How the Women's World Cup bracket will unfold
If you're freaking out that England -- not Germany -- is predicted to reach the semifinals in my bracket below, brace yourself. When plotting out the bracket, it became clear that two of the world's best teams will likely meet early. And I'm not even talking about USA-Brazil. If Germany and France win their groups, they likely will be "rewarded" with a date in the quarterfinals. And yes, you're reading the rest of the picks right. The U.S. women will overcome finishing second in Group D to hoist the Cup in Vancouver on July 5.
Want more? Scroll down below the bracket for more analysis.
Group Stage predictions
Teams listed in order of predicted finish in each group:
Group A: Netherlands, Canada
Group B: Germany, Norway
Group C: Japan, Switzerland
Group D: Sweden, United States
Group E: Brazil, Spain
Group F: France, England
China (Group A), Nigeria (Group D), South Korea (Group E) and Mexico (Group F) are each predicted to advance as third-place teams
And finally, a few thoughts on some of the most intriguing matchups in the knockout stages.
Round of 16
Netherlands vs. Nigeria: The Netherlands gets the nod in Group A over Canada and China; I'm not convinced either has enough. That sets up this great matchup of dark horses. Both have talented finishers: Vivianne Miedema of the Netherlands and Asisat Oshoala of Nigeria.
France vs. Spain: This could actually be a testy matchup for France. Spain is legit.
Brazil vs. United States: This 2011 WWC rematch -- one many Americans remember and Brazil still has nightmares about -- will be an incredible test for the U.S. women. Brazil is determined to avenge the quarterfinal loss in penalty kicks four years ago.
Japan vs. Mexico: Mexico benefits from the added round of 16 in this expanded Women's World Cup. But not for long.
Canada vs. Sweden: Canada has two more days to rest, but Pia Sundhage's Sweden side still wins.
Germany vs. France: What a shame. This could easily be the World Cup final. Mind you, FIFA hand-placed the top-seeded team in each pot at the draw, so it knew this matchup was highly likely.
United States vs. Japan: Who said it would be easy? I am certain the 2011 championship game loss to Japan is seared in the U.S. players' heads. Pain is a strong motivator.
England vs. Nigeria: Nigeria has a young, dynamic program -- they lost to Germany in the U20 WWC final last summer -- and could upset England here.
Sweden vs. France: I think this is the tournament in which France finally breaks through into the final game. In the last World Cup and Olympics, the French lost at this semifinal stage. But if they have just beaten a very good German team in the previous round, the French finally believe they can be champions. I am taking France.
United States vs. England: England isn't one of the top-four teams in the world, but its second-place Group F finish set it up for a semifinal run. (This one will be fun around the family dinner table.)
United States vs. France: France's dismantling of the Americans in February means the U.S. women come out roaring. The U.S. national team might not have the technical edge, but it has the mental edge.