Soccer, Sports

2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup preview

With the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup beginning today with a match between France and South Korea, the McGill Tribune breaks down the 24 competing teams and predicts how successful each will be at this year’s tournament.

Group A

France (FIFA Ranking: 4)

The success of the men’s team in Russia and four consecutive quarterfinal exits in previous major tournaments places immense pressure on host-nation France. Veteran defender Wendie Renard and superstar forward Eugenie le Sommer—both of Champions League title-holder Lyon—are the core of the experienced French side. Led by  2015 Ballon d’Argent winner Amandine Henry, the, les bleues are on a hot streak, with ten wins in their last 11 games. A potential heavyweight clash with the United States in the quarterfinals may be the only thing separating France from the final.

Prediction: Final

Korea Republic (14)

Korea recorded their first win and knockout-stage qualification at the 2015 World Cup. This year, captain Ji So-yun, a two-time Football Association Challenge Cup winner, leads their efforts with her magnetic ball control and precise passing. With an lockdown defence that didn’t concede a single goal in qualification, the Taegeuk might just make it out of Group A.

Prediction: Round of 16

Nigeria (38)

The Super Falcons qualified for the World Cup by winning the Africa Women Cup of Nations for the ninth time. They have yet to miss a single edition of the World Cup; however, they have only advanced past the group stage once, with a quarterfinal exit in 1999. Nigeria’s greatest asset is 24–year-old forward Asisat Oshoala, who led Barcelona to the UEFA Champions League Final this year. Even with Oshoala, Nigeria are the weakest member of the group and remains unlikely to make it past the group stage.

Prediction: Group Stage

Norway (12)

Much of Norway’s qualification bid was surrounded by controversy with Ballon d’Or fémin holder Ada Hegerberg. Following a disastrous Euro 2017 campaign, Hegerberg accused the Norway Football Association of neglecting the women’s sport and quit her position alleging unfair pay and coaching. Hegerberg, who has scored a mind-boggling 255 goals in 254 career appearances, was Norway’s ticket to the top, and her absence will be detrimental. There is still hope for the country though: The Norway FA announced equal pay cheques earlier this year, and the national team enjoyed a spotless qualification campaign. Norway may have a significant mountain to climb, but it is too early to count them out.

Prediction: Round of 16

Group B

Germany (2)

German head coach Martina Voss-Tecklenburg faces the tough task of leading a team in transition. She has only had four friendlies to prepare her squad, after taking over as the head coach only months ago. But, with experienced players like Lyon midfielder Dzsenifer Marozsán, the 2019 French Player of the Season, and forward Alexandra Popp, the Germans are still a threat to win. A poor showing at the SheBelieves Cup suggests a lack of consistency in performance, but, if the two-time champions can shake off the dust, they may be able to add a third title to their collection.

Bonus: This advertisement addresses gender inequality by the German National team.

Prediction: Final

China (16)

Captain Wang Shuang has enjoyed a successful year with Paris Saint-Germain in the Division 1 Féminine, strong play that she hopes to continue in the World Cup. Alongside her is forward Wang Shanshan, who famously scored nine goals against Tajikistan in the 2018 Asian Games. Together, the two are good enough to make any defence shake in their cleats and will look to be a disruptive force in the tournament.

Prediction: Round of 16

Spain (13)

After their infamous World Cup debut in 2015, where players actively rebelled against their former coach Ignacio Quereda, the Spanish squad has found some stability under the new leadership ofJorge Vilda. However, the team risks becoming complacent, as the bulk of the team is composed of stars who do not face much competition in the domestic league. Leading up to the tournament, they have committed basic defensive errors and been unable to break down deep-seated defences. The Spanish side will need a true team effort to carry them into the Round of 16.

Prediction: Round of 16

South Africa (49)  

In their first-ever World Cup appearance, South Africa will be hoping to steal hearts with their impressive attacking play and passionate fanbase. The Banyana-Banyana are coached by the legendary Desiree Ellis, who has been part of the national team since her 1993 debut as a midfielder. Furthermore, captain Janine van Wyk, who has more caps than any other South African soccer player, will bring their invaluable experience to the team. However, the team has had a rough record against non-African opposition and may struggle to make an impact.

Prediction: Group Stage

Group C

Italy (15)

While the men’s game has been plagued with low attendance and failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, women’s soccer has reached new heights in Italy. Le Azzurre qualified for their first World Cup in 20 years and set a record for attendance in women’s Italian football with 39,027 fans at the Women’s Series A game between Juventus and Fiorentina. Milena Bertolini’s squad marks the beginning of a new generation of Italian soccer, moving away from the hallmarks of outdated Catenaccio football in favour of a brand of fast-paced, attacking play.

Prediction: Quarterfinals

Brazil (10)

If their recent run is any indication, Brazil fans should be worried. The aging squad has been struggling, winning only one out of 11 games since April 2018. The only source of inspiration, perhaps, is legendary Brazilian forward Marta Vieira da Silva, who will be attending her seventh World Cup. Still regarded as the world’s best player at 33, her presence may invigorate the troops in the tournament’s later stages.

Prediction: Round of 16

Australia (6)

Long regarded as the sleeping giant of women’s soccer, the Matildas have finally come into their own. Led by the phenomenal Samantha Kerr, who won her second consecutive National Women’s Soccer League Golden Boot this year, the Australian team are the dark horse of this tournament. The team has found a solution to their defensive frailties in the form of teenager Ellie Carpenter, and head-coach Ante Milicic’s bold implementation of a Gegenpress-like style has worked well for this tight-knit squad.

Prediction: Quarterfinals

Jamaica (53)

Jamaica made history this year by becoming the first Caribbean team to qualify for the World Cup. This is especially impressive after the team was completely defunded in 2016. Superstar striker Khadija Shaw hopes to make an impact after becoming the country’s all-time top goal-scorer at only 22 years old. The Reggae Girlz play an exciting brand of football and could cause a few upsets.

Prediction: Group Stage

Group D

England (3)

When Phil Neville heads to France this summer, he will take one of England’s most experienced squads in the last decade with him. His team plays a cagey, possession-based model that could bring the best out of Chelsea number 10 Fran Kirby. Striker Nikita Parris will also be expected to provide scoring after netting 19 goals in the Women’s Super League 1 this year. With semifinal finishes in the last two major tournaments, expectations are high for the English side.

Prediction: Semifinals

Scotland (20)

Fans will be in for a treat as football’s oldest rivalry comes to life on the world stage. The Scotts have been with coach Shelly Kerr since 2017 and have finally qualified for their first-ever World Cup. A convincing victory against Argentina may be enough to secure the third-place qualification spot.

Prediction: Round of 16

Argentina (37)

The past decade has been harsh for Argentine football, having lost every final in which they have appeared. Unfortunately, this trend doesn’t look likely to change any time soon, as the Albicelestes face a tough group. The squad lacks star names, with the exception of forward Estefanía Banini, and are unlikely to advance beyond the group stage.

Prediction: Group Stage

Japan (7)

Football in Japan took off when,  the women’s team became a symbol of recovery for the tsunami-devastated country by winning the World Cup in 2011. The youngsters from that miracle team now form the backbone of this 2019 squad. Lyon star Saki Kumagai and veteran Aya Sameshima are the leaders of a rigid defence, which will be required to hold off a strong English attack.

Prediction: Round of 16

Group E

Netherlands (8)

The Dutch have been in top form since the last World Cup, even lifting the Euro 2017 title on the way, where Lieke Martens won the Golden Ball. The Oranje Leeuwinnen also have another superstar in Euro 2017 Silver Boot recipient Vivianne Miedema, a ferocious goalscorer who had an astonishing 57 goals in 74 appearances for the national side. A 3–0 thrashing of the Matildas will see them arrive in good condition, setting up an exciting battle with Canada for the group’s top spot.

Prediction: Quarterfinals

Canada (5)

Despite not having a professional women’s league, Canada are a symbol of hard work and passion in the footballing world. An experienced team with a fierce attack and resolute defence, the Cup’s 2015 hosts will pose a challenge to any team they meet. Captain Christine Sinclair and midfielders Desiree Scott and Sophie Schmidt, who share an astounding 608 caps between the three of them, will be expected to take the team deep into the tournament.

Prediction: Semifinals

New Zealand (19)

No New Zealand team has ever won a game on the international stage, and coach Tom Sermanni hopes to change that. Earlier this year, he convinced captain Abby Erceg to come out of retirement after she quit the squad citing unfair treatment. Her return may be enough to push the Ferns into the third-place qualification spot.

Prediction: Group Stage

Cameroon (46)

Cameroon shocked the world by qualifying for the knockout round in 2015. If they are to stand a chance of repeating this feat, Cameroon will rely on defeating New Zealand.

Prediction: Group Stage

Group F

Sweden (9)

Sweden will clash with their rival Americans after being placed in the same World Cup group for the fifth time. Striker Kosovare Asllani, often compared to Swedish legend Zlatan Ibrahimovic for her technique and Balkan heritage, will play a vital role in the team’s strategy. Sweden also has one of the world’s finest goalkeeper’s in Hedvig Lindahl, who impressed between the sticks this season, conceding only 14 goals in 20 games.

Prediction: Round of 16

United States (1)

As the undisputed number one seed, expectations are high for the defending champions, who will look to add to their record five titles. While a second-place finish in the 2019 SheBelieves Cup raised some eyebrows, the world’s preeminent team has addressed those doubts by scoring a spectacular 17 goals while conceding none in a four-game run-up to the World Cup. The legendary Carli Lloyd, along with world class Alex Morgan, will be expected to provide valuable experience. Alyssa Naeher, who is replacing longtime keeper Hope Solo, will be supported by a defence that has kept 17 clean sheets in 24 games. With an easy group to start off, the United States are here for the long haul.

Prediction: Final

Chile (39)

Chile’s qualification to the World Cup was a true underdog story: Having not played a single game between 2014 and May 2017, they qualified by finishing second in the Copa America Femenina 2018. Captain and Paris Saint-Germain keeper Christiane Endler will be important to Chile’s defensive playstyle and a key factor if Chile are to pick up their first points at a World Cup this year.

Prediction: Group Stage

Thailand (34)

Thailand qualified for the World Cup by winning the ASEAN Football Federation, outscoring opponents 37–5 in the process. However, they are unlikely to survive a tough group stage and will look to gain valuable experience at their second appearance on the world stage, rather than win.

Prediction: Group Stage

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