ROME (AP) – Monday's break in action for the 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup gives us a chance to take inventory of the competitions, something each team will be doing ahead of their final group match. Even for those teams that have advanced, they need to assess the risks and rewards of extending their players before the knockout round. For teams like England and Australia, they have no choice but to go all out, lest they be caught from behind by Mexico and Norway. And for the six teams that have been eliminated, nobody wants to go home without a win, let alone at the bottom of their group.
For us onlookers, the day off gives us a chance to consolidate what we've seen over the last eight days and reassess how we see the field. In the lead-up to the tournament, Germany was a clear and prohibitive favorite, but with the two-time defending champions staring at a second place group finish (should they fail to beat France on Tuesday), it's impossible to see them as the intimidating titans they were a week ago. Instead, most see a group of four legitimate title contenders: Germany, the US, Brazil and the upstart, France.
But while noting there are four favorites may be accurate, it's far from definitive. And it sure isn't much fun. So while fully acknowledging the lists of power rankings and betting odds are of little value, we bow to the order (and debate) that come with each.
Heading into the final round of group play, here's how things stand for the 10 nations still alive, both in terms of at-the-moment ranking as well as the odds of winning the tournament.
Tier 1: The Contenders
Power Ranking: 4 of 10
Odds to win: 4-to-1 (favorites)
Not clicking to the level of the United States or France, Germany is still the defending champions and hosts. If they end up finishing second in their group (a strong possibility, since they have yet to show themselves better than France), their path to Frankfurt gets slightly easier. They'll be able to avoid the tournament's two best teams until the final. That's how they can be ranked fourth and still have the shortest odds to win.
Power Ranking: 2
Odds to win: 9-to-2
There's an interesting debate to be had as to whether the US or French have shown better, though when you consider the competition each team has faced, it's difficult not to give the nod to France. But track record has to count for something, and the No. 1 team in the world has a history of success. Plus, it's hard to see Abby Wambach going the whole tournament struggling with her touch around goal. Whereas the defense will likely continue to be strong (having yet to allow a goal in the tournament), the attack could still get better.
Power Ranking: 1
Odds to win: 6-to-1
Canada were terrible by their standards, but, even with that in mind, France put on the best performance of the World Cup. Nobody doubts their ability to beat anybody, but for a team that was knocked out on penalty kicks by the Netherlands in the quarterfinals of Euro 2009, there's a reasonable question of whether they can string together three straight wins. If they draw (or beat) Germany on Tuesday, they will get either Mexico or England in the quarterfinals. They'll be big favorites there, and if they advance, they likely face the United States. With a possible meeting with Germany after that, 6-to-1 odds actually seem a bad bet.
Power Ranking: 5
Odds to win: 8-to-1
They're perfect through two rounds, have been to three major finals in a row, but are still the fourth of four favorites. They haven't impressed, with Sunday's 3-0 victory over Norway telling us more about the former champions than the Selecao. Still, Sunday's match reminded us what Brazil has to be grouped with the tournament's other three contenders. Marta had two goals and an assist, tying American legend Michelle Akers for second on the all-time World Cup scoring list (12 goals, two behind Birgit Prinz). Though she was booed by some in the wake of her first goal (unfairly labeled as a cheater during halftime analysis when incidental contact saw a Norwegian defender go down), the play showed a determination that should scare the other favorites.
Tier 2: Dark horses
Power Ranking: 3
Odds to win: 10-to-1
Japan has played better than Brazil and, arguably, Germany but will have a difficult route to a title. Because their group, Group B, is opposite Group A in the quarterfinal draw, Japan's championship run will have to be at the expense of three of the big four. Though they're playing like a team capable of beating anybody, it's a big ask for any team to pull off three upsets in a row.
Power Ranking: 6
Odds to win: 18-to-1
The only thing we know about Sweden is they're going to advance. They failed to impress against either North Korea or Colombia. Given their long term history and current talent base, this could be a dangerous team. Given their recent history, they could be a team others don't mind facing come the weekend. Without the suspended Caroline Seger for their Wednesday match with the US, the Swedes are on course for a quarterfinal meeting with Brazil, making their path to Frankfurt similar to Japan's.
Tier 3: Long shots
Power Ranking: 8
Odds to win: 18-to-1
Though being in the same group as Japan means they'll suffer the same misfortune of facing a Group A team in the quarters (should they advance), England showed nowhere near as well as the group leaders; hence, the odds difference. Defeating Japan on Tuesday won't be of much benefit. They'll still have to beat one of Germany or France before facing another favorite (the US or Brazil) ahead of a meeting in Frankfurt against the other of Germany or France. By that time, Kelly Smith's knee with be feeling the strain of five matches in just over two weeks. If these were real odds, you might want to pass.
Power Ranking: 7
Odds to win: 50-to-1
These odds are high because there's still a significant chance they won't make the final eight. If they do, the Matildas can cause problems for any team that underestimates them. But for all the teams this low in the ranking, the knockout round will offer no favors with the matchups. Merely making the semis would be a great achievement.
Tier 4: Technically still alive
Power Ranking: 9
Odds to win: 100-to-1
Norway need to beat Australia, but given how each side performed against the other teams in Group D, the Aussies will be favored. Coming into the tournament, there were questions as to how good the Norweigans really were. Unfortunately, they have shown themselves to be more of a fading than rebuilding power.
Power Ranking: 10
Odds to win: 600-to-1
Mexico need to make up six goals and three points difference between themselves and England. So, they're basically out. Even it they advance, they'll be huge underdogs in each match, starting with a meeting against either France or Germany. Other than that, El Tri has a great chance.