BY: Grant Fisken
A year on from Suarez’s bite, Brazil’s not so magnificent seven and Götze’s goal, it is time for the female game to enter the spotlight as the 2015 World Cup gets underway in Edmonton, AB, Canada, on Saturday. The growing stature of women’s football has seen the tournament expanded to 24 teams for the first time, with eight countries making their World Cup debut.
Hosts Canada have been given a relatively kind draw in Group A, with New Zealand, China and Netherlands. The Canadians will be looking to build on their bronze medal at the 2012 Olympic Games, where Christine Sinclair finished as leading scorer. Only one host nation has won the World Cup (United States in 1999), but with the support of the home crowd behind them Canada will be hopeful of at least matching their run to the semifinal in 2003.
There will be a repeat of the 2013 European Championships final in Group B when Germany and Norway meet on 11 June. On that occasion the Germans ran out 1-0 winners with goalkeeper Nadine Angerer saving two penalties. Debutants Thailand and Ivory Coast (at 67ththe lowest ranked team in the tournament) are not expected to give their European opponents too many problems.
Group C is the only one to feature three World Cup debutants. Cameroon, Ecuador and Switzerland are joined by holders Japan. Homare Sawa, the winner of the Golden Ball and Golden Boot at the 2011 tournament, is one of two women who could play in a record sixth World Cup (also Brazil’s Formiga). Ecuador’s opening match against Cameroon on 8 June will be particularly notable for Vanessa Arauz. At 26 years and 123 days old she will become the youngest head coach in the history of any World Cup (men’s and women’s). The Ecuadorian will break the previous record by seven months, held by Felipe Pascucci who took charge of the Argentina men’s team at the 1934 World Cup in Italy.
Despite the increased number of teams this year, United States, Sweden and Nigeria have been drawn in the same group for the third time in the last four tournaments. The US are favourites for the event (as low as 11/4 in places), and have never finished lower than third in a World Cup. They will be looking forward to 12 June when they will face Sweden and former coach Pia Sundhage, who led the United States to Olympic gold medals in 2008 and 2012. Australia make up Group D.
Brazil will expect a safe passage from Group E against Korea, Spain and Costa Rica who have one World Cup appearance between them (Korea in 2003). The 2007 finalists will again look to Marta for inspiration. The five-time World Player of the Year is the joint-leading all-time World Cup goalscorer with Birgit Prinz (14).
France and England will meet in the opening match of Group F, a repeat of the 2011 quarterfinal when the French progressed on penalties. Both countries will expect to progress to the knockout stage again ahead of Mexico and Colombia who have both never won a match at the World Cup.