The Wildcard’s Big Ol’ Women's World Cup Preview (Part One)

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GROUP A

France

The Gaffer: Corinne Diacre, who made a fair few headlines five years ago when she was named manager of a second division men’s team.

Last Time Out: That’s the thing with France, aye? They’re always good enough but they fell on penalties to Germany in the quarters in 2015, having finished fourth in 2011. Yet to make it past the quarters in the Euros either and they lost a bronze medal match at the London 2012 Olympics. We’ve not seen the best of France at a major tournament yet but they’re hosting this one so never a better moment to shine.

Key Player: Eugénie Le Sommer is superb and will be the focal point of the French attack as well as a leading candidate for Golden Boot. Just won her sixth Champions League so, I mean, a World Cup winners’ medal is the next natural progression from there.

What to Watch For: This French team is built around several members of the Champions League-winning Lyon side that has pretty much bossed every competition they’re involved for the last couple years. Therefore lots of players who know what it takes to win with expectations and who have that extra element of familiarity. There’ll be huge home support for the French. Genuine contenders.

The Big Question: Not too worried about their previous pedigree or the pressures of hosting, every nation has those sorta things to worry about. I’m more worried about the fact that if they both top their groups as expected, France are due to meet USA in the quarters so are they ready to win this thing the hard way? This ain’t like the men’s tournament. The lowest ranked team not to qualify is Denmark at 17 (plus North Korea who got banned for doping) and with the four third-placed spots available it’s pretty likely that all the top dogs make the knockouts too.

 

Norway

The Gaffer: Martin Sjögren had a rotten start to his time with this team but the Swede has eased into things since then and Norway should at least be competitive here

Last Time Out: Went undefeated in the groups, including a decent 1-1 draw with Germany, but leading 1-0 in the round of 16 against England with half an hour to go they conceded twice to bow out. Norway won this World Cup back in 1995, although their last major tournament saw them eliminated in the group stage of the 2017 Euros without scoring a goal.

Key Player: Ada Hegerberg, the reigning Ballon D’Or winner, absolute superstar with Lyon, Champions League winner just a few weeks ago… except oh yeah she doesn’t play international footy because she fell out with the national body over a lack of support, funding, and especially some negative tactics. But then Norway qualified really strongly without her so they backed the manager instead of mending fences. Barcelona’s Caroline Graham Hansen gets the key player nod instead.

What to Watch For: Chelsea defensive pair Maren Mjelde and Maria Thorisdóttir anchor the backline for Norway and they should be pretty formidable in that area. But goals are an issue without Hegerberg’s class available. Norway lost 1-0 to New Zealand a few months back which is probably not a fair indication of where they’re at but it’s not far off either.

The Big Question: This is a tough group, with hosts and contenders France along with the always dangerous South Koreans so how far can Norway’s defensive record carry them and will they score the goals against Nigeria needed to sneak them into the next round? (Either in the top two or as a third-place qualifier).

 

South Korea

The Gaffer: Yoon Deok-yeo played for the men’s national team in the 1990 World Cup and was sent off against Uruguay. Fun fact there. He’s also a pretty beloved figure in this team.

Last Time Out: Made it to the knockouts in their second ever tournament but were 2-0 down within ten minutes against France and went on to lose 3-0 pretty comfortably. Came from behind to beat Spain 2-1 in their last group game which clinched a spot in the round of 16.

Key Player: You shouldn’t even have to ask to know that it’s Ji So-yun. The Chelsea forward changed the game when she came on against New Zealand earlier in the year, with KOR winning that one 2-0. She’s a proper number ten, who can score them or set them up. Great with a dead ball. Vision excellent. Energy excellent. That’s the one.

What to Watch For: This is a quick and skilful team, with a lot of players who’ve had success together in youth World Cups but now it’s time to turn that into senior success. The target is the second round again but this maybe isn’t the ideal draw for them, playing the hosts as well as a tactically compact Norway side and Nigeria won’t be pushovers either. All depends on whether their skill and fitness can outweigh the more combative strengths of their group-mates.

The Big Question: Styles make fights, my friend. Can South Korea’s style overcome these three contrasting duels?

 

Nigeria

The Gaffer: Thomas Dennerby, who has coached his native Sweden at two World Cups including a third-placed finish in 2011.

Last Time Out: A late goal from Francisca Ordega earned them a 3-3 draw against Sweden first up but they lost to Australia and USA to finish last in a very tough group. This is also a difficult group but Nigeria, who have qualified for every WWC but only ever made the knockouts in 1999, are no longer the underdogs.

Key Player: Asisat Oshoala won the Golden Ball at the 2014 U20 World Cup and hasn’t stopped scoring goals since. After spells at Liverpool and Arsenal she impressed heaps on loan for Barcelona, helping them to the Champions League final, and has since signed permanently there. Three time African player of the year. Don’t be sleeping.

What to Watch For: Tricky one here because they only conceded once all tournament in defending their African Cup of Nations title in 2018 but friendly results elsewhere suggests that defence is pretty vulnerable – not the least being an 8-0 defeat to group buddies France a year ago. However this forward line can take on the best of them. Along with Oshoala and Ordega there’s also Desire Oparanozie, Anam Imo, and Rita Chikwelu to worry about.

The Big Question: Will they be wearing those famously delightful fluoro-green jerseys that the men’s team wore to the last World Cup? Yes. Yes they will be.

 

GROUP B

Germany

The Gaffer: Martina Voss-Tecklenburg, who only took over earlier in the year but has helped get this team back on track after a couple years performing below their extremely high expectations.

Last Time Out: Bossed their way through their group scoring 15 goals, beat Sweden 4-1 in the next round, knocked France out on penalties… but then lost 2-0 to USA in the semis and 1-0 (ET) to England after that to finish fourth. Won this thing in 2003 and 2007 though so huge pedigree.

Key Player: Dzsenifer Marozsán has been awarded the best player in France (for Lyon, of course) the last three years in a row and is the captain of this Germany side. She scored the winning goal in the 2016 Olympic Final. Amazing vision, great finishing ability, supreme skill… she’ll be pulling strings.

What to Watch For: Germany’s run of European Championships ended at six in a row in 2017 when Netherlands lifted that trophy (GER were upset by Denmark in the quarters) but they’re Olympic champs and it’s time for them to win their first World Cup since 2007.

The Big Question: Stacked in basically every position… except centre back. They’ve been through a few different combination lately so have they found the answer yet?

 

Spain

The Gaffer: Jorge Vilda, the youngest gaffer at WWC19. Wee fella’s not even 38 years old yet.

Last Time Out: Bit mud. Could only draw with Costa Rica first up and then lost to Brazil and South Korea to finish bottom of their group. That was Spain’s first attempt at a World Cup and they should be much more competitive this time around.

Key Player: Chances are we see a few breakout stars for a young Spanish team so keep an open mind here, especially for Patri Guijarro who was the Golden Ball (and Golden Boot) winner at the 2018 U20 World Cup. Jenni Hermoso is probably their best player though, the one veteran amongst the attack and she’s been in superb form for Atletico Madrid.

What to Watch For: Spain won every game in qualifying, leaping to relevancy as suddenly as that. Their club scene is heating up these days with Barcelona making the Champions League final (10 Barca players are in this Spain squad) and they should have the talent to make a run deep into this thing. The group draw has been kind too, giving them a taste of the best but also two winnable games aside. Spain’s defence should be top notch so just a matter of getting it going at the other end of the pitch as well.

The Big Question: After some really promising results at youth level, including the beaten finalists in both the U17 and the U20 World Cups last year (as well as winning the Euro U17 and U19 tournaments), and with such a rapid rise in recent years, the future is inevitable but is it too soon to expect Spain to be a threat at the highest level?

 

China

The Gaffer: Jia Xiuquan

Last Time Out: These pesky ones kept New Zealand out of the next round, drawing 2-2 in their final group game having already beaten Netherlands. China triumphed 1-0 over Cameroon then lost 1-0 to USA in the quarters.

Key Player: Gotta be Wang Shuang, the PSG forward, who is the only member of this squad not based in China – where they’ve actually got a pretty decent league, to be fair. And Wang Shuang is a straight up superstar so expect to see her drifting around and making things happen. It’ll all go through her for China.

What to Watch For: I mean, they’re not about to set the tournament alight with flowing football but Wang Shuang will do her bit. Otherwise expect a well-drilled team that’s got some very high expectations for this tournament. They should make the next round if they play to their potential. Not sure if they’ve got enough to match 2015’s effort though.

The Big Question: China are a bit of a secret in plain sight with all those domestically based players. Is that a good thing?

 

South Africa

The Gaffer: Desiree Ellis was a legend for this team as a player and has done great things since taking over this team on a permanent basis a year and a half ago.

Last Time Out: This is South Africa’s first World Cup, however they did make the last two Olympics (earning a draw and two defeats in each). Had a quality AFCON campaign in 2018 where they were runners’ up to Nigeria, losing on penalties having beaten them earlier on in the comp.

Key Player: Thembi Kgatlana was the star of their AFCON run, winning the Golden Boot at that tournament and going on to win the African women’s footballer of the year award for 2018. That’s the real deal right there. Also captain Janine Van Wyk is a major influence in that defensive line.  

What to Watch For: Yeah this is gonna be tough for South Africa. They’ve launched themselves onto the global level and here is where they find out how tough that is. Recent friendly results have been poor, conceding a lot of goals, and playing Germany in particular could get messy. But they also have some speedy attackers and could well be competitive in those other two games.

The Big Question: Do they have enough positive experience against non-African teams to be at their best in this World Cup?

 

GROUP C

Italy

The Gaffer: Shout out to Milena Bertolini.

Last Time Out: Didn’t qualify and in fact this will be their first appearance at a World Cup since 1999 when they didn’t make it out of the group stage. Gotta go back to the inaugural WWC in 1991 for that achievement.

Key Player: Juve winger Barbara Bonansea is a bit of a star in Italy. Her club teammate and national team captain Sara Gama oughta get some of this hype too. Heck, why not chuck in a third Juve star with Cristiana Girelli poised to supply a few goals too.

What to Watch For: The Italians have won a lot of games lately but not against the top tier of opposition so they’re pretty untested. Juventus’ emergence as a dominant women’s team has helped the game heaps in this country and while it does feel like the start of a longer term project for Italy, they should still supply plenty of that typical Italian steel with a powerful defence and just enough creativity to matter.

The Big Question: The Azzurri will be targeting the second round but a win over Jamaica, the lowest ranked qualifiers, might not be enough alone. Can they take anything off possible contenders Brazil and Australia as well?

 

Brazil

The Gaffer: Oscar Alvarez, aka Vadão.

Last Time Out: Gave it a good crack winning all three of their group games to nil but then went out in the round of 16 losing 1-0 to Australia thanks to a Kyah Simon goal ten minutes from time. Brazil’s best ever effort was runner’s up in 2007 when they lost to 2-0 to Germany in the final.

Key Player: The legend that is Marta. Six-time world player of the year and possibly the best women’s player there’s ever been, although at 33 years old she doesn’t have the pace she once had and not sure she’s got the teammates to help her out these days.

What to Watch For: Brazil probably aren’t bringing the funk they usually do. Not to say they won’t be decent but they’ve been pretty rubbish recently, coming into this World Cup having lost every game they’ve played in 2019 so far. In fact it’s nine defeats in a row and they’ve not scored more than once in any of them. So temper those expectations, chieftain. Also keep an eye on 21 year old striker Geyse who has been scoring in buckets for Benfica, while 41 year old PSG midfielder Formiga will become the oldest player to take past in a WWC as she enters her seventh tournament – which is a FIFA record.

The Big Question: What the hell is going on with this Brazilian team lately? I realise they’ve mostly only been playing top tier teams but you’d still expect to win at least one out of nine of them.

 

Australia

The Gaffer: Ante Milicic, which was a controversial one after Alen Stajcic was randomly sacked one day for confidential reasons, throwing their World Cup preps into chaos… but Milicic is quality and they quickly steadied the ship.

Last Time Out: Drawn with USA in the groups and lost to them first up but beat Nigeria and drew with Sweden (tough group, that one) to make the next round. Then knocked Brazil out in the R16 – revenge game in group C! – but lost 1-0 to an 87th minute goal against Japan in the quarters, which is where they’ve topped out three WWCs in a row.

Key Player: They don’t get better than Sam Kerr, the top striker on the planet. With 23 goals in her last 26 international games and 79 goals in her last 83 club games… hold up, just read those numbers again… okay yeah so she’s the frontrunner for the Golden Boot and if she delivers that then Aussie should go a long way.

What to Watch For: Goals. Goals. More goals. Aussie are an undeniable team going forwards but their defence has looked leaky lately and after conceding five to USA and three to Netherlands there’s little hope they can withstand the best teams out there. But they might not need to if they can score enough of their own. Also Tameka Yallop (nee Butt) is the wife of ex NZ international Kirsty Yallop which is cool.

The Big Question: Are Australia dark horse contenders for this thing?

 

Jamaica

The Gaffer: Hue Menzies, who began this job as a volunteer such were the financial difficulties at play

Last Time Out: This is Jamaica’s first World Cup and they’re the lowest ranked team to qualify. Beat Panama in a penalty shootout to get here.

Key Player: Khadija Shaw’s nickname is Bunny and as if that wasn’t badass enough, she’s also been dominating the USA college level and is poised to vault into the professional ranks either in America or elsewhere after this World Cup is over with, having just signed a lucrative endorsement deal with Nike. Bunny Shaw was the top goal scorer in all of qualifying.

What to Watch For: Jamaica are the only side with a squad completely drawn from overseas… including backup keeper Yazmeen Jamieson from Papakura City! Love these kiwi connections. The Reggae Girlz’s journey to this World Cup has been amazing, funded in part by Bob Marley’s daughter Cedalle whose support basically revived the team after four years of inaction. They’re the feel good story of France 2019. Cool Runnings 2.0.

The Big Question: This is their official theme song… how good!?

 

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