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Preview: Women's World Cup

Jonathan Kendrick |
June 25, 2011 | 5:19 p.m. PDT

Staff Writer

Hope Solo will need saves like this to help to the U.S. advance. (J Rosenfeld via Creative Commons)
Hope Solo will need saves like this to help to the U.S. advance. (J Rosenfeld via Creative Commons)
It’s been nearly 12 years since the United States women’s soccer team won the World Cup, when Mia Hamm and co. captured the hearts of the American public on the way to a penalty-kick shootout victory over China in the final at the Rose Bowl—punctuated by Brandi Chastain’s famous sports-bra-revealing celebration.

The last two World Cups haven’t brought the same cause for celebration for the U.S. Two successive blowout losses at the semifinal stage of the competition—3-0 to Germany in 2003 and 4-0 to Brazil in 2007—knocked the Americans from their pedestal as the world’s best.

Despite winning gold at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and holding the No. 1 ranking in the world, the Americans aren’t entering the tournament as favorites. That distinction goes to the Germans, who have won the last two World Cups and will be playing on home soil.

The sixth edition of the tournament gets underway Sunday, with France and Nigeria squaring off in Sinsheim before an expected crowd of 80,000 piles in to the Olympic Stadium in Berlin to watch the host Germans take on Canada.

A breakdown of the four groups, with the top two from each section advancing to the quarterfinals (world rankings in parentheses):

Group A: Germany (2), Canada (6), France (7), Nigeria (27)

German captain Birgit Prinz has announced that she plans to retire following the World Cup, ending what has been a legendary career. The forward has scored a record 128 goals for her country, and her 14 all-time World Cup goals make her the highest scorer in tournament history. Prinz won’t be alone in the attack—long time strike partner Inka Grings and 23-year-old attacking midfielder Fatmire Bajramaj also make opposing defenders quiver in their boots.

Canada, France and Nigeria will be playing for second place in the group. The Canadians made the quarterfinals in the 2008 Olympics and are led by captain Christine Sinclair. The University of Portland alum has scored 116 career international goals. The French are making only their second appearance in the World Cup, following a group stage exit in 2003. Nearly half of France’s squad (10 of the 21 players) plays club soccer for Olympique Lyonnais Feminin, which last month won the 2011 UEFA Women’s Champions League. Camille Abily, the 26-year-old midfielder formerly of the Los Angeles Sol, is one to watch.

Nigeria, the eight-time African champion, has qualified for all six World Cups but has yet to make it past the quarterfinal stage. The 35-year-old Perpetua Nkwocha led the team with 11 goals in qualifying.

Predicted Order of Finish: Germany, Canada, France, Nigeria 

Group B: Japan (4), England (10), Mexico (22), New Zealand (24)

Group B is devoid of any of the competition’s favorites (Germany, Brazil and the U.S.), but isn’t lacking intrigue or upset potential. Both England and Mexico have beaten the United States in the last year and Japan made the semifinals at the 2008 Olympics. Midfielder Homare Sawa, who plays her club soccer for the Washington Freedom, has scored 75 goals in a Japan shirt and captains her team. The Boston Breakers’ Kelly Smith has 43 goals for England and was named the third best player in the world in 2009 by FIFA. Mexico’s Maribel Dominguez, who signed for a men’s club team in Mexico in 2004 but was forbidden from playing by FIFA, has scored 67 goals for her country. New Zealand has yet to earn a point in two previous World Cups, but has won back-to-back Oceania region championships for the first time in the team’s history.  

Predicted Order of Finish: England, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand

Group C: United States (1), Sweden (5), North Korea (8), Colombia (31)

The Americans have a strong veteran presence with six players who have more than 100 caps for the national team: defenders Heather Mitts and Christie Rampone, midfielders Shannon Boxx, Heather O’Reilly and Carli Lloyd and forward Abby Wambach. Wambach, with 118 career goals, will lead the forward line with former USC star Amy Rodriguez and 21-year-old prodigy Alex Morgan. Outspoken goalkeeper Hope Solo, one of the best in the world at her position, will have to play at a high level if the United States is to knock off Brazil and Germany.

The United States has one of the tougher draws in the opening stage, having been grouped with Sweden and North Korea in a near repeat of the first round of the 2007 World Cup. First up for the Americans is a Tuesday match against North Korea in Dresden. The North Koreans played the United States to a 2-2 draw in the opening match of the 2007 World Cup and qualified for the knockout stage over Sweden on goal differential. With an average age of 20, North Korea has the youngest team in the tournament and features many of the players from its back-to-back appearances in the under-20 FIFA Women’s World Cup in 2006 and 2008.

The United States then takes on World Cup debutants Colombia on July 2 in Sinsheim. The Colombians play an exciting style of soccer and are led by 17-year-old phenom Yoreli Rincón, but lack the experience and depth to seriously challenge for a quarterfinals berth. 

July 6 in Wolfsburg the United States will take on old foe Sweden, whom it has beaten in all three previous World Cup matches. The Swedes crashed out in the group stage at the last World Cup and fell in the quarterfinals of the 2009 UEFA Women’s European Championships. Still, the 2003 World Cup runners-up feature a talented squad, including 27-year-old striker Charlotta Schelin.

The United States need to finish in the top spot in the group to avoid what would be a likely matchup with fellow favorites Brazil in the quarterfinals.

Predicted Order of Finish: United States, North Korea, Sweden, Colombia

Group D: Brazil (3), Norway (9), Australia (11), Equatorial Guinea (61)

Brazilian superstar Marta. (J. Rosenfeld via Creative Commons)
Brazilian superstar Marta. (J. Rosenfeld via Creative Commons)
Any discussion about women’s soccer in Brazil begins and ends with Marta, the reigning five-time FIFA World Player of the Year. The 25-year-old has scored 76 goals in only 69 games for her country and dazzles fans with her deft touch and playmaking ability. The 26-year-old Cristiane (31 goals for Brazil) joins Marta to give the Samba Queens the world’s most fearsome attack. The defense isn’t as strong but won’t likely be seriously tested until the quarterfinals. The Brazilians have yet to win a major world trophy but finished in second place at the 2004 and 2008 Olympics and the 2007 World Cup.

Norway won the World Cup in 1995 but hasn’t been back to the final since. They did finish fourth in the 2007 World Cup, beating Canada and China along the way. Veteran midfielder Solveig Gulbradsen and 20-year-old forward Cecilie Pedersen highlight the Norwegians’ squad. Norway drew with Australia 1-1 in their opening round match in the 2007 World Cup.

The Australian roster features five teenagers, including highly touted 17-year-old midfielder Samantha Kerr. Striker Lisa De Vanna, at 26 the third-oldest player on the team, will be relied upon to score goals. Their quarterfinals appearance in the 2007 World Cup was the Australian’s most successful run in the tournament to date.

Equatorial Guinea will be making its debut in the World Cup following a surprise second place finish in African qualifying. The 22-year-old Geneoveva Anonma, who made her international debut at age 13, was recently purchased by German champions Turbine Potsdam and will look to add to her total of 15 career goals for her country. Equatorial Guinea recently dropped sisters Salimata and Bilguisa Simpore from its squad in response to allegations that the two are actually men. With that distraction and a lack of talent, it will be a surprise if Equatorial Guinea manages a point in the tournament.

Predicted Order of Finish: Brazil, Norway, Australia, Equatorial Guinea

Knockout Stage Predictions

Quarterfinals: Germany over Japan, United States over Norway, Brazil over Sweden, Canada over England

Semifinals: Germany over Canada, United States over Brazil

Final: Germany over United States


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