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The goal post defines fates in Women's World Cup quarterfinals

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Photo by Tertius Pickard / AP
Photo by Tertius Pickard / AP

This week the Women's World Cup quarterfinals featured some of the most dramatic matches of the tournament. The dream of a world championship ended for four teams, but not before 90 minutes of some of the best soccer ever seen. While several MVPs rose to the challenge, one of the biggest game changers throughout the four matches was the goalpost, which blocked would-be winning goals and finalized victories.

Spain vs. the Netherlands
While the Netherlands entered the match with eyes on the final, where they'd get a chance to redeem their second-place finish from the last tournament, Spain was ready to fight and had nothing to lose. Having never made it past the Round of 16, the country had already progressed further than ever before.

Spain attacked first, hard, and with precise calculations. Unfortunately, their final shots lacked the precision of their plays, and they couldn't get the ball in the net. After 17 minutes of back and forth, Alba Redondo ran onto a cross with a perfect header. The ball hit the post but rebounded right back for her to head it a second time. Once again, the ball hit the post, this time going out of bounds.

Throughout the first half, Spain continued to press into their attacking third. The squad took advantage of the fact that one of the Netherlands' best players, Danielle Van de Donk, was out of this match. In the 35th minute, forward Esther González scored the first goal when she knocked the ball right over the left shoulder of the Netherlands' goalie with the top of her boot.

The squad's celebration was short-lived, however. Following the goal, the ref consulted playback footage and revoked it due to being offside. The half ended 0-0.

The Netherlands picked up steam in the second half. Beerenstein continued to lead the team down the field with breakaway runs. In the 62nd minute, she had her chance on a corner kick but was pulled to the ground by Spanish defender Irene Paredes. The ref immediately called a foul and issued a yellow card to Paredes. Because the foul occurred in the box, it also meant the Netherlands would get a penalty kick (PK) — a perfect chance to pull ahead. However, the ref consulted playback footage again, which motivated her to change her mind. She recalled the yellow card and restarted the play with a drop ball.

In the 77th minute, Spain's powerhouse forward Salma Paralluelo carried the ball up the right side of the field and ripped what would have been a dangerous cross. Out of nowhere, Stefanie Van Der Gragt jumped in front of the ball, successfully changing its trajectory by just grazing the ball with her hand. To make matters worse for the Netherlands, a review of playback footage found that the handball occurred just above the line of the box. The ref awarded Spain a PK.

In the 80th minute, Mariona Caldentey took the kick. She sent the ball careening into the left side of the net as the keeper dove to the right. The ball hit the same post that denied Redondo two headers, but this time it spun into the far right corner of the net.

With just ten minutes left in the game and Spain ahead, the Netherlands turned up the intensity. Beerenstein rattled shot after shot off, but she couldn't land anything behind the goal line.

In the 90th minute, the ball flew past Spain's back line. Van Der Gragt ran onto it and launched her shot past the keeper, redeeming her handball and tying the game. Spain's defenders raised their hands in protest, indicating that Van Der Gragt had been offside. When the ref reviewed the play, she found that Van Der Gragt had timed her run at the exact second the ball left her teammate's foot, putting her barely onside — and putting the Netherlands just barely back in the game.

As stoppage time continued, the Netherlands dominated possession and continued to attack. Once again, Beerenstein had a near goal but shanked the ball wide. Minutes later, she got another shot on a corner kick but sent the ball several feet over the crossbar.

The game went into overtime. In the 110th minute, Paralluelo obtained a breakaway. She aimed for the left side of the goal. The ball hit the same post. This time, the post showed mercy on Paralluelo, and the ball flew into the far side of the net.

At 122 minutes, after two intense overtime halves, the ref blew the final whistle. The game was over, and Spain moved on to the semifinals.

Sweden vs. Japan
Experts predicted that both teams would make it far, due to the success of their past squads. In 2003 Sweden got second place in the tournament, and in 2011 Japan won in a shootout. This match was anyone's game, but from the beginning, Sweden showed they were willing to put up more than just a fair fight.

Throughout the first half, Sweden attacked Japan's back line and maintained possession of the ball. In the 30th minute, the squad got a free kick a few yards out from the box. Players on both teams lined up at the top of the box as Kosovare Asllani took the kick.

The ball flew over the heads of Japanese defenders and Swedish forwards right toward goalie Ayaka Yamashita, who was ready to punch it out of the air. She sent the ball toward the top of the box, where Nathalie Björn was waiting. Björn controlled the ball to her feet and then sent it back to the middle of the chaos, where her teammate Magdalena Eriksson received it. Eriksson fumbled with the ball at her feet as two Japanese defenders doubled-teamed her. She attempted a futile kick, but the ball bounced right off Saki Kumagai's shin guard and landed in front of Amanda Ilestedt, who didn't hesitate before ripping the shot off and sending the ball into the top right corner of the net.

For the next several minutes, Sweden didn't even let Japan touch the ball outside their half. In a well-organized attack, Asllani found herself with the ball at the top of the 18 and ripped off another dangerous shot. The ball was headed for the left post, the kind of shot that could have crossed into the far corner of the net. But Yamashita was ready. She dove just in time, preventing the ball from making contact with that pesky post.

In the second half, Yamashita saw the most action out of any Japanese player as Sweden continued to press forward. Three minutes into the half, Johanna Kaneryd launched a shot at Japan's goal from above the 18-yard line. Once again, Yamashita made an immaculate dive, preventing another Sweden goal but providing them with another corner kick. Jonna Andersson sent the ball into complete chaos. It bounced off heads, shoulders, knees, toes, and — upon further inspection by the ref — a hand. In review, the ref saw that Japan's Fuka Nagano accidentally touched the ball with her hand in the box. Sweden got a penalty kick.

In the 50th minute of the game, Filippa Angeldal took the kick. She confidently sent the ball to the left side of the net while Yamashita dove to the right. The stadium erupted in cheers, and Sweden's players tackled one another in a joyous celebration. Now up by 2, their victory seemed imminent.

Although Sweden had a significant lead, Japan was not ready to give up. In the 70th minute, they got their chance when Aoba Fujino crossed the ball on a shot to the far post. Unfortunately for her, the Netherlands' keeper got just the tip of her finger on the ball — enough to send it out of bounds.

Sweden seemed to change their tactics by the 73rd minute and began playing a much more defensive game, which provided Japan with more opportunities to score. Toward the end of the half, a scuffle broke out in Sweden's box. Madelen Janogy fouled Riko Ueki and without a second thought, the ref blew the whistle and awarded Japan a PK.

In the 75th minute, Ueki prepared for the kick. Adrenaline racing from the foul, she sent her shot to the crossbar, which slammed it down right in front of the goal line. Japanese forwards rushed the box for the rebound, but the ball went wide.

The chances kept coming for Japan. In the 86th minute, they got a free kick just a few yards from the box. Fujino took it, with her teammates lined up for the rebound. Once again, the ball hit the crossbar and smacked down right in front of the goal. Sweden immediately moved in to clear the ball, but before they could cross the half, Japan apprehended it with a quick turnaround attack.

The ball flew to the middle of the field, where Yui Hasegawa controlled it and dribbled into space. She found the perfect opportunity and sent it to Jun Endo, who was making a run up the left side. Endo controlled it at her feet and then sent it to Kiko Seike. Under immense pressure and marked by two defenders, Seike quickly deposited the ball to the middle of the box, where it bounced off a defender and right to the boot of Honoka Hayashi, who was ready and able to finish the shot.

Emboldened by their goal, Japan continued to make opportunities as the half closed around them. With added stoppage time, they maintained possession and pressed into Sweden's defensive third. However, they couldn't find the goal before the clock ran out. The Swedish team rushed to celebrate with each other, having now knocked out two former champions.

Photo by Tertius Pickard / AP  

Australia vs. France
The most highly anticipated quarterfinal match saw home-team Australia duke it out with France. Neither team had ever made it beyond a quarterfinal before - and both intended to make history. France showed up in the first half with strength and determination, though it took them 30 minutes to get an accurate shot on goal.

In the 31st minute, Australia's keeper Mackenzie Arnold punched the ball straight up on a corner kick. The defense could not clear the ball, resulting in midfielder Kenza Dali receiving it at the top of the box. Australia's defense blocked her shot, but Maelle Lakrar was ready for the rebound and secured a final touch before Arnold knocked the ball out of bounds.

While France continued to battle for every touch, Australia kept their composure. In the 40th minute, they got their closest chance at goal when Ellie Carpenter tucked the ball behind the defense for forward Hayley Raso to run onto it. It was headed out of bounds, but Raso saved it at the last moment. France's keeper, Pauline Peyraud-Magnin, came out to clear the ball, but Emily Van Egmond beat her to it. In a trick shot, she sent the ball behind her and the keeper. Mary Fowler ran in and had a perfect shot on an empty goal. When the ball left her foot, French defender Élisa De Almedia dove in front and used her knee to deflect it over the goal. It was the most impressive play from either team all game.

De Almedia continued to prove just how valuable she is in the second half. In the 59th minute, Australia had another shot on goal. Peyraud-Magnin threw her body in front of the ball but couldn't get a grip on it. The ball bounced off her and toward another Australian attacker waiting for the rebound. Once again, De Almedia swooped in out of nowhere and cleared the box.

As the second half wore on, the match seemed to be even. In the 99th minute, Eugenie Le Sommer headed it into the goal, but the ref called the point off due to a foul in the box. Upon review, Le Sommer had grabbed Alanna Kennedy's jersey and pulled her to the ground when she jumped up for the header.

After the initial 90 minutes of gameplay, the match went into overtime. France continued to get chances as the clock ticked on. In the 106th minute, Becho ripped a powerful shot at the goal, but Australia's goalie dove and knocked it over the net. In the 108th minute, Selma Bacha cut the ball back and passed it to Le Sommar, whose shot went straight at the keeper, who, with the help of Steph Catley, cleared it.

In the 121st minute, the game was still 0-0. Anticipating a penalty kick shootout, France switched keepers from Peyraud-Magnin to Solène Durand. Australia started the PKs out with a save, when Bacha sent the ball at the keeper. They scored their first shot, putting them ahead, but only briefly. Their second shot, taken by Catley, went straight to Durand. The teams seemed to be in a stalemate. Each Australian player copied the French shooter before them.

The PKs progressed into sudden death. The first to break the tie with a goal would win. The game couldn't have been closer. Both squads had made their first three shots when Dali stepped up for France. Arnold dove and blocked her shot, but upon the ref's review, it appeared Arnold had come off her line. The kick was retaken. Dali aimed for the same spot, Arnold dove for the same spot, and the ball did not go into the net. Clare Hunt took the next shot for Australia, which, once again, was saved.

With six goals for each side, Becho came forward. A rock-hard kick sent the ball smashing into the pesky left post and away from the net. Next up was Australia's Cortnee Vine. With all the pressure in the world, she sent the ball to the right corner. Durand dove a fraction of a second too late, and the ball glided into the back of the net beneath her. Australia celebrated in disbelief, having finally won the most evenly matched game in the tournament.

Colombia vs. England
The last quarterfinal match saw underdog Colombia take on powerhouse England. Due to an offensive foul that earned her a red card in the previous match, forward Lauren James was forced to sit out.

Despite missing James on the field, England got off to a good start. In the 26th minute, Georgia Stanway sent the ball from the top of the 18-yard box to Millie Bright for a header. Unfortunately for Bright, Colombia's goalie was ready and caught the shot.

England's chances just kept coming. One minute later, Rachel Daley got a shot in but ripped it too hard and sent the ball over the goal. Despite the lack of accuracy, England continued to attack and press forward, forcing Colombia to play a defensive half.

In the 45th minute, Colombia showed they could do more than play excellent defense. Leicy Santos rattled a shot from the top of England's box and past Mary Earps into the far corner of the net. While it looked like Colombia would finish the half with a lead, England wasn't ready to give up so easily.

The English team was determined to get their goal back. In the fifth minute of first-half stoppage time, defender Alex Greenwood received the ball at midfield. She passed to Keira Walsh, who crossed the ball to the other side. A skirmish broke out, but England quickly won the challenge for the ball in the air, sending it toward Alessia Russo right in front of the goal. Colombia's keeper, Catalina Pérez, stepped up to grab the shot but flubbed it as she fell to the ground. Russo kicked it loose from her gloves while Lauren Hemp ran in to finish the final touch - a toe punt into the back of the net.

Despite great goals, the players returned to the second half just as they started - in a tie. England pressed an early attack, earning a corner kick that didn't produce anything more than pure chaos. In the 62nd minute, Stanway took the ball up through the midfield before passing it along to Russo. Using her back foot to kick the ball beyond the defender, Russo gave herself a breakaway. Sprinting onto the ball, Russo took a shot and sent it flying to the back of the net.

In the 67th minute, Colombia exchanged keepers, subbing Pérez out for Natalia Giraldo in hopes that they could prevent another England goal. Now up by one, England also changed tactics, focusing on defending their lead.

In the 70th minute, Colombia's Lorena Bedoya Durango received the ball yards outside the box. Far from goal, she took the shot anyway. Not only was it accurate and powerful, but it was also on-frame. Earps barely got a touch on the ball to knock it away from the net.

Colombia kept trying to win back their goal from England. In the 81st minute, Ivonne Chacón dribbled at the goal and maintained possession of the ball even when an English defender dove for a tackle. She shot right in front of the net, but the ball swung wide.

Just five minutes later, Santos took a long dribble up to England's goal line. She sent the ball right across to the keeper. Santos was determined to get her goal, though, and once again, in the 96th minute, she directed a play for her squad. She sent a pass for teammate Kasato to run onto, but the latter also failed to get her shot on target. At the final whistle, it was England 2, Colombia 1.

The semifinals are about to begin. The next two matches will see England play Australia while Spain will face off against Sweden. With so much drama already, fans are eager to see what the next stage will bring.