The group stages of the women’s soccer World Cup in Australia and New Zealand have ended with the unexpected elimination of Germany, Brazil and the current Olympic champions, Canada. Starting Saturday, the tournament moves into its knockout phase where three African nations hope to advance. Organizers say more than 1.7 million tickets have been sold for the event, so far.
The knockout round begins Saturday.
What started as 64 matches featuring 32 teams now stands at eight matches played by 16 teams.
The tournament started with group play: eight groups of four teams each. The top two teams in each group advance to the round-of-sixteen, or knockout round.
On Sunday, the world’s top-ranked side, the United States, will face Sweden. The U.S. is attempting to win the tournament for a third consecutive time.
The world’s second-ranked nation and two-time winners of the Women’s World Cup, Germany, was eliminated when Morocco beat Colombia in Perth. The Germans, who could only draw with South Korea, were left with fewer points than the North Africans.
Canada and Brazil, ranked seventh and eighth respectively, are also out of the tournament.
Morocco, Nigeria and South Africa have all progressed to the knockout round, where they are expected to face tough matches against France, England and the Netherlands respectively.
Francis Awaritefe, chair of Professional Footballers Australia, which represents the country’s elite players, said he is not surprised African nations have played well.
“They have always been very strong,” he said. “I think Nigeria has always performed very strongly. But I think in recent times there has been a lot of investment in football in a country like Morocco where they have invested a lot of money specifically into coaching and infrastructure and resources for women’s football, and we can see that result in the performances of the team, the Moroccan national team in terms of the way it has performed. South Africa has also been reasonably strong as well, but it is good to see them now actually producing those results on the field.”
Co-host New Zealand has been eliminated, but Australia has reached the next round where it plays Denmark at the Olympic Stadium in Sydney on Monday.
Awaritefe said fans in both host nations are embracing the Women’s World Cup.
“Look, I think it has gone beyond our expectations not just in terms of the performances on the field, which has been absolutely wonderful,” he said. “The standard has just gone up another notch or two in this tournament. But, also, in terms of the crowds and the way that Australians have really embraced the Football World Cup. It has been absolutely phenomenal and also in New Zealand as well. Japan, England and Australia for me are the strongest sides right now and they are the ones I can see going very, very deep into the tournament.”
As the knockout phase begins, soccer fans around the world are anticipating more drama in the days to come. The final will be played in Sydney on Aug. 20.