The Group of Death. Group D. Three of FIFA’s top 10 ranked nations grouped together.
This is, by far, the deepest group in the field. It is led by the star-power of the United States, but are followed closely by Pia Sundhage’s Swedish national team. Australia and Nigeria are not too far behind, and have the talent to make things dicey.
The expanded field opens up the possibility to get three through from the group, but if they beat on one another that becomes increasingly difficult.
Let’s check out how the skull and crossbones group looks.
FIFA Ranking: 10
The Matildas are young. An average age of just below 24. Do not let that fool you as they are talented.
Lisa De Vanna will be one of the veteran leaders on the squad. Caitlin Foord won Best Young Player at the 2011 Cup in Germany at just 16. Thanks in part to their club level careers, Australia has plenty of experience at the international level.
This will be their sixth trip to the World Cup, but they have failed to get past the quarter-finals. And it’s doubtful they can this year.
They will be competitive in their matches against the elite, but are ultimately outmatched. Still, the Matildas will have plenty of bright spots in Canada.
FIFA Ranking: 33
Nigeria is coming back for their seventh World Cup appearance. The African champions are here to put on a show.
20-year-old Asisat Oshoala will be the player to watch, and the one getting the most attention. She was a part of the 2011 Cup team, and has gotten better. She won the Golden Boot and Golden Ball at the U-20 World Cup in 2014. The Nigerian’s attacking style should see Oshoala get many chances to find the back of the net.
Defense and depth will be their issues. The size, experience, and physicality of the elite teams will also be a factor. They have a chance to advance, but this is no picnic.
FIFA Ranking: 5
Sundhage’s team is a true contender at this year’s World Cup. They have qualified for every World Cup, and topped their group in 2011 – edging out the United States.
Caroline Seger is the linchpin to the team. She is their best player, and she will determine how far this squad can go.
This is an experienced squad. They know their time is now, and they are being led by arguably the best women’s coach in the game. American fans likely recognize the name as she is their former head coach. Sundhage narrowly missed capturing the World Cup title in 2011, and has some Olympic gold to showcase as consolation.
Sweden has had mixed results against the elite clubs, but show the ability to defeat anyone. Consistency must be maintained in Canada.
FIFA Ranking: 2
It goes without saying the U.S. are one of the favorites to win in Canada. They are a star-studded team seeking redemption. This is the only thing that matters to them.
They are one of the most experienced squads in the field, and are coming off winning the Algarve Cup. No reigning Algarve Cup victor as ever gone on to win the World Cup in the same year, but is that really indicative of anything? Likely not.
Even with an more experienced club the U.S. still brings in fresh legs. Morgan Brian and Christen Press are the future of this team. They will see the pitch during this Cup.
The 91 and 99 champions want to add the third star, and they have the best keeper in the world to help them in Hope Solo. Goals can come from anyone and everyone on the roster. It is loaded with talent. They will come out of this group, but where will be the question.
During the men’s World Cup we often talk about where the Cup is taking place, and how travel effects teams. This isn’t often brought up for the women, but it should. The United States essentially gets a home Cup while the other three nations will have a lot of travel to do.
I do think that could have a small effect on group play, and be just enough to get the U.S. by Sweden to top the group.
The U.S. will win all three matches to take nine points, and Sweden wins two for six. Can Australia or Nigeria breakthrough? Yes.
I have Australia winning their match against Nigeria to advance. Nigeria’s offensive prowess will be a big obstacle, but Australia is more well-rounded throughout, and that is the ultimate difference. Group D will get three through in spite of it being the Group of Death. Expect big things from the top two.