The World Cup is drawing near, and it sports the largest field in Women’s World Cup history. 24 nations will send squads to Canada to compete for the biggest prize in the sport.
We begin by taking a look at the first group. Group A is bolstered by the host nation – Canada. The 2015 tournament will be Canada’s sixth appearance on the grand stage. This will also be China’s sixth appearance after missing the 2011 Cup in Germany. New Zealand has qualified for their fourth Cup, and the Netherlands make their first every appearance on the stage.
Without further ado, this is your look at Group A.
FIFA Ranking: 8
Canada is in great position to advance past the group stage. They are an experienced team with a lot of chemistry, and one of the few nations who possess raw physicality. Christine Sinclair is the star of the team without question, and the prolific goal scorer will find the back of the net numerous times in the group stage.
If you are searching for a new name to watch then keep an eye on 19-year-old Kadeisha Buchanan. The youngster has shined in her brief time on the backline. And she is not the youngest member of Team Canada. That distinction belongs to 17-year-old Jessie Fleming.
The home team will put forth a quality showing this year, but will not likely be a significant threat to take the ultimate prize. Even so, they have a favorable draw in their group.
FIFA Ranking: 16
This is a young team. The average age is 24.7-years-old. That would lead one to believe they’ll struggle, but don’t count them out. This group has played together for three years, and have come together as a group.
They have had draws against the U.S. and Brazil, but also have suffered losses to Brazil, Canada, Germany, and Sweden. They are battled tested against the elite teams.
China PR will keep most of their games to a low score with a defensive style of play. They have the ability to play the role of spoiler, but will most likely falter. This is a team to watch moving forward to the 2016 Olympic Games and the 2019 World Cup, but in Canada they will fall.
FIFA Ranking: 17
New Zealand has never advanced past the group stage, but 2015 could be their breakthrough. Assisted by talented players such as Ali Riley and Hannah Wilkinson, New Zealand has a chance to beat everyone in this group.
That is an unlikely result, but the talent is there. The expectations for the Football Ferns is relatively low, and that puts them in a position to surprise many.
The Football Ferns advanced to the quarter-finals at the 2012 Olympics by defeating Cameroon, but was quickly ousted by the United States. If they escape Group A they’ll most likely be quickly ousted again in the knockout rounds.
FIFA Ranking: 12
The Netherlands are the second-highest ranked nation in this group, but this is their first appearance at the World Cup.
It’s a youthful roster, and its star player is only 18. Vivianne Miedema. The Bayern Munich striker already has 19 international goals to her credit. This may be the nation with the most questions surrounding it for the mere fact they have not been playing the best nations like the other three in this group. This will be a quality test for the team.
There is no pressure on the Netherlands, and they can use this as their coming out party as a growing women’s soccer nation. The young talent will be put on a huge platform, and this will help them moving forward. Advancing out of the group would be a big accomplishment for the Dutch.
I think you can slot the Canadians in the round of 16 as the winner of Group A. They may be able to run the table in this group, but at worst they’ll come out with seven points. Canada advances to take on one of the third-place squads in the round of 16.
In a surprise, I have the Netherlands coming out as the second-place team. I believe they will squeak past New Zealand out of the gate, and then draw with China in their second match. With four points they will be in the cat bird’s seat. They will meet the runner-up of Group C.
Will any Group A team be able to nab one of the third-place slots? No. Four other teams will be able to get enough points to keep a third Group A team out of the knockout rounds. It will be Canada and the Netherlands moving on.