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For Germany, there is only one acceptable result at this World Cup

Germany is top-ranked but faces a tough bracket in pursuit of World Cup title

It didn't seem to matter that Germany had just won.

Too many passes had veered off target for Melanie Leupolz's liking. Too many shots had sailed wide of the goal.

"I wish we'd had a better match," the midfielder said, "to give our team more confidence."

For the top-ranked squad in the world, there is only one acceptable result at this Women's World Cup.

So the Germans did not exactly celebrate when they finished group play undefeated with a 4-0 victory over Thailand on Monday afternoon. They were already thinking ahead to the start of knockout games. Germany plays Sweden on Saturday afternoon in the opening game of the round of 16.

"We came here with a dream," Coach Silvia Neid said. "Our dream is to win the World Cup."

Her squad has some experience in that department, hoisting the trophy in 2003 and 2007. But this time figures to be tougher.

A jumble of teams — including Brazil, Japan and host Canada — have a realistic shot at the title. To reach the final, Germany must survive a bracket that includes No. 3 France and the No. 2 Americans.

"We're one of the favorites," Neid said. "But there are many other countries that could win."

Even if her players don't feel the pressure of expectations, there will be other emotional factors.

This is Neid's final trip to the World Cup after a decade at the helm. She and her team are hoping to end on a high note while erasing bitter memories from four years ago.

Germany hosted the World Cup in 2011 with a chance to win an unprecedented third-consecutive championship on home soil. It rolled through the early rounds before running into Japan in the quarterfinals.

The Nadeshiko scored in the 108th minute for a 1-0 upset victory. Neid mused: "This is what I feared would happen."

Germany's coach has downplayed any need for redemption in Canada, saying: "Quite the contrary, I think you can learn a lot from games or tournaments you lost."

Certainly the last few years have seen changes for her team.

Six new faces contributed to a UEFA Women's Euro title in 2013, revitalizing a roster that still includes goalkeeper Nadine Angerer — a former world player of the year — and forward Anja Mittag.

"Everybody wants to start," defender Annike Krahn said. "There is a little bit of competition within the team."

Depth comes in handy with midfielders Luisa Wensing and Nadine Kessler — yet another world player of the year — lost to injury.

The draw offered early relief as Germany landed in a group that included two low-ranked teams. Mittag and Celia Sasic had three goals each in an opening 10-0 victory over one of those underdogs, Ivory Coast.

But a few cracks showed in a subsequent 1-1 tie against rival Norway.

After taking an early lead, the Germans strayed from their preferred approach, trying to force the ball up the middle instead of using speed on the flanks.

"If you look at the first-half stats, we were lucky," Norwegian Coach Even Pellerud said. "They could have killed this game in the first half."

There were further concerns against Thailand.

Neid chose to make use of her bench, presumably resting several players for later in the tournament. Germany held a tenuous 1-0 lead at halftime before opening a comfortable gap by using its size and strength on set plays and denying the Thais any opportunities.

"We could not attack," Thai Coach Nuengrutai Srathongvian said. "We met an opponent that was a better group than we were."

Now comes the do-or-die part of the schedule.

If nothing else, Germany heads into the round of 16 with impressive statistics, leading the tournament with 15 goals and 92 shots over three games.

"They are very skillful, very calm under pressure," Pellerud said. "Their moves off the ball are at a top level."

As the winner of Group B, the Germans also got five days to prepare for Sweden — the third-place team from Group D. Rest could be crucial given that synthetic turf is especially taxing.

And plenty of work lies ahead.

Though the Swedes failed to win in group play, advancing with three draws, they are ranked No. 5 in the world and defeated Germany in the Algarve Cup three months ago.

At this stage of the tournament, the margin for error will be narrow and there won't be as many scoring opportunities.

More of those German passes must be true. More of those shots must find their mark.

"There are tournaments that go well and there are tournaments that don't go so well and you end up losing," Neid said. "We'll see how far we can get."


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