(Reuters) - The Round of 16 at the 2015 Women’s World Cup is taking shape, with defending champion Japan and former runner-up Brazil already securing spots after two games of group play.
The final three days and 12 games of group play, starting on Monday, will supply the remaining 14 teams.
But there still are questions to be answered before the Round of 16 gets underway in the Canadian cities of Edmonton, Ottawa, Montreal, Moncton and Vancouver on Saturday.
Will parity continue to be a factor? The Women’s World Cup was expanded to 24 teams from the 16 teams that participated in 2011. But that has not made things easy for the experienced countries. Only Japan and Brazil have gained six points from their first two games and there was the unexpected 2-0 win from Colombia over France on Saturday.
Can the host Canadians and their rival Americans unlock their offences? Canada have scored just once -- a late-game penalty from captain Christine Sinclair -- in their 1-0 win over China and 0-0 draw with New Zealand.
After scoring three in their opener versus Australia, United States were held goal-less in a 0-0 draw against Sweden.
U.S. star Abby Wambach blamed the artificial turf surfaces as a reason for the lack of scoring for her team.
“I’m way more carefree [on grass],” she said. “I throw my body. I’m not worried about anything. There’s no second-guessing.”
The Group-D leading Americans, 1-1-0, complete their stage group play against Nigeria, 0-1-1, on Tuesday. Nigeria yielded five goals in its first two games.
Group-A leader Canada, 1-1-0, will play their final game of the group stage against Netherlands in Montreal on Monday. Canadian coach John Herdman doesn’t seem concerned, because his goalie Erin McLeod has back-to-back clean sheets.
“We’ve only allowed three shots on target in two matches, and we’ve managed to keep two clean sheets,” Herdman said. “If our five forwards start to get a nose for the goal, we may have a chance of winning the Women’s World Cup.”
In other Monday matches, the Chinese need a win or draw against New Zealand to advance to the Round of 16.
In Group B, the favored Germans and Norwegians will be expected to advance after their games against Thailand and Ivory Coast respectively.
Reporting by Tim Wharnsby. Editing by Andrew Both