clearly was the better team despite narrowly winning. 

Because of that form, Les Bleus should have the edge over the USWNT ahead of Friday's quarterfinals. The United States is more talented and deeper, but you could argue France is playing better. For those reasons, the French should be considered favorites Friday and beyond. 

Pep Guardiola oddly defiant after Manchester City loss to Liverpool FC

Pep Guardiola oddly defiant after Manchester City loss to Liverpool FC

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola seemed primed to go off Sunday.

His squad lost 3-1 to English Premier League-leading Liverpool at Anfield, and the reigning champions fell behind early following a disputed decision.

Bernardo Silva's pass intended for Raheem Sterling in the box instead hit Liverpool right back Trent Alexander-Arnold's outstretched arm, leading to the Reds' counter-attack that Fabinho capitalized on with an outside-the-box screamer.

Guardiola took issue with the call, and another handball much later in the match. Both appeared to be on his mind when he, uh, passionately thanked the referees after the match.

But the Spaniard insisted during his post-match interview with Sky Sports that he was not being sarcastic with the officials.

"No way," Guardiola told Sky Sports. "I congratulated them. I'm so polite. I didn't say anything here [either]."

Indeed, in Guardiola's interview and post-match press conference with reporters, he didn't take the bait when asked about Alexander-Arnold's handball, which VAR subsequently upheld as not a foul on a check of the goal. Guardiola told Sky Sports to "ask the referees" about the decisions and instead focused on his own team's performance.

"We tried to do our job," Guardiola said. "I would like to talk about our performance, it was so good. So, I know when teams come here and the way they play [with respect for] Anfield, and from the opening, with the problems we have in the squad, the way we played was awesome. One of the best performances we have played. We played in the way, the reason we are back-to-back champions. That is the point.

"At the end, there's still seven months, and if Liverpool win, I will be the first to congratulate them because we cannot deny how good they are."

Guardiola's side trailed 2-0 at halftime, despite controlling possession and out-shooting Liverpool in the first half. But the Reds were clinical, scoring on each of their first two shots of the match. 

Liverpool's first-half performance reminded Guardiola of Manchester City's UEFA Champions League quarterfinal loss at Anfield two seasons ago, when the Cityzens dug a 3-0 first-half hole in the first leg at Anfield. Guardiola was happier with his squad Sunday, pointing to City's various injuries as Leroy Sané, Aymeric Laporte and Oleksandr Zinchenko all have missed significant time this season.

"What happened today, we showed why we are the champions," Guardiola said. "In this stadium, the way we played was incredible. So, I'm so proud of my team more than ever. [An] incredible performance in this stadium against the strongest team in Europe, and the way we played ... I am so proud. So proud. We played so good."

[RELATED: USMNT star Pulisic scores again for Chelsea but injures hip]

Perhaps Guardiola was just trying to be positive following some very visible outbursts, and the frustration stemming from both calls -- or, lack thereof, if you're a City supporter -- is understandable. But as strong as City looked, Guardiola's comments ring of moral victories and are oddly defeatist, especially considering where he and the club stand in global soccer's pecking order.

Guardiola arguably is the greatest club manager of all time, and oil money-backed City has the kind of financial might that only a handful of clubs in the world can match, let alone exceed. City trails Liverpool by nine points in the Premier League table, but don't mistake them for underdogs.

Watch Liverpool FC's Fabinho, Mo Salah score early vs. Manchester City

Watch Liverpool FC's Fabinho, Mo Salah score early vs. Manchester City

In the English Premier League's biggest match of the season to date, Liverpool FC got on the front foot early in a 3-1 win over Manchester City. 

The league leaders led 2-0 within the first 15 minutes Sunday at Anfield, thanks to Fabinho's sixth-minute screamer from outside the box and Mo Salah's 13th-minute header.  

Liverpool opened the scoring while Manchester City was slow to defend the Reds' counter-attack, disputing the referee's decision to not award a handball on Trent Alexander-Arnold. City controlled the early portions of the match, and Bernardo Silva's pass in the box hit Alexander-Arnold's outstretched arm with City attacker Raheem Sterling running in behind. 

The Premier League's rule changes reflecting the International Football Association Board's "Laws of the Game" this summer called for a foul when a player has made their body "unnaturally bigger," but the referee appeared to determine that Alexander-Arnold's outstretched arm was natural.

Alexander-Arnold surely earned himself additional ire from the City faithful with his wonderfully weighted pass on Liverpool's second goal. The right back switched the ball to left back Andy Robertson, whose subsequent cross to Salah left the ball on a platter for the Egyptian striker's run. 

[RELATED: Why Steve Kerr admires Jurgen Klopp's passion, joy]

Liverpool's offense runs through their flanks, as Alexander-Arnold and Robertson have been the Premier League's most productive passers this calendar year.

You'd have to go back to April 2017 to see the last time Liverpool lost at Anfield, and that streak continued Sunday. Sadio Mané put the game out of reach with a 51st-minute goal, but Liverpool's two quick goals ultimately proved to be too much for City.