Women’s World Cup Preview
By Tony DiCicco
The first question I’m usually asked about the World Cup is what are the USA chances and who else are favorites?
In my opinion, the U.S. can certainly win the World Cup, but it’s difficult to classify the FIFA #1 ranked team as THE FAVORITE, because there are two other teams that I feel may also have a good chance of winning. I categorize these three favorites as Tier 1 teams.
There are also another group of teams in Tier 2, and if any of these teams have a “blinder” of a tournament, they are capable of winning. But without an exceptional tournament I don’t think it’s likely.
Tier 3 has good teams that will have a better-than-ever chance of getting to the quarterfinals and maybe even the semi-finals and will be good for a few exciting upsets and more than a few great matches, but in the final analysis won’t have the pedigree to take home the prize.
And, of course, there is a Tier 4, which will be made up of teams that are just emerging. This experience and a decent showing will help them to continue to evolve women’s football in their respective countries.
Make no mistake about it: This World Cup will rival the spectacle and attendance of the 1999 World Cup in America, which is still considered the greatest women’s sporting event in history. The German National team can be buoyed by the wonderful attendance and support they will receive OR they can feel the pressure, as my USA team did in 1999 to make the event special. If they can deal with the pressure, they will come out okay, but sometimes the pressure and expectation of winning gold can have a negative effect on a team.
Time will tell, but in my opinion, ONLY one of these three teams can leave Germany with the top prize. The reason is star power. USA has Wambach and Solo, a strong core down the center and a young star in Alex Morgan. Brazil has Marta, and she simply makes teams better. But she has very solid players around her like Formiga; Christiane; Elena and others. Germany with Prinz and Griggs up top and Bresonik and Garefrekas in the midfield; Angerer in goal and a core of other excellent footballers are preparing in residency after a shortened league season with one objective in mind and that is to “three-peat”.
There are three teams in Tier 2 in my opinion. They are close to the USA; Brazil and Germany but lack, in most cases, two things: top depth at key positions and the winning tradition and big game experience that the other 3 teams have.
My Tier 2 teams are (no particular order) Canada, who, at this stage, is very confident and with world class players like Christine Sinclair, and young stars like Filigno and Schmidt are capable of beating anyone. Second is North Korea that has a generation of FIFA champions from the 2006 U20 World Cup in Russia and the 2008 U17 World Cup in New Zealand. They will be fit; technical and always play with a chip on their shoulder. They will need to open with a good result against the USA. That combined with more good play may carry them to the end of the tournament… but I don’t think they are quite ready yet.
The third team is Japan. Japan has been leading Asia in player development, where soccer is now a BIG sport. They are athletic, technical, smart, fit and they now score goals. They have players like Sawa; Miyama; Ohno and Yamaguchi. They only are missing one key ingredient – a world-class goalkeeper. Therefore, I just don’t see them winning.
Some of these teams will be consistent performers in the women’s game for many years and others are emerging as dangerous teams that are well-coached with a core of talent, so they will not be easy matches. One of these teams is England, who has made excellent strides in recent years and won the Silver Medal in the 2009 European Championship. England has one of the best players in the world in Kelly Smith, an exceptional right back in Alex Scott and a young tenacious forward in Faye White. However, England will need a lot of help to make a run at the podium; I just don’t think they are good enough defensively.
Sweden is another experienced team with excellent players like Sogran and Segar. I see them going deep but not a winning contender in my mind. France can certainly make some waves and ruin Canada’s tournament in Group A with players like Abily, Thiney and youthful players like Le Somner, Necib and Delie, but I don’t see them as Gold Medalists.
Australia has done a wonderful job with player development, and now some of these young players are emerging. They may send their best team ever to this World Cup in Germany. Veterans like de Vanna, Cunningham and Munoz will anchor some young talent, but the recent loss of Gill to an ACL could prove to be a major factor. Then there is Norway, which is a solid and proud team but with a rash of injuries to players like Stendsland; Ronning and Herlovsen, will not come anywhere close to their great team of 1995, which won the World Cup Gold Medal.
Nigeria, because of their athletic dimension and also their individual abilities with players like Nkwocha; Dede; Ohale; Chikwelu are always a dangerous team but their lack of support from their federation; lack of discipline and lack of top tune-up matches will keep them off the podium.
Tier 4 has a mix of some first-time participants, and some multiple-time participants, to the FIFA Women’s World Cup. Some of these teams will benefit tremendously and may even start to make a strong statement in women’s football around the world, but I don’t believe they will be successful and likely won’t get to the second round in 2011.
Among these Tier 4 teams is Mexico, who beat the USA in qualifying, has a veteran player in Dominguez and young players like Rangel Robles, Corral and Garcia. In the end, however, they need more experience and more depth.
The remainder of Tier 4 includes New Zealand, a good young team with players like Ali Riley, Yallop and Hearn. The final two teams are first-timers to a FIFA Women’s World Cup: Equatorial Guinea and Columbia, who I think, if they can get out of their group, would make a major World Cup story.
Here are my predictions coming out of each group:
- Group A – Germany and Canada, but neither the French nor the Nigerians will provide easy passage.
- Group B – Japan and England, with Mexico and New Zealand creating challenges but not enough firepower to get through.
- Group C – USA and North Korea, but watch out for the Swedes - they may prove me wrong, especially playing in Europe. Columbia will be better than expected but will struggle against the other three.
- Group D – Brazil and Australia. Norway has too many injuries and too many questions. Equatorial Guinea will compete well but will go home after group play.
Enjoy the teams, the matches and the wonderful sporting spectacle that Germany will show this summer.