With the Women’s World Cup set to kick off in France on Friday, 24 teams from six confederations will compete to hoist the Cup trophy on July 7. While some teams appear to be clear favorites to go deep into the competition, others have storylines that are as unique as the teams themselves. Let’s take a closer look at a few of these teams and what makes them so special.
Determination Watch (Jamaica)
The Reggae Girlz, ranked 53rd in the world (and last in the tournament), have already made history just by being the first Caribbean team to qualify for Cup play. With no funds available from the cash-strapped government, the team was disbanded eight years ago. But with funding from Bob Marley’s daughter Cedella and a math teacher who is coaching the team without taking a salary, the Girlz have beaten the odds and advanced to Cup competition. Playing in Group C against stronger teams (Italy, Brazil and Australia), the Reggae Girlz have a tough job ahead if they are to advance beyond the group stage of the tournament. But this group has defied the odds to get this far, and they believe with determination and hard work anything is possible.
Potential Dark Horse (Australia): While the Matildas have every reason to believe that this is their year to win the Cup, they are considered by most unlikely to do so. The team is a blend of veterans and youth, with 12 players having at least 50 caps coming into the tournament. Ellie Carpenter is still a teenager yet has played six domestic seasons in Australia and the United States, while veteran Lisa De Vanna is participating in her fourth Cup competition. Somewhere in the middle is the four-time Golden Boot winner Sam Kerr, who is the all-time leading goal scorer in the NWSL and the W-League at the age of 25. While much has been made about the sacking of coach Alen Stajcic in January, he has been ably replaced by Ante Milicic. But having beaten the United States in April (albeit in a friendly) this is a squad that should not be overlooked.
Biggest Possible Disappointment (Brazil)
Past World Cups have had Brazil among the best teams, although they have never won it all and were last runners-up in 2007. While they have been comprised of talented women on the pitch, their play has diminished in recent years and it appears that 2019 will be no exception. Their veteran star Marta is just returning from injury but at age 34 is not expected to be the dominant player she once was, and at age 41, Formiga will be playing in her 7th World Cup. The defense has suffered since the injury to Rafaelle, and her replacement, Erika, has had difficulty filling her boots. Also missing will be 22-year-old Adriana, out with a serious knee injury. Since winning the Copa America in April 2018, the Canarinhas have won just once in their last 11 matches. Playing in Group C against Italy, Australia and Jamaica, Brazil might make in out of the group stage in 3rd place but should not be expected to go any deeper into the tournament.
Team Facing Most Pressure (France)
As the host country, there is always a great deal of pressure placed upon that team to win. After all, they are generally placed in a weaker group to allow them to advance beyond the group stage and deep into the tournament. With Les Bleus competing in Group A (along with Norway, South Korea and Nigeria), they are believed to be just below the United States as favorites in the competition. Of course, they must win seven games to lift the Cup and the competition (and local expectations) rise as the tournament progresses. To be fair, this is a very talented French squad. Captained by midfielder Amandine Henry and paired with fellow midfield veteran Elise Bussaglia, they will rely on winger Delphine Cascarino for offensive firepower. At age 22, she is expected to provide speed and ruthlessness in front of the opponents’ goals. The coach of Les Bleus, Corinne Diacre, was herself a former captain of the French national team and has been at the helm since September 2017. Under her leadership, the team has lost only twice in 21 matches. But with so much expected of this team on home soil, anything less than a win in the final game will considered a failure by the home crowd.
Favorite To Win It All Is Favored For Good Reason (United States)
While winning the most World Cups (three), the United States is the current title holder of the Cup. They are the topped ranked team in the FIFA rankings, and for good reason. Blending a mix of youth and veterans, they have been led by England-born head coach Jill Ellis since 2014 and won the World Cup a year later. What makes this team so special, though, is its depth at all positions. Coach Ellis has chosen 23 players she feels can be relied upon when called on, minimizing the effects of injuries or fatigue to her starting eleven. With some of the squad expected to announce their retirement after the tournament (Carli Lloyd, Ali Krieger, Megan Sauerbrunn), look for the United States to play to its potential and beyond and retain the Cup in 2019.