The knockout stage of the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup begins for the United States on Monday when they face Spain. The U.S. women are heavily favored with a moneyline of -285 compared to Spain at +733.
Spain entered the tournament as a potential dark horse, but La Roja have yet to be at their best. They won their opener against South Africa 3-1 but relied on penalty kicks for two of the three goals. The Spaniards then failed to score in their final two games of the group stage, losing 1-0 to Germany and playing China to a scoreless draw. However, they did enough to finish second in their group and advance.
Meanwhile, the U.S. has arguably been the best team in the tournament thus far. In addition to their 13-0 thrashing of Thailand, they were one exceptional goalkeeping performance away from putting six, seven, or eight goals past Chile in what ended in a 3-0 victory. The Americans also took care of business last week against Sweden, a team that has long been a thorn in their side, winning 2-0.
Now It Begins
The U.S. was rarely challenged or made uncomfortable during the group stage, but it’s time for the Americans to be sharp every game. The pressure will be cranked up several notches starting with Monday’s game, and the U.S. will need to respond accordingly. As heavy favorites, all of the pressure is on them.
Fortunately for the U.S., the only question coming out of the group stage is the health of the team. Julie Ertz sat out the game against Sweden with a minor injury and Alex Morgan was subbed off at halftime of the game after picking up a knock in the first half. Ertz and Morgan are arguably the two most impactful players on the team, so their health is a big deal. The Americans have plenty of depth, but the way they play will change if either player is unable to start.
Hogging the Ball
Spain’s ability to control the time of possession in their first three games has been impressive. Much like their men’s team, the Spaniards prefer to play the Tiki-taka style that’s designed to control the ball. Even in their loss to Germany, Spain had nearly 60 percent of the ball. It was far more in their other two games against weaker competition. Of course, Spain has struggled to turn that possession into goals. Outside of the two penalties she converted against South Africa, Jennifer Hermoso has yet to show her class in the final third.
That being said, Spain’s high-possession style has a chance to throw the U.S. off their game. The Americans aren’t used to playing without the ball, so having to defend a little more could frustrate them and leave the door slightly ajar to pull the upset. After all, when these teams met back in January, the U.S. only won 1-0 and had less than 50 percent of the ball.
Grind It Out
Don’t expect too many offensive fireworks in this game. Spain will do enough to make this game interesting. However, with their vast World Cup experience and attacking options, the Americans will find a way to grind out a win. Bet on the U.S. to beat Spain on Monday.