We’re less than 100 days away from the kickoff of the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2015 and the excitement is building. The men put on a spectacular show in Brazil a year ago, and now it’s time for the ladies to take centre stage and dazzle us with some high quality footy.
There should be no shortage of thrilling contests this year, and I’m going to give you the rundown of the groups, as well as how I think things will turn out.
Predictions (from first to last in the group): Canada, China, the Netherlands, New Zealand.
The host nation’s hopes lie with captain Christine Sinclair. Her leadership will be put to the test leading a Canadian side that did not fare so well in Germany four years ago, finishing last in their group. Ranked a respectable ninth, they should be able to ride the home field advantage into the knockout stages. An impressive performance at the 2012 Olympics in London, earning a bronze medal, will be something they can draw on.
Thirteenth in the FIFA rankings, China qualified by finishing in the top four of the Asian Football Confederation Women’s Asian Cup. China didn’t qualify for the 2011 World Cup in Germany and will hope to bounce back in Canada. I could easily see them finishing second in this group.
Debutants to this year’s World Cup, the “leeuwinnen” (lionesses) are ready for action and could potentially make it as one of the four third-place teams advancing to the knockout stages. Many of the members of the Dutch national team play their trade in the Netherlands for the well-known club, AFC Ajax. The Dutch are a soccer-crazed nation, so don’t be surprised if they make a run.
The “Football Ferns,” New Zealand, have a fighting chance in this group. Ranked 18th in the world, they’re led by Amber Hearn, who’s netted the most goals for New Zealand in their international history. If she can nick a few goals for the ferns, watch out. If not, they will be out of luck.
Predictions: Germany, Norway, Ivory Coast, Thailand.
Led by FIFA Women’s Ballon d’Or winner Nadine Kessler, the Germans cruised through qualification and are ranked first in the world. Fresh off of a 2013 UEFA Women’s Euro Championship, the Germans are a heavy favourite in this tournament and hope to follow their male counterparts and win the World Cup this year.
World Cup winners in 1995, Norway is looking to bounce back from a disappointing 2011 tournament. Runners-up to Germany in the 2013 UEFA Women’s Euro Championship, they will be looking for revenge. Watch out for when the two clash in Ottawa on June 11.
Making their debut in this year’s tournament, Ivory Coast has a tough slog ahead of them. They are a fairly inexperienced side. Despite finishing third at the 2014 African Women’s Championship, they will have troubles against the European powerhouses in Group B.
Squeaking into this year’s World Cup by winning the playoff against Vietnam in the Asian qualifiers, Thailand won’t put up much of a fight in this group. Dominating the Southeast Asian Games against international minnows, Thailand’s first World Cup will be a tough go.
Predictions: Japan, Switzerland, Ecuador, Cameroon.
Current title holders Japan don’t look like they will be slowing down. After defeating the Americans four years ago on penalties, the Japanese could very well repeat last year’s outcome. Since the 2011 World Cup, Japan has captured silver at the 2012 Olympics and won the AFC Asian Cup in 2014.
“La Nati,” as they’re called in Switzerland, are making their World Cup debut in 2015. After winning their group in European qualification relatively easily, the Swiss are entering the world stage in good fettle. The Swiss have a potent offence, finishing with a 52-goal difference in qualifying.
South American side Ecuador is making their World Cup debut in a group full of rookies. They can only rely on the possible inexperience of the other sides if they have any hope of the knockout stages. I don’t see the 46th-ranked side making it as one of the top-third-place teams.
Ranked 52nd in the world, Cameroon will likely not make it out of the group stages. Along with the Swiss and Ecuador, the Cameroonians are making their World Cup debut. Being a very inexperienced side, they will hope to force a draw against Ecuador.
Predictions: USA, Australia, Sweden, Nigeria.
The Americans are strongly favoured in this year’s tournament. They’ve been placed in a tough group but I don’t think they will have much of a problem topping it. The stars and stripes, who finished second in 2011, are going to bounce back. They’re playing in North America, and with Hope Solo in between the sticks, the U.S. will be tough to break down.
The 10th-ranked Aussies will be wanting to better their performances in the last two World Cups, being knocked out in the quarter-finals in each. With an aging attack, look for 23-year-old Kyah Simon to make an impact for the Socceroos up front. Australia will have trouble against the U.S., but should finish second quite comfortably.
The “blueyellow” Swedes, who are ranked fifth in the World, could easily finish second in this group, but will qualify for the knockout stages as one of the top-third-place teams. The Swedes suffered one of their biggest losses to the U.S. in 2012, 4-0. This is going to be an interesting group.
On paper the weakest side in the group, 32nd-ranked Nigeria will have to rely on a miracle to overcome the powerhouses of the U.S., Sweden, and Australia. However, crazier things have happened. Nigeria has dominated the African Women’s Championship, winning nine of the 11 tournaments, and could surprise with strong defensive showings.
Predictions: Brazil, South Korea, Spain, Costa Rica.
The Brazilians are a favourite in any tournament they enter, simply because they have so many people who play soccer. They have won the last two Copa Américas, their most recent championship coming in 2014, and shouldn’t struggle too much to top this group.
Having not qualified for the last two World Cups, it might be a stretch to say that the South Koreans will make it to the knockout stages. They are ranked 17th in the world and will rely heavily on Ji So-Yun, who has nicked 28 goals.
Debutants Spain have little to no track record internationally, having finished seventh in the 2013 European championships, their best performance being a third-place finish in 1997. Ranked 15th in the world, the Spaniards will have a tough time in this group due to their inexperience, and won’t qualify for the knockout stages.
Also making their World Cup debut in Canada, the Costa Ricans have shown us before that they can play. The men made a miracle run a year ago in Brazil. The women will hope to emulate that performance. Finishing second in the CONCACAF Women’s Gold Cup, the Costa Ricans could potentially surprise us this year.
Predictions: France, England, Mexico, Colombia.
Finishing fourth in Germany four years ago, France, ranked third in the world, should take this group fairly easily. Marie-Laure Delie is the main cog in France’s attack, having netted 57 goals in 80 international appearances.
The country that brought the beautiful game to the World Cup, England is not a strong favourite to win this year’s tournament. However, they should qualify for the knockout stages. Fara Williams will lead the charge. She’s been an effective midfielder for the Three Lionesses, scoring 37 goals for the English.
Having not won an international tournament in recent years, the Mexicans will struggle to gain their footing in this group. If this 21st-ranked Mexican side can draw upon their success at the CONCACAF Women’s Gold Cup, they might have a shot at being one of the third-place teams to qualify.
The “coffee growers” made their debut four years ago in Germany, and will look to build on their experience. They didn’t win a game but drew 0-0 against North Korea. Many members of Colombia play in North America, which will help, but this South American side won’t make it to the knockout stages.