Women’s World Cup – France 2019
The 2019 Women’s World Cup begins Friday June 7th with host nation France playing the Korea Republic. This WC will be played by 24 nations split into six four-team groups. To reach the knockout stage the top two teams from each group advance as well as the top third place teams from 4 of the 6 groups. This format enables teams that suffer a major upset in the group stage to regroup and still have a shot at the championship. However, this benefit is not near as important as it is in the Men’s World Cup. The woman’s game has made tremendous strides since the inaugural WC in 1991 in China. There have been a total of 7 WC’s in that time frame with only the United States (3) and Germany (2) having multiple titles with Japan and Norway each having won once. But the reality is that there are only a handful of teams that have any realistic shot at winning. The talent disparity between the top handful of teams and the rest is a fairly large gap. If you look at the biggest upsets in history of the tournament the names you see are still fairly well known in women’s soccer. With perhaps only North Korea being the one team being thought of as a somewhat weaker team.
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So while they still have to play the matches don’t look for any major surprises in this WC. It will happen, and probably not in the too distant future, but probably not quite yet. So lets take a look at the 6 groups and what we can expect. Note that the sides are shown with their current FIFA rankings.
The host nation group features France (4),Norway (12), Korea Republic (14), and Nigeria (38). This group is one of the more difficult groups with three teams in the current top 15 and a Nigerian side that has historically shown its ability to pull off upsets. This may well be the “group of death” and nobody can say anything about a fix being in for the hosts! France enters the tournament as one of the top teams in the world……and they are at home which is always a big boost in the WC. France should advance and I expect them to win the group. Norway and the Korea Republic should battle it out for second and both could advance if they both beat Nigeria. Nigeria is the long shot to advance. The problem trying to advance as a third place team out of a hard group is finding enough points compared to teams in weaker groups.
One of the big keys for France will be the play of Amandine Henry, one of the best midfielders in the world. As she goes so should Les Bleus.
This group starts with Germany (2) looking to equal the Unites States tally of 3 WC championships. They are joined by Spain (13), China (16), and South Africa (49). Starting from the bottom of this group don’t look for South Africa to make much noise, in fact they likely lose all three matches. At the top you have to expect Germany to advance and probably win the group outright leaving Spain and China to fight for second and perhaps one of the four 3rd place advancement slots. Again though in this tough group the question will be can the third place team find a way to earn enough points?
Germany has a number of players who they will feature. But no one will be more important than midfielder and team captain Dzsenifer Marozsan.
Another interesting and challenging group with Australia (6), Brazil (10), Italy (15), and Jamaica (53). Like Group B this one has three teams all capable of winning the group and a lesser team in Jamaica. Jamaica can run…. a lot…so that can provide some challenges for teams that tend to overlook them. But at the end of the day they just don’t have the talent level to do much. Australia plays a wonderful attacking style led by one of the top forwards in the world in Sam Kerr. Kerr led the National Woman’s Soccer League (NWSL) in goal scoring in 2018. Then there is Brazil and the question for them the last handful of years (just like their male counterparts) you just wonder which team shows up. They have a load of talent but they can be frustrated and fall into a cheap tackling side. They are lead by superstar, Marta, but at 32 you have to wonder how much she has left in the tank having only scored 4 times in last seasons NWSL. Still they are Brazil and suspect them to move on with Italy also having a shot to move on either in second or third.
Beyond the three favorites (US, France, and Germany) this group features a team that needs to be watched closely. England’s (3) Three Lionesses as a strong side having most recently won the She Believes Cup here in the States. They are a well balanced side capable of beating anybody in the world. One of my favorite groups is rounded out by Japan (7), Scotland (20), and Argentina (37). Clearly England and Japan are the favorites to advance but both Scotland and Argentina are good enough teams to pull off some minor upsets and move forward.
The key for England will be its stout defense led by Lucy Bronze. If they continue to hold teams attacks in check they could go deep into the tournament.
Another tough with three good sides and a capable team at the bottom. Canada (5), Netherlands (8, New Zealand (19), and Camerron (46) will play some entertaining matches. Based on current form look for the Netherlands to win the group followed by Canada or perhaps New Zealand. Cameroon may cause enough trouble to keep the third place team low enough in points to get sent home. And if Cameroon has some bounces their way they have an outside chance of advancing.
The Netherlands is led by one of the top strikers in the world in Lieke Martens. When she scores, which she does often, they do well. Martens goal scoring resulted in the Netherlands to the Euro 2017 title. Look for them to build on that as they try for their first Women’s WC trophy.
Simply put the US got a great draw. It would be nothing short of the biggest shock in WC history if they didn’t advance. They are currently the #1 FIFA ranked team in the world and they are not overrated. They are joined by Sweden (9), Thailand (34), and Chile (39). The question for this group isn’t who will advance but who wins and who takes second. The US is the better side but the Swede’s have a history of rising to their very best when they play us. The way the brackets are set up if both the US and Sweden advance they would not face each other again until a potential rematch in the final. The one downside to the draw for this group is that they will get a second place team from either Group B or E. The other unfortunate way the brackets set up is the if the group winner wins their first knockout match then likely get France. If France wins Group A their first knockout match will be a third place team so they likely move forward. So as it stands right now I think the US meets France in the quarterfinals on June 28. Hey you gotta play them sometime.
So there’s a look at the groups and who is likely to advance. Based upon the group draws and the brackets its hard to figure that any team not named the United States, Germany, France, and England are in current form to win it all. Then there are the second tier teams that could make some noise in the Netherlands and Japan. But I am calling it now. The United States should add star #4 to their kit!
Lets take a bit deeper look at the US squad and why they are and should be the favorites.
While they have three keepers on the roster (Adrianna Franch, Ashlyn Harris, and Alyssa Naeher) expect Naeher to get the most minutes. She is very good with both her hands and her feet and in the way the game is played today (reliance on keepers to distribute the ball to begin attacks) that is very important. The one downside to this group is that they just do not have much experience at international tournaments. Following in the likes of Brianna Scurry and Hope Solo are big shoes to fill but I think Naeher is up to it and in fact I think she will prove to be better than Scurry.
Abby Dahlkemper, Tierna Davidson Crystal Dunn, Ali Krieger, Kelley O’Hara, Becky Sauerbrunn, and Emily Sonnett will provide the back four in the typical US formation. The key here is that they communicate well with the keepers and midfielders to ensure attacking players are properly covered and that they maintain shape. The key will be to maintain discipline and not give opponents dangerous free kicks. If the US has had a weakness in the last handful of years it has been their propensity to allow goals on set pieces. When they allow so few goals its a bit of a nit to pick at this area but they should tighten things up for the WC. And no doubt that team manager Jill Ellis has them watching lots of film and working on this in their training sessions.
Watch for Dunn making runs from the back down the wings. Her speed can really wreck havoc with opposing defenses and she loves to link up with Alex Morgan.
The midfield is comprised of Morgan Brian, Julie Ertz, Lindsey Horan, Rose Lavelle, Allie Long, and Samantha Mewis. There are a number of keys to the US midfield. Ertz is a strong physical player who is best breaking up opponents possession and providing coverage for the back line. Horan and Lavelle will play the attacking midfield roles. They can hold the ball in traffic. They can pass. And they provide good pressure when the other side has the ball. There is a lot to like about this group of players.
Probably the deepest set of forwards in the entire tournament. Tobin Heath, Carli Lloyd, Jessica McDonald, Alex Morgan, Christen Press, Mallory Pugh, and Megan Rapinoe are all very talented and capable of top play at the international level. In the recent send off series against Mexico they brought on Lloyd, Pugh, and Press at halftime. Subbed the entire forward line. With three forwards who would likely start on ANY other team in the world.
While things have not been perfect for the ladies, they still struggle at times to breakdown teams that bunker, they are still the most talented, most experienced, and deepest side in the tournament. One of the big hurdles in a long tournament is the ability to overcome any injuries and keep players rested. Given the roster and draw the ladies have Ellis should be able to rotate a fair number of players, especially in the final group stage match. This will ensure a fit and rested team for their first knockout stage match and even more importantly their second knockout match against what could turn out to be France. Oh but lets not get ahead of things. Their likely opponent in the first knockout stage match? Spain or Germany. So while we got a great group draw we got a very difficult knockout stage pairing. Its almost unfortunate in that taking second place in the group could actually be an advantage.
Here’s how I see the starting XI. But remember that they play a very fluid formation especially with the outside midfielders and forwards. They will interchange on the fly and this gets them into space and open.
So there you have it. An easy group and a tough knockout setup. But we have the talent. We have the depth. Now let go ladies make it happen. Star #4 is yours for the taking!!!
Steve is an avid fan of all things soccer and the O's. Originally from the west, he grew up in the Baltimore area. He returned to the west for college where he earned a BS degree in Chemical Engineering from Montana State University and spent 36 years working at the Idaho National Laboratory prior to retiring in 2013. It was during his school years in Baltimore where he learned to play soccer and that developed into a life long passion. He played competitively for over 40 years and was a four year starting goalkeeper at MSU. He also coached and refereed in the Idaho premier soccer and High School programs for many years.