As the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup is about kickoff, teams can put themselves in strong positions for the tournament early on. While winning the group isn’t the only way to winning the tournament, it can send a message early and gives teams confidence for the knockout stage. The following five games are all key to winning the group, and will reveal who are the top contenders in the tournament.
5: Canada vs. Netherlands (Group E)
With two of the top ten teams in the Women’s Game, this matchup should shape Group E. Canada had their best result at a World Cup as hosts in 2015 since making the semi-finals in 2003. While their midfield is their strength, Canada needs to find a consistent goalscorer beyond their captain, Christine Sinclair. Canada don’t concede a lot of goals, and finding their feet against the Netherlands will determine whether or not they can seriously compete against the best.
The Netherlands, on the other hand, are in their second ever World Cup, and are looking to establish themselves early after a strong string of friendlies, where they scored 12 goals in their last three matches. The Netherlands have a relatively young squad, and have one of the better defences on offer. That said, Vivianne Miedema has an impressive record in front of goal, scoring 57 goals in her 74 appearances. While they will have a tough outing against Canada, this game should set the tone for the Netherlands for the remainder of the competition, and win or lose, should help them lay the foundation for a deep run.
4: China vs. Germany (Group B)
Currently ranked the second-best Women’s team, Germany need to show early that they are a force to be reckoned with. After only making the quarterfinals in the 2017 European Championship, and semifinals in the 2015 World Cup, Germany are looking for their best international tournament in a few years. Their squad also has a lot of players lacking substantial experience, although they have a good core at every level. However, they are also undefeated over the past year, but will need to have someone step up early on, and this Chinese opponent could give them a chance to fire early.
China are perhaps a dark horse to make it further than many would think. They have a relatively decent midfield, and have scored in every game they have played in the last twelve months, aside from one. China should be a tougher opponent for Germany than they first appear, and while the Germans should win the game in the end, this could be a fun matchup that pushes the European heavyweights to their limit. Expect a few goals to come out of this Group B match.
3: Australia vs. Brazil (Group C)
While they may not be seen as one of the top contenders in the competition, Australia will feel as though they have as good of a chance as anyone. Despite a controversial coaching change earlier this year, Australia still has one of the best players in the game in Sam Kerr. With a young but experienced squad, Australia will eye this game as their first opportunity to truly test their mettle.
Brazil, on the other hand, are one of the more creative teams to watch, although they can lack discipline in defence. This could lead to opportunities for Australia, but Brazil has the potential to go toe-to-toe in what should be a very attacking game. Spearheaded by Marta, one of the most recognisable and prolific women to ever play the game, Brazil will see this as their last chance with their current squad to win their first World Cup.
2: England vs. Japan (Group D)
England have one of their best squads in years, and will be looking to take down a big name early. They have a range of attacking options up front and experienced midfield. England are looking to finally make the leap and make it to the Final, and will need to prove to themselves that they can handle difficult opponents.
Japan, however, have struggled in their matches in 2019, but will be looking to go one better than 2015, when they finished as runners-up. Japan have one of the best defences on offer, and could hold out England for a draw. Where they will have difficulty is scoring, as they don’t have a clinical goalscorer, but getting a goal could keep them alive, and potentially send them through to the knockout stage.
1: Sweden vs. USA (Group F)
This matchup should be tightly contested between two very strong teams. Despite lacking creativity up front, Sweden regularly manage to win games, and are no pushover. With a strong international track record and experienced defence, Sweden could be the toughest test that USA faces until much later in the tournament.
Returning as favourites to defend their title, the USWNT is loaded with stars of the sport, including Alex Morgan, Carli Lloyd and Megan Rapinoe. Studded with experience on the big stage, USA will use this game to ensure everything is clicking before the knockout stage. While they shouldn’t have any trouble qualifying, USA needs to beat Sweden to prove to themselves that they are ready to go all the way again. Anything but a win in this game could give teams like Germany, England, and even Australia the hope that the USWNT is vulnerable.