Group play at the 2023 World Cup is over, which means it’s time for the knockout round. This is when things get interesting (or maybe, more interesting) and real. From here on out, it’s win or go home … unless you lose in the semifinals, and then you get to play for third place.
The knockout round kicks off Saturday with Switzerland taking on Spain at 1 a.m. ET. Meanwhile, the USWNT, the second seed from Group E, plays Sunday at 5 a.m. ET. The Americans will likely play Sweden, expected to be the winner of Group G.
But before we look forward, we need to look back. Group play was full of plenty of surprises (and injuries), along with some incredible goals. Here’s a look at the five best goals from group play at the 2023 World Cup.
Ireland’s Katie McCabe vs. Canada
The first-ever World Cup goal scored by Ireland will be one to remember forever.
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Just four minutes into the game, Irish captain Katie McCabe connected directly on a corner kick, an extremely rare feat in soccer known as an Olimpico. Though Ireland went on to lose 2-1 and get eliminated from the World Cup, McCabe’s goal might be the best of the tournament so far.
This angle of McCabe’s goal is even more jaw-dropping.
Argentina’s Sophia Braun vs. South Africa
It was an impressive debut for 23-year-old Sophia Braun, to say the least: Braun’s rocket in the 74th minute from way out wasn’t just eye-popping, but timely. The goal scored by the multi-talented Braun – the Portland, Oregon, native plays both midfield and defense for Argentina – evened the score at 2-2, helping Argentina to a draw during group play.
USWNT’s Lindsey Horan vs. Netherlands
As USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour wrote, do not make Lindsey Horan mad.
When angry, the USWNT captain tends to get even, which is exactly what she did in the 60th minute of the Americans’ second group game vs. Netherlands, resulting in a 1-1 draw that kept the USWNT alive for the knockout stage.
Colombia’s Linda Caicedo vs. Germany
Talk about fancy footwork: Linda Caicedo of Colombia made everyone go cross-eyed with her deft touch(es), scoring first in Colombia’s match vs. Germany. Colombia went on to win 2-1, a stunning result considering Germany was a favorite coming into the tournament.
France’s Eugénie Le Sommer vs. Brazil
Headers hurt. That’s part of why, when someone scores on one, it makes you nod in appreciation. But it’s not just the pain that players are putting up with — placement is challenging, to say the least. That’s why Eugénie Le Sommer’s goal in France’s match vs. Brazil earned a spot on this list. Not only did she connect on a header to score, but she did it off another header from a teammate. Color us impressed. France went on to win 2-1.
These two scores during Tuesday’s action deserved shout outs.
England’s Lauren James vs. China
It was a two-goal outing for England’s Lauren James in the Lionesses’ 6-1 victory over China. Her second goal was particularly impressive, a killer pass setting up the one-touch strike. The ball didn’t touch the ground.
Netherlands’ Esmee Virginia Brugts vs. Vietnam
Netherlands won Group E and finished off group play with a 7-0 victory over Vietnam on Tuesday. The third goal of the romp was a beauty from Esmee Virginia Brugts, making her World Cup debut: A bending shot from outside the box that went upper 90. Brugts immediately put her head in her hands, seemingly in disbelief of her own feat, as she was mobbed by teammates celebrating her first career World Cup goal. Brugts scored again in the 57th minute.