As the start of the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup gets ready to kick off on Saturday, we take a quick look at the 24 nations being represented in this year’s tournament.
In Group A, the host nation, Canada, look set for an easy journey into the knockout stages, but which of their group mates will be joining them?
Canada: FIFA Ranking 8
Despite only being ranked eighth in the world at the moment, Canada has to be looked at as one of the favorites of the tournament. The hosts possess veteran experience with the likes of Christine Sinclair, Diana Matheson, and Rhian Wilkinson (the three have combined for over 550 appearances for the national team) and that experience may prove vital if they hope to replicate the performances that earned them a bronze medal at the 2012 London Olympics. Within a relatively soft group, Canada sit as the highest ranked nation, and they’re also the only team that occupy a spot in the top ten. However, rankings only mean so much, if Canada don’t take each of their opponents seriously, an early and disappointing exit could await them.
Player to Watch: Christine Sinclair
China PR: FIFA Ranking 16
It was not long ago when this Chinese team was considered one of the best teams in Asia. Between the years of 2003-2008, the Chinese National team won the Women’s Asian Cup once, and finished as runners up twice. Outside of the Asian continent, however, the powerful nation has never really shown the potential that they show in continental competition. Other than a completely unexpected run to the finals in the 1999 World Cup, the Chinese haven’t made it past the quarterfinals since 1995, and they didn’t even qualify to play in the London Olympics. If current form is a barometer for how well a team will do in a tournament, things aren’t looking good for China. In their last ten matches, they have won none. I’m not expecting anything more than a point for China during their trip to Canada.
Player to Watch: Wang Shanshan
New Zealand: FIFA Ranking 17
After not qualifying for three of the first four Women’s World Cups, the fact that New Zealand will have now participated in three straight Cups is an accomplishment in itself. The latest installment of the tournament gives the small island nation a chance to win its first ever World Cup match, and just its second competitive win against non-OFC competition. Despite it’s unimpressive competitive record, New Zealand’s team has shown potential in the past year as they have battled to two draws against a strong Brazilian side, and they’ve managed to hold their own in narrow defeats to Japan and France. All it takes is one moment of magic to win a match, and that’s probably what it’s going to require for this scrappy team to win any points, let alone a match.
Player to Watch: Abby Erceg
Netherlands: FIFA Ranking 12
The Dutch are the closest thing to a threat for Canada in this group as they sit just four spots below them in the FIFA rankings. Don’t let the impressive standing fool you, however, because this is the first time that a Women’s World Cup will feature this Dutch squad, and it was only through a playoff that they were able to qualify. The women’s team has been unable to replicate the dominating play of their male counterparts in global competitions, but they look to be on the rise. Their best tournament finish came in their first ever appearance in the European Championships where they finished third in 2009, but failed to win a game in the 2013 installment of the tournament. So the big question is which team will show up to Canada when the opening whistle blows?
Player to Watch: Vivianne Miedema
Canada and China advance, Canada wins group. Netherlands finish 3rd and also go through
In Group B, the world’s top team, Germany, look the clear favorites, but a tricky Norwegian side could jump into the top spot.
Germany: FIFA Ranking 1
Anytime you go into a tournament as the world’s number one, people are going to expect you to win. In European competition, no one has been better than the Germans as they have claimed eight of the last nine European Championships, with their only failure coming in 1993. A disappointing quarterfinal exit in the 2011 World Cup in Germany will surely spark a fire under this team to show the world what they are truly capable of. Before that early exit, however, the Germans had won the previous two World Cups. Going into the tournament, Germany has won seven of their last nine matches and have outscored their opponents 21-10. There is no shortage of talent on their roster either as six players have registered at least 20 international goals, and I almost forgot to mention that the average age of this team is just over 24-years-old. This youth could be an advantage or the inexperience could cripple the team’s championship hopes. We may have to wait until the knockout stages to see them face a real test.
Player to Watch: Nadine Angerer
Ivory Coast: FIFA Ranking 67
This African team isn’t even ranked within the top 50 women’s teams in the world. Players on the team should look at this qualification as an accomplishment in itself as it is the first time their nation will compete for a World Cup. The only time that the Ivory Coast has managed to get past the group stage in an international tournament was in the 2014 CAF Women’s Championship where they finished third. Before that astounding third place finish, they had qualified for just one CAF Championship in the 11 previous installments of the tournament. We may see the Germans and Norwegians rest key members of their squad when coming up against their African opponents, but even then the gulf in class is just too much to overcome.
Player to Watch: Ines Nrehy
Norway: FIFA Ranking 11
The German team will be no stranger to the Norwegians when they face off on June 11th. Norway has finished as runners up to their German counterparts in two of the last three European Championships, and they are the last non-German team to have won the tournament when they reached the summit in 1993. In World Cup play, the Scandavian side haven’t made it to the finals since they won the tournament back in 1995, and they didn’t even make it out of the group stage in 2011. When Norway takes on Germany, it will be thing resembling anything close to a test to the Germans, and that may play to Norway’s advantage. This group is about as close as you can come to a two-team race, as Norway’s next closest competition comes from a 29th ranked team from Thailand. I fully expect the Norwegians to win six points from the group and comfortably take second place into the knockout rounds.
Player to Watch: Ada Hegerberg
Thailand: FIFA Ranking 29
It looks like it is going to be a race for third between Thailand and Ivory Coast in Group B. Just like the Ivory Coast, this will be the first time the Asian country will compete at the World Cup, but it may very well be a short lived debut. In the last 20 years, Thailand has been one of the more dominant teams amongst the smaller nations on the Asian continent, but the talent possessed by teams like Japan and China has overwhelmed them when it comes time to play the big teams. In the major Asian tournaments, Thailand’s best finish in the last 15 years was fifth place at the 2014 AFC Women’s Asian Cup, and a quarter-final exit during the 2014 Asian games. The matchup between the Thai and the Ivory Coast will give each of the teams their best shot at winning any points out of this top heavy group.
Player to Watch: Nisa Romyen
Germany and Norway advance, Germany wins group
In Group C, the current cup holders Japan will take on the Swiss, Cameroon and Ecuador.
Japan: FIFA Ranking 4
I think it’s fair to say that Japan’s triumph in the 2011 World Cup came as a shock to almost everybody. Before that tournament, Japan had failed to make it out of the group stages in four of the previous five tournaments and managed to win just three games in that span. The international success did not stop in Germany, Japan showed the world that their World Cup title wasn’t a fluke just a year later when they marched all the way to the Olympic finals in London. A rematch with the same American side didn’t go in Japan’s favor, however, but a silver medal finish is nothing to overlook. In the final tune-up tournament before the World Cup, the Algarve Cup, the cup holders failed to make it out of their group, but a string of two straight victories in the friendlies before the tournament should allay any fear of form Japanese fans might have. The closest competitor to Japan sits back in 19th in the rankings, so victory in the group should be expected for reigning champs.
Player to Watch: Yuki Ogimi
Switzerland: FIFA Ranking 19
Joining a long list of World Cup debutants in this year’s tournaments are the Swiss. This will be the neutral nation’s first ever competitive international tournament having failed to qualify not just for the last six World Cups, but also all 11 of the Women’s European Championships. Despite a lack of an international résumé, the Swiss dominated their World Cup Qualifying group winning nine of their ten games, and recording a +52 goal differential after allowing just one goal against throughout qualifying. Granted, the highest ranked team in their group was 15th ranked Denmark, and the likes of Malta (97th) and Israel (57th), the impressive record after ten games is still something to be impressed with. Through qualifying, the Swiss scored 53 goals, making for an average of just over five goals a match. Whenever you score that many goals it’s going to be hard to lose, but how will the inexperienced Swiss side deal with a team like Japan?
Player to Watch: Ramona Bachmann
Cameroon: FIFA Ranking 53
Stop me if I’ve said this before, but this year’s World Cup will be the first this team plays in the tournament. Joining an already long list of World Cup rookies, Cameroon face an uphill battle to make it past the group stages. In their last intercontinental tournament, the 2012 London Olympics, Cameroon lost all three games they played and scored just one goal while allowing 11. In African competition, however, the Cameroonian squad shines. In the last seven African Women’s Championship, Cameroon has never finished lower than fourth place, and has earned runners up honors twice, but never winning the tournament. Whether or not this consistent high-placing performance can be transferred over into a global competition is yet to be seen, and I personally don’t believe this World Cup will be one of success for the African nation.
Player to Watch: Madeleine Ngono
Ecuador: FIFA Ranking 48
Ecuador’s inclusion in Group C means that for three of the four teams, it will be their first ever World Cup. 2014 was a landmark year for this South American national team as they managed to fight their way to a third place finish in the 2014 Sudamericano Femenino, the best finish in the club’s history. Before the 2014 tournament, Ecuador had failed to advance past the first round since 1998. Even with this impressive finish in a difficult South American tournament, Ecuador are still yet to prove that they can play with the elites of women’s soccer. The massive 29-spot gap between Ecuador and the next highest team up in their group, Switzerland, show just how far the small nation has to go before they start challenging for titles.
Player to Watch: Ámber Torres
Japan dominates the group, Switzerland also advances.