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Update II on the Women’s World Cup: is football coming home again?

The quarter-finals of the Women’s World Cup take place over the next two days. In a shock result, the United States have been knocked out, which has opened up the draw. France are now clear favourites to win the tournament, with the Lionesses behind them, just ahead of Sweden.

The Women’s World Cup continues to deliver entertainment and distractions a plenty. Hot on the heels of the US team exiting by the tiniest of margins in a penalty shoot-out against Sweden, England delivered a low-key performance to scrape through, undeservedly, against underdogs Nigeria.

On paper, the Lionesses’ Round of 16 match should have been straightforward. Our analysis had England as 88% likely to win, while Simon Gleave’s Gracenote – which is frequently featured on BBC Sport – had England at 92%. But Nigeria had already upset some other bigger teams in the tournament, beating Australia 3-2 in the group stage and helping to knock out Olympic champions Canada.

The Lionesses struggled though and, in a moment that bore the hallmarks of past men’s World Cup campaigns (think David Beckham against Argentina in 1998 and Wayne Rooney against Portugal in 2006), Lauren James showed her frustration in stamping on an opponent, and rightly being sent off. Given the careers that both of those men went on to enjoy, it is to be hoped that Lauren James’s moment of indiscretion won’t affect her in the long term.

The Lionesses arguably showed more resolve than England’s Lions in the resulting 10-player situation, since England’s men exited both of those World Cups, whereas through grit and determination, England’s women won against Nigeria on penalties.

The exit of the United States – the clear favourites at the tournament’s outset – hugely affects the likely outcomes of the competition. While England may feel that it increases the likelihood that football really does come home, why wouldn’t Sweden feel the same? What about Spain? Or France? Irrespective, it opens up the draw in a manner that seemed highly unlikely just a few days ago.

Over the next two days, the remaining eight teams contest the quarter-finals. First, in the early hours of Friday morning, Spain are up against Netherlands, then Japan play Sweden, co-hosts Australia face France, and England take on Colombia.

What does it mean for our predictions? France have become clear favourites and are 41% likely to win the World Cup now. This reflects the fact that they are the highest ranked team in terms of Elo ratings (1357) left in the competition.

But they aren’t the highest ranked team according to FIFA: both England and Sweden are ranked more highly, although their Elo ratings (1296 and 1301 respectively) are lower. These are also the next two most likely teams to win the World Cup: England at 21%; and Sweden at 17%.

But England are the most likely (89%) semi-finalists out of the eight quarter-finalists, reflecting the fact that Colombia are the lowest ranked team left in the competition, according to the Elo ratings. But the same was true for England in the last 16 when facing Nigeria.

France are at 84% to beat Australia and are the second most likely team to reach the semi-finals, followed by Sweden (65% to beat Japan) and the Netherlands (54% to beat Spain).

Table 1: Elo ratings and percentage chance of progress through the tournament

CountryElo (pre-groups)Elo (post-groups)Quarter-finals (% chance)Semi-finals (% chance)Final (% chance)Winner (% chance)
Source: Results from and, author’s tournament simulation based on Elo rating calculations.

As such, the most likely semi-final line-up will be England against France, and the Netherlands against Sweden. If that’s how it turns out, it would indicate that the centre of gravity of women’s football has swung firmly towards Western Europe. This will be the first World Cup in which the United States aren’t among the top three teams. Women’s football seems to be entering a new era of competitiveness.

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Author: James Reade
Photo by FOTOKITA for iStock
Editor's note: This is an update of a piece published on 4 August and available here.
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