MONTREAL, Quebec -- The City of Montreal does not officially get to host the final of this 2015 Women's World Cup, but it nevertheless seems to have gotten the tournament's most anticipated matchup when Germany faces France on Friday.
The No. 3-ranked France set up this quarterfinal with a comfortable 3-0 win over South Korea on Sunday, and now the No. 1-ranked Germans lie in wait. How can it be that two powerhouses of the world game are not meeting in at least the semifinal stage? For all the diatribe about how the path to Vancouver final was plotted, nothing is going to change that now. And by all accounts, both nations are ready for the showdown.
"Whether this was to be expected or not, we want to go all the way, so we have to get through it no matter what," said French forward Marie Laure Delie, who scored two goals against South Korea earlier in the evening. "We've got to win it."
If Germany made a bold statement with its 4-1 demolition of Sweden on Saturday, France's humbling of South Korea 24 hours later was no feebler of an exclamation. Demonstrating some of the most fluid soccer in the tournament, France turned on the style to oust Korea, and if it can produce more of that Friday, Germany can expect its fiercest test yet in Canada.
The Germans already felt the full force of this France side eight months ago when they were beaten 2-0 in a tuneup match. That game took place in Offenbach, Germany, which, for the French, may not necessarily be a good thing.
"We know Germany's mentality and how much that defeat on home soil will have hurt," said right wing Elodie Thomis, who scored in that last French triumph over head coach Silvia Neid's side. "Maybe that makes things even worse, and I'm sure we scared them. But this will be different, as this is an elimination game.
"Germany is a good team, but France is a good team, too, and we've made a lot of progress. Just look at some of the great moves we've played. When you get a goal at the end, then it's greatly satisfying, and we want to carry on playing like this."
The question is whether France will be able to string together some of the fine moves that carved up the South Korean defensive line. Germany, a two-time Women's World Cup winner (2003, 2007), is neither South Korea nor Mexico, a team France beat 5-0 in group play.
"It's true, they are a very powerful side, and they are also very good on the ball," said France's head coach Philippe Bergeroo. "We know we're up against the best team in the world."
France, whose best World Cup result was a fourth-place finish in 2011, showed Sunday that it has every reason to be optimistic. Having shaken off the disappointment and shock of losing 2-0 to Colombia in group play, Les Bleues have shown their true colors by netting eight goals in their past two games.
Those goals have been the fruit of outstanding teamwork up and down the field. Laura Necib slotted in seamlessly on the left wing, opening up space for left back Laure Boulleau to exploit to devastating effect. Amandine Henry had another MVP-caliber performance pulling the strings in the center midfield, while Camille Abily's unpredictable movement and sublime touch brought flow and rhythm to the French game.
Thomis marauded down the right flank, while striker Eugenie Le Sommer treated the ball like a prized possession she wanted to have near at all times. And then there is Delie enjoying something of a renaissance up top.
While Germany's threat invariably stems from Anja Mittag and Celia Sasic, who both have five goals in four games, there are multiple facets to the French offense, and its passage to the last eight has been a crescendo compared to Germany's cruise. France seems to be peaking at just the right time.
"The Mexico win was pretty convincing, and we've carried that forward tonight," said central defender Wendy Renard. "It is going to be tough like all France versus Germany games, but there's no favorite or outsider now. When the whistle goes, it's just about two teams who want to go through, and we'll do all we can to make sure that's us."
When the final whistle sounds Friday, this World Cup will be minus one of its strongest sides. And yet two more games must still be played before any trophy is lifted in the air. That is not going to happen in Montreal -- even if Friday's match has the makings of a worthy final.