2015 Women’s World Cup Preview

Since their unexpected fourth place finish in 2003, Canada have yet to come close to that mark again. On their home turf, they will be expected to lead the way in the group, led by perennial FIFA World Player nominee Christine Sinclair and defensive midfielder Desiree Scott. Newcomers Netherlands were a force in qualifying, thanks to the goal scoring of Vivianne Miedema. Their solid playmaking style with give them second place while China will come in third and make it through to the round of 16. To do this, they will have to build on their third place finish in last year’s Asian Cup that got them here. Don’t let New Zealand’s 30-0 qualifying goal ratio fool you. They were recently crushed by the USA in a friendly and that proves their form. If they leave with a win or even a point, their fans and families should be satisfied with that.

Stung by eventual champions Japan in their home country four years ago, Germany, heavy tournament favorites, will no doubt come out with a vengeance. A scary 62 goal total in qualifying, 11 of them coming from Anja Mittag, has the two-time winners well conditioned for a long run. Evan Pellerud returns to his home country who he managed to the World Championship in 1995. Norway’s golden years are long over, but an infusion of young players, led by Caroline Hansen who led the team with 8 goals in qualifying, look forward to jumpstarting the next generation. Debutants Cote d’Ivoire qualified for this tournament in highly unlikely fashion by coming in third in the African Women’s Championships and aren’t expected to make much of an impact. All three teams will take one look at Thailand and think to themselves, “What are they doing here?”

Defending Champions Japan are certainly not destiny’s darlings anymore. Their 2011 championship was followed by winning the 2014 Asian Cup, solidifying them as the continent’s premiere side. The one question they have is can Homare Sawa rebound from her injuries? If the six-time participant is hampered, Aya Miyama will pick up the burden and the depth and experience of the Nadeshiko will lead them to an easy group win. All the other teams are first timers and have low expectations, but one has to go through. That should be Switzerland. Lara Dickenmann, former Ohio State star, is the go-to girl for the Swiss who went 9-0-1 in qualifying, scored 53 goals and their lone concession was against Denmark. Ecuador needed a playoff with Trinidad and Tobago with only a 91st minute goal from Monica Quinteros in the last leg getting them through. Cameroon will no doubt have a tough time and will need Annette Ngo Ndom to make a difference.

The USWNT, Sweden and Nigeria have played in the same group in many prior Women’s World Cups and that alone will make all three teams very competitive in the Group of Death. Based on their showing in the send off series, the Americans have developed some depth and led by Abby Wambach and a resurgent Sydney Leroux and Julie Johnston, Canada’s neighbors to the south should top the group. Injuries to Alex Morgan are something to keep in mind, as Sweden will breathe down their necks. Team USA’s former coach Pia Sundhage leads a Swedish side that went undefeated in qualifying and allowed only one goal. They will look to Lotta Schelin to lift them to the knockout stage. Coming off another African Championship, Nigeria will need the help of Desire Oparanozie to lead them to the Round of 16. Australia will be the odd one out. The youthful Aussies simply aren’t experienced enough compared to the other teams.

There is a big weight on the shoulders of Brazil. They followed up a 2007 second place finish with a stunning exit to the USWNT in 2011. Marta very badly wants to win the Cup and she may feel this is her best chance. While Brazil will finish top of the group, the battle for second will be between experienced Korea and debutants Spain. Korea has yet to win in the World Cup, but they have the talent to get that elusive win including Ji So-yun. Spain will need the services of Celia Jimenez, striker at Alabama, and Veronica Boquette to go through. Costa Rica are a team in relative disarray as shown by a 6-0 thrashing handed to them by the USA and Amelia Valverde only took over a coach in January.

You could make the argument that this is another Group of Death this year. Third-ranked France cruised through qualifying undefeated led by GaĆ«tane Thiney’s 14 goals and are out to prove their 2011 fourth place finish wasn’t a fluke. Right behind them will be England who also breezed through qualifying unbeaten and untied. Leading them are forwards Eniola Aluko and Toni Duggan. The two teams open the group in New Brunswick and the tone will be set. France will top the group with England coming in second. The dark horse to make it out of this group is Colombia. Natalia Gaitan, who played collegiately at Toledo, will lead their defense and Yoreli Rincon will be relied on to score some goals. If Mexico are to have a chance to squeak by, they will need Maribel Dominguez and Charlyn Corral to step up, but with the team’s struggles lately, don’t count on it.

Two Central European countries making their first appearance at this stage is no contest as the Dutch pull off the upset in Edmonton. Dickenmann has to be a factor for the Swiss to make a good showing.

Alex Morgan will be healthy again and help lift the Americans to the quarterfinal round. Spain should take heart if they put up a good fight against the loaded Americans.

China are not the side they used to be and the inexperience of their current players will be a major issue as powerful Germany easily advance out of Ottawa.

Not satisfied with their fourth place finish in 2011, France make a big statement in blowing out Korea to get back to the round of eight. The crowd in Montreal won’t hurt either.

This is a tough one as both sides are well seasoned and are capable of going a long way. In the end, though, Brazil will squeak by on penalties.

Another close encounter between two defensive minded teams will have both countries’ fans holding their breath. Aya Miyama will make the difference and lead the holders on with a dramatic winning extra time goal.

England will give it a good shot, but it is doubtful they are able to overcome Norway. Evan Pellerud is an experienced champion coach and he knows the right buttons to push.

Behind feverish home support in Vancouver, Christine Sinclair and the Canadians will take their first step towards the crown and take care of Nigeria.

The USWNT has made the semifinal round in every single Women’s World Cup and thanks to Sydney Leroux, they will keep that perfect streak intact.

This one will come down to experience vs. willpower. The frightening game plan of Germany should be enough to crack the determination of France as they leave Montreal a happy bunch.

No strangers to close tense matches, the Japanese make yet another step towards an encore. Marta will be unhappy with yet another penalty kick result and wonder if her chance has passed.

The upset of the tournament sends a country into celebration as Canada shock their former coach and set up a date with the defending champions.

The ride ends here for the Americans as the Germans are well prepared to run the route to the final. Hope Solo will not be at fault as her opponents outplay her teammates.

With an entire country watching on Canada Day, Japan spoil the party as a clean sheet sends the Nadeshiko to their second successive championship match.

Left with no choice, the USWNT take their frustrations out on the home side to claim third place in a repeat result of 2003 when the USA beat Canada following a semifinal loss to Germany.

With a chip on their shoulder, Germany get sweet revenge and defeat Japan and leave Vancouver with their third World Cup title. On Japan’s way to winning the 2011 World Cup, their surprise 1-0 defeat of Germany in the quarterfinals sent shockwaves throughout the women’s game. After how their tournament ended four years ago, Anja Mittag scores two goals and makes sure Germany will not suffer the same fate as they add a 2015 star to the stars of 2003 and 2007.