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Contenders and a Co-Host Survey the Uncertain Road Ahead

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Contenders and a Co-Host Survey the Uncertain Road Ahead

Sam Kerr of Australia said she would be “definitely” be available to play against Canada. Her coach will decide how much.Credit…Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images

The pressure is on for Australia. The Australians entered this Women’s World Cup as co-hosts looking to win the tournament on home soil, and quickly struggled.

After losing their star striker Sam Kerr right before the first game, Australia eked out a win over scrappy Ireland, 1-0, before falling to Nigeria, 3-2. Now, the Australians are in a fight for their tournament lives, effectively needing a win over Canada to advance. The good news is that Kerr is back, as she said on Saturday that she would be available against Canada. The bad news is that it won’t be clear until closer to game time how much Kerr might be available.

The Australians will take all she can give as they try to beat a Canadian team that shares their title ambitions.

Canada vs. Australia

The most anticipated matchup of Group B sees Canada, trying to establish itself as a contender despite a shaky start, facing the host country Australia, a team that faltered in its most recent loss to Nigeria, 3-2. Australia lost three key players to injury ahead of that Nigeria match, including Kerr, its leading scorer and the face of the team who has missed the first two games of this tournament. Kerr, who sustained a calf injury in training ahead of the opening match, said Saturday that she is back training and will be available for the game against Canada.

If Canada wins, Australia is out of this World Cup. Canada has won its last three matchups with Australia, and will also be looking to avoid a loss to have the best shot at advancing to the knockout rounds.

Japan vs. Spain

Japan and Spain are both safely advancing to the round of 16. But this matchup is an opportunity for Japan to prove it has real ambitions of a deep run in this tournament. Spain is one of the most dominant threats in this World Cup and has yet to be challenged. Both teams have played tremendously in their first two games.

Japan lost to Spain, 1-0, in a friendly last November. Each team will provide the other its first real test of this tournament.

Ireland vs. Nigeria

This is Ireland’s last match in this World Cup, after a loss to Canada eliminated the team last week. Its farewell won’t be an easy one. Nigeria is currently leading Group B after drawing with Canada, 0-0, and upsetting Australia, 3-2. With the Irish exiting regardless, their last act could be playing spoiler — if they shock Nigeria with a win, the Nigerians’ chances of advancing will rely on goal difference.

But Nigeria has proved to be much stronger than its No. 40 ranking would suggest. “I would say that we were underestimated and underappreciated,” Coach Randy Waldrum said on Sunday. As it stands, the Nigerians are poised to make the knockout rounds for just the third time in the program’s history.

Costa Rica vs. Zambia

This match is a swan song for both sides, after dominant play by Japan and Spain eliminated both Costa Rica and Zambia. Both sides are now playing for their first win of the tournament. The odds of that are slightly in Costa Rica’s favor, as Zambia has given up the most goals of any team in the tournament.

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