The best soccer players in world football begin a quest for the Women’s World Cup when host nation Canada take the field against People’s Republic of China in a Group A match at Edmonton’s Commonwealth Stadium this evening. The other teams in Group A, New Zealand and Holland, take the field afterwards to conclude what should be an exciting double-header.
This will be the seventh edition of the Women’s World Cup, but this year’s tournament will feature 24 countries for the very first time, up from the 16 that contested the last Women’s World Cup in Germany four years ago. Of course, the first two Women’s World Cup, held in China in 1991 and Sweden in 1995, featured just 12 countries, and the number of countries involved had only gone up to 16 when the United States hosted in 1999.
This means there will be six groups of four teams this time, with the top two countries proceeding to the second round, along with the four best third-placed teams. Hosts Canada, who impressed under coach John Herdman at the Olympics in 2012, will expect to come out on top in Group A and led by the supremely gifted Christine Sinclair — 222 caps 153 goals — they’ll be hoping to go all the way in front of their home fans. China have pedigree in this competition and will present their biggest challenge but after missing out on both the last Women’s World Cup and the Olympics, they are a team in transition and definitely a long way off from their strong team of the 1990s.
Two-time champions Germany headline Group B, playing in Ottawa, the nation’s capital, and they’ll be hungry to retake the Women’s World Cup after winning in 2003 and 2007 but failing to defend their title at home four years ago. They’ll be without injured FIFA World Player of the year Nadine Kessler but still carry enough experience and skill to make an impact. They’ll be challenged in Group B by another former Women’s World Cup winner, Norway — who won in 1995 — and two countries making their first finals appearance, Thailand, and Ivory Coast.
Group C, based in Vancouver, will feature another African country — Cameroon — but the star turn here will be defending champions Japan, who also finished second at the Olympics in 2012. They’ll be led by the impressive Homare Sawa, back for a sixth appearance in the Women’s World Cup finals and should make short work of a group that also includes newcomers Switzerland and Ecuador.
Two-time champions USA play in what looks a highly competitive Group D, based in Winnipeg, but they boast perhaps the most feared attacking trio in the female game in Alex Morgan, Abby Wambach, and Sidney LeRoux and will be expected to get past Sweden, Australia and African champions, Nigeria. The Nigerians, perennial finalists at the Women’s World Cup, would also fancy their chances especially as they boast a bonafide star of their own in Asisat Osoala. She was top scorer and best player at the Women’s U-20 World Cup also in Canada last year and returns just after being named BBC World Female Footballer of the year.
Brazil have never won the Women’s World Cup, despite providing some of the tournament’s best players over the years, and they start this campaign in Group E, based in Montreal, led once again by veteran forward Marta, who’s been named FIFA Women’s player of the year on no less than five occasions. Whether they can finally bury the hoodoo remains to be seen, but they’ll be expected to get past Spain, Costa Rica, and Korea Republic in this group.
European neighbors France and England will expect to fight for top spot in Group F, playing in Moncton, although Mexico and Colombia may have something to say about that. The French beat Nigeria to win the U-20 crown in Canada last year and will be hoping for a glorious return. If the likes of Louisa Necib can find their groove, they could go far. England have never made it past the quarterfinals, and after parting ways with long-time coach Hope Powell, they will be counting on the experience of the likes of Eniola Aluko ad Liane Sanderson to leave their mark in Canada.
The Women’s World Cup wraps up on July 5, with the final match at BC Place, Vancouver.
[Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images]