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

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GROUP D

England

The Gaffer: Phil Neville, for some reason – the ex-Man United and Everton defender who surprisingly never went to a World Cup as a player.

Last Time Out: Four years ago the Lionesses banked a third-placed finish at the World Cup in Canada, losing to Japan in the semis thanks to an injury time own goal from Laura Bassett. It was their first time past the quarters though and they’ve only gotten better since.

Key Player: A lot will depend on what this team can put together in the attacking third and Fran Kirby, who had a stuttered season with Chelsea coming back from injury last season, could be the key to that. She’s arguably the best goal scorer in the side and somebody has to put those chances away. Then again, with so many attacking options in this side, Kirby’s no guarantee to even play.

What to Watch For: This is a team in a weird place right now. Undoubtedly they’re good enough to win the whole thing but under Phil Neville they’ve tried to refine their approach to a more total football line of thinking and they’re certainly not all there yet – meaning you never quite know what to expect from them from game to game, losing to New Zealand case and point. Neville’s also been rotating players all over the show in preparation, which shows great depth but also means sketchy combinations. Still, with the talent in this side and the momentum of the English Super League of late the expectations are high.

The Big Question: What is England’s best eleven? What is their preferred formation? Neville probably knows the answer to both but we don’t get to find out until game one.

 

Scotland

The Gaffer: Shelley Kerr, the ex-Arsenal manager who also had a spell with the Stirling University men’s side – the first woman to manage a British senior men’s side.

Last Time Out: This is the first time Scotland has ever qualified for a Women’s World Cup (and their lads haven’t made one since 1998). They’re pretty much the pride of the highlands at this point.

Key Player: Erin Cuthbert is an emerging force for Chelsea and she’s not even 21 yet. Scores brilliant goals from basically anywhere and always keeps it entertaining. Not that Scotland are short of players. Kim Little is a legend. Jane Ross, Rachel Corsie, and Caroline Weir do plenty. This lot ain’t there to make up the numbers.

What to Watch For: Scotland were at the 2017 Euros but weren’t up to much, losing 6-0 to England with several key players missing the tournament through injury. They had to grind to get here and there’s a sense of real purpose about them wanting to take advantage of this tournament. Tough group here, but that’s nothing a bite of haggis, a nip of whiskey, and a large dose of Scottish fury can’t overcome.

The Big Question: How good to see a Scottish team at a major tournament?

 

Argentina

The Gaffer: Carlos Borrello

Last Time Out: Weren’t there. Haven’t been there since 2007, twelve years ago. Only other appearance was in 2003 – but incredibly midfielder Mariela Coronel actually played in that tournament, sixteen years ago. 

Key Player: Look towards Sole Jaimes, who plays for Lyon, as well as a scrappy and skilful midfield that’ll have to be at its best if they’re to do anything in this group, a midfield that includes names like Ruth Bravo and Estefania Banini.

What to Watch For: Argentina have done well to get here, having traditionally been crippled by a lack of financial investment. Like, most countries could use more money for their women’s team but Argentina have been so underfunded that the team literally disappeared before, with no official games in 2012, 2013 or 2016. In six World Cup games in the past they’ve scored twice and conceded 33 times. Finished third at the Copas to qualify but were well beaten by both other teams to qualify from South America. Also lost to New Zealand a few months back. In a really tough group they’ll probably lose all three again.

The Big Question: Money, please?

 

Japan

The Gaffer: Asako Takamura, who rose through the ranks with the U17 and U20 squads and has six times won the AFC women’s coach of the year award. Been in charge of the senior women’s team since 2016.

Last Time Out: 2011 World Champs and beaten finalists in 2015. Well beaten, as they were 4-0 down after 16 minutes and went on to lose 5-2. Before that all their games had been close, winning six games in a row by a single goal – including last minute winners in the quarters and the semis.

Key Player: Saki Kumagai captains the side and has been one of the top players in the world for several years now (scoring the winning penalty in the 2011 final). The midfielder is absolutely at the top of her game right now, and without the absent Yuki Nagasato they’ll need her more than ever.

What to Watch For: Cruised through qualifying as usual but might not be the contenders they have been the last couple times with a squad that’s sorta suck between two generations here. 13 players in this squad were born in 1995 or later, while six more were born in 1990 or later. Will be an entertaining team as always, playing at a high tempo with plenty of clever passing, and a lot will depend on how sharp they can be with their finishing in front of goal.

The Big Question: Is this a team in transition or perennial contender?

 

GROUP E

Netherlands

The Gaffer: Sarina Wiegman was a centurion as a player and has been in charge of the team as manager for the last three years.

Last Time Out: Beat New Zealand, lost to China, drew with Canada, made it through as a third-place qualifier, lost 2-1 to Japan in the R16. But then the Dutch responded by winning the 2017 Euros on home soil in a bit of a shocker and they’ve got the potential to go deep here even if it’s only their second World Cup appearance.

Key Player: Got a fair few choices here and they’re mostly all silky attackers. Lieke Martins of Barcelona should be the pick, having been awarded FIFA’s player of the year award in 2017 (they only just aligned them with the Ballon D’ors last time but it’s the same thing). But the Arsenal duo of Vivianne Miedema and Danielle van de Donk ensure there’s plenty to go around.

What to Watch For: Yeah… the Orange Lionesses’ attacking depth goes way deeper than that. Jackie Groenen just joined Manchester United. Shanice van de Sanden is so fast she could give Paige Satchell a race. It’s bloody daunting to have them in New Zealand’s group… but the flipside is that their defence is a little sketchy. Injuries and inconsistencies. That might catch up with them down the line but they should still top this group all things being equal. Just beat Aussie 3-0 too so that’s a warning sign.

The Big Question: It’s been a rapid rise for the Netherlands’ national women’s team but there won’t be any surprise factors at play here so can they emulate those 2017 Euros on the biggest stage with expectations as high as they are?

 

Canada

The Gaffer: It used to be former Footy Ferns coach John Herdman but he left last year and was replaced by Denmark’s Kenneth Heiner-Møller

Last Time Out: Hosted the damn thing but were knocked out in the quarters by England after having beaten Switzerland in the R16. Topped a group including Netherlands and New Zealand, who they’ll face again at this stage in 2019.

Key Player: Not much of a secret that we’re talking about Christine Sinclair here. The striker has scored an insane 180 international goals (just four short of Abby Wambach’s record) and she’s not slowing down yet. Also watch out for Lyon defender Kadeisha Buchanan who goes pretty good herself. They all do at Lyon, to be fair.

What to Watch For: Although Canada has a world class striker, they don’t have a massive amount of support for her and tend to build their performances around an extremely solid defence. They’re also the fourth youngest team at this tournament despite the veteran presence of the likes of Sinclair, keeper Steph Labbe, and Desiree Scott… so how some of their next gen talents rise to the occasion will have a lot to do with how Canada go at France 2019.

The Big Question: Canada have kept clean sheets in seven of eight games this year but do they have the goals in them to compete with the top tier of contenders at this tournament?

 

New Zealand

The Gaffer: Tommy ‘Shades’ Sermanni, the oldest manager at the tournament interestingly enough. This is also his fourth Women’s World Cup as a coach and only Even Pellerud (five) has more.

Last Time Out: Weren’t able to get that first World Cup win, losing narrowly to the Netherlands, getting a decent draw with Canada… but then drawing 2-2 in a feisty game with China when a win would have put them through. Two of those teams are in NZ’s group again and, crazily, the third team Cameroon is who they would’ve played in the next round if they’d beaten China.

Key Player: A lot depends on how well the New Zealand defence can hang on, giving their attack the chance to score a few rare goals on the counter attack or in transition. And that defence is bossed by the immaculate Abby Erceg, amongst the finest defenders in the world and a born winner.

What to Watch For: Two targets for the Footy Ferns: winning a game and making the knockouts. They’ve never done either before but the hope is that this is the year. Certainly it’s the strongest team NZ has ever sent to a World Cup. There’s enormous experience here and just enough tactical flexibility to keep it interesting but there will be a lot of defending to do so keeper Erin Nayler needs to be at her best. Beat England last week in a perfect example of what this team is trying to achieve.

The Big Question: Can the Fernies own the big moments? They won’t see a lot of the ball against Netherlands and probably not against Canada either (Cameroon is a must win if they’re gonna make the next round), so when those spare chances emerge they simply have to take them. Clinical and ruthless in attack. It’s the only way.

 

Cameroon

The Gaffer: Alain Djeumfa.

Last Time Out: Won their first ever World Cup game 6-0 (including three penalties) against Ecuador and bounced back from losing to eventual finalists Japan by coming from behind to beat Switzerland 2-1 and make the next round. Where they lost 1-0 to China. Super effort, although the draw was kind with the two teams they beat not even qualifying this time around.

Key Player: In times like these you revert to the people who know and Gaëlle Enganamouit was named African women’s footy player of the year in 2015. She scored a hatty against Ecuador at the last World Cup and her direct style of play is always a threat.

What to Watch For: Cameroon are going to be aggressive and they’re going to be positive. As you’d expect from a team nicknamed the Indomitable Lionesses. Bit of a mix of youth and experience, arguably a bit too much of a mix but we’ll find out about that in France, they’ve gone close in the last two African Cup of Nations and have that big game mentality. More than a third of their team are already based in France at club level too, which must help. The lowest ranked team in the group here but certainly not easy beats.

The Big Question: The thing about the FIFA rankings is that they’re an absolute mess but they still use them for the seedings. African teams tend to be ranked lower (Asian teams too) because they play against other lower ranked sides from within their confederation more often. So how underrated are these African sides and are Cameroon a legit possibility to progress here, as they see to believe?

 

GROUP F

Sweden

The Gaffer: Peter Gerhardsson was hired after Sweden buggered up at the Euros last time so defs some pressure on this lot to perform after a few dud competition efforts in recent times.

Last Time Out: One of the traditional powerhouses in women’s footy, finishing runners up in 2003, Sweden haven’t been the same the last couple times out and in Canada in 2015 they disappointed with three draws in the group stage (versus Nigeria, USA, and Aussie) sneaking them through in third place but they were pumped 4-1 by Germany in the round of 16.

Key Player: Magdalena Eriksson, one of three Chelsea players in the squad (although goalie Lindahl is leaving now), is one of the top defenders on the planet and with Sweden stacked with creative influencers in their attack, keeping those clean sheets could be the key to their success or not.

What to Watch For: Sweden cruised through qualifying and there’s a lot of confidence they can go a whole lot better than last time – with a favourable draw certainly helping. There’s experience in this squad, with the likes of Hedvig Lindahl and Carolina Seger, but there’s a good blend of youth and pace as well. Sweden can usually be trusted to play an entertaining style of footy, with plenty of passes and skill on the wings.

The Big Question: Why do they keep having to play America every time?

 

United States

The Gaffer: The renowned Jill Ellis is looking to go back to back having navigated some stormy seas over the last four years but has this side looking settled and ready again in time for this World Cup.

Last Time Out: Champions. They pumped Japan 5-2 in the final with Carli Lloyd scoring a first-half hat-trick. It was their third World Cup triumph and their first since 1999.

Key Player: Honestly, you can’t even pick one. Alex Morgan is in sizzling form and she’ll be expected to score the bulk of their goals but Megan Rapinoe and Tobin Heath will surely chip in plenty. And that still gives them attacking weapons such as Carli Lloyd, Christen Press and Mallory Pugh on the bench. Yikes.

What to Watch For: The USA are the favourites once again and the defending champs don’t ever seem to have much of a problem replacing players either so the squad’s still very strong. Been scoring heaps of goals lately, also they’re the only team in this World Cup with a completely domestically based squad. Which sucks for the NWSL which is currently being ruined with 73 absent players right now and for some reason it’s still continuing. But yeah, America are bloody good.

The Big Question: The Yanks have been the dominant force in recent times but since the last World Cup the scene in Europe especially has exploded… are America still as far ahead of the rest of the pack as they like to think or have they been overtaken by some of those European giants? And if not, how long ‘til the USA fanbase’s unique perspective on ‘soccer’ become completely and utterly unbearable? (The answer to the second bit is: yesterday)

 

Chile

The Gaffer: José Letelier, who has been in charge of this team since 2016

Last Time Out: They’ve come close in the past but 2019 will be the first time that Chile have competed at a WWC.

Key Player: Christine Endler is one of the best goalies on the damn planet. Top notch shot stopper, confident with the ball at her feet, a great leader as captain of this team… if Chile do well in France then their keeper will have had a blinder.

What to Watch For: It’s tricky for Chile here, who have established themselves as one of the top teams in South America however they’ve looked rather average beyond that. Sort of like South Africa in that way – it’ll be ruthless making that initial step up, although Thailand offer them an opportunity in that last game and you never know, win that and they might even make the next round. Chile drew with Scotland a few months ago… but followed that up with a 7-0 defeat to Netherlands.

The Big Question: How much fun is it gonna be watching Endler make 25 saves in the game against the USA? Positive vibrations for a legendary nil-all draw in that one, envision it and make it happen.

 

Thailand

The Gaffer: Nuengritai Srathongvian… which is one you wanna double check after attempting to spell

Last Time Out: They did beat Ivory Coast 3-2 in a mini thriller but with 4-0 defeats to both Germany and Norway their goal difference wasn’t enough to make the next round. It was their first World Cup though and they backed that up by qualifying again so don’t completely underrate them.

Key Player: Well, hard to say because the only two players in this squad who aren’t based in Thailand are a pair at universities in the USA so not a lot of global exposure here. Midfielder Orathai Srimanee scored a double in that win four years ago and at 154cm tall she’ll be one of the shortest players at the comp.

What to Watch For: Here’s another team that New Zealand has experience against, drawing 0-0 in Thailand in 2017 before beating them 5-0 a few days later. Thailand have some skilful players but yeah, extremely hard to see them getting anything off Sweden or especially the USA who could make it ugly. The Chile game will be the better test.

The Big Question: Dunno, have you got anything? I’m all out.

 

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