France-Canada pick of Group A action
Group A returns to action Thursday with each team playing its second matches. Canada takes on France, while host Germany squares off against Nigeria.
Despite an opening 2-1 loss to the Germans, the Canadians were buoyed by a late comeback that fell just short. They will meet a French team that shook off a subpar performance from playmaker Camille Abily to dispense Nigeria 1-0.
After spending 80 minutes in full control against Canada, the Germans nearly allowed a late equalizer to spoil the festivities in Berlin. The defending champion now meets Nigeria, which boasts an improved defense as evidenced by its tight contest with France.
Here are some thoughts on both matches:
Players to watch:
France: Midfielder Camille Abily, forward Elodie Thomis
Canada: Forward Christine Sinclair, midfielder Diana Matheson
Germany: Midfielder Kerstin Garefrekes, forward Celia Okoyino da Mbabi
Nigeria: Forward Desire Oparanozie, goalkeeper Precious Dede
What's at stake:For France, a win would all but stamp its place in the quarterfinals. The importance of claiming three points for coach Bruno Bini's side is paramount, especially with Germany up next. A win positions Canada nicely for a berth in the knockout round, but a draw will make for an anxious final matchday.
Like the French, Germany can pretty much assume its place in the final eight with a win. Nigeria can kiss the quarterfinals goodbye with a lopsided loss due to goal differential.
Style and Tactics:
Canada vs. France
France used a 4-3-2-1 in its opener but sputtered until midfielder Eugenie Le Sommer was substituted in at halftime. It was her cross that led to Marie-Laure Delie's game-winner. Bini will be relying on his wingers to make life miserable for Canada's defense.
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It would surprise no one if Canada coach Carolina Morace elected to replace left back Marie-Eve Nault with Robyn Gayle in her starting XI. Nault had a nightmare first half versus Germany, committing a huge error on the second German goal. Canada's 4-3-3 formation will have to have a better build-up from its defense.
"Canada will have to try control this game from the outset," former Canadian coach Even Pellerud said. "They will need to start their attack from the back and get more out of players like Matheson and Melissa Tancredi. They have to avoid relying on Sinclair so much."
Germany vs. Nigeria
Germany is expected to start in a 4-4-1-1 with da Mbabi and Birgit Prinz up front, boosted by the dangerous Garefrekes. The Germans' height and speed can suffocate any squad.
Nigeria coach Uche Eucharia deployed a 4-5-1 against France. Against the Germans, Eucharia might decide to park the bus and play eight or nine players behind the ball. It wouldn't be pretty, but it could be effective.
"Tactically, [Nigeria] needs to keep their discipline in defense and be very aware of Germany's movement, especially the cross-field balls," Nigerian soccer analyst Colin Udoh said.
Canada's best scoring chances all came from free kicks or corners, so look for Morace to have plenty more plays drawn up on set pieces. Germany's 8-0 win over Nigeria in a friendly last November will either serve as a rallying cry or loom as dark cloud for the African champions.
There will be pressure on both sides in the Canada-France game, especially for the Canadians, who have been picked by many to make a run to the semifinals. For France, the 10 players who helped Lyon win the UEFA Women's Champions League will need to translate that experience to this match.
Nigeria has a tall task in stopping the Germans and will need an A-plus performance from everyone in uniform to have a shot at a result. "Nigeria can't go into the game thinking defeat," Udoh said. "They should go in with the mindset of winning." That said, Germany should make it through here without much trouble.
Arch Bell is a free-lance writer for ESPN.com