Of all the groups at the 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup, Group A was thought to be the one most likely to provide last round drama. It was, after all, the Group of Death. And of all the teams in the tournament, Canada was one of the least likely to suffer an embarrassing result. Both of those notions fell by wayside on Thursday. France crushed Canada, 4-0. Add Germany's unconvincing 1-0 win over Nigeria in the day's second match, and the air was taken out of the group. Germany and France will move on to the quarterfinals, with Tuesdays showdown between the teams determining who wins the group. For Nigeria this marks the fifth time the team has failed to advance to the knockout round, though much of the world expected that result. The Super Falcons did, however, prove to be far more resilient than expected: putting up a decent effort against France on Sunday, following it with an even better showing against Germany. They deserved at least a point from the hosts. The biggest shock here is Canadas early exit. France advancing to the quarterfinals is not necessarily the surprise, although it is a slight upset over the CONCACAF Champions. What's shocking is exactly how it happened. Canada did not just lose to France in a game in which it needed at least a point. It never even showed up to the stadium. In a Womens World Cup where eight out of 10 games have been decided by one goal or less, Canada managed to concede four. At no point did the Canadians look to be on the same page. The team was far too stretched out from front to back, leaving its forwards out on an island. France owned a numbers advantage in the midfield and took advantage.
Christine Sinclair played with a broken nose (and took a scary clearance off the face in the final minutes), and her toughness is unquestionable. But as she played through the pain to produce a gutsy performance, she was not her usual world class self. And Jonelle Filigno and Christina Julien provided little support up front. The defense has been a surprising letdown for Canada, which has now allowed six goals in two matches. Erin McLeod has had a rough 180 minutes in goal and did not get any help from her back line, which has left her in tough positions in both matches. Center backs Emily Zurrer and Candace Chapman are the strong point in the back for Canada, but even they got torched on Frances final goal. Louisa Necib continued to prove she is one of the best young players in this tournament, but her performance was out-done by 25-year-old Gatane Thiney, who found net twice. Her brace was the first of the tournament and further proof that France is a serious contender in the knockout stage.
Les Bleues true test will come Tuesday against Germany. The host nation has looked surprisingly vulnerable in its first two matches. Canada gave the Germans a scare in their opening match and Nigeria proved the Germans can be rattled. A physical and scrappy Nigeria team halted Germanys attack with good defending and professional fouls. Whenever Germany started establishing a rhythm, the Nigerians would stop that with a smart tactical foul or a good tackle. It was a defensive effort led by left back Helen Ukaonu, who shut down the tall and powerful Kerstin Garefrekes in addition to providing offensive support on the wing. Her performance embodied that of her team: An inspired display of pride and a sign of progress for the program. This was a complete turnaround from the 8-0 loss Germany handed Nigeria in a November friendly. But Nigeria will yet again have to wait another four years. Like Canada, the focus now shifts to the 2012 London Olympics. But the bitter taste left in Canadas collective mouth should provide inspiration for the 2015 Womens World Cup, which they'll host. Its just a long four years to wait.