Ahead of the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup, Milana Knezevic takes a look at the five teams most likely to stop England making history in Canada over the next month or so…Embed from Getty Images
Germany is a real powerhouse in women’s football, having won eight European Championships and back-to-back World Cups in 2003 and 2007. In Canada, they’ll be hoping to bounce back from the shock quarter-final exit they suffered in 2011 on home turf. They seem to be well on their way, having won all ten of their qualifiers, and racking up a staggering 62 goals in the process, including a thorough 13-0 dismantling of Slovenia.
While it is a big blow that reigning FIFA World Player of the Year Nadine Kessler has been ruled out of the tournament through injury, they are certainly not lacking in top level players. Striker Célia Šašić, this year’s Champions League top scorer, will be familiar to England fans following her two goals at Wembley in November’s friendly. There’s also the technically gifted midfielder Dzsenifer Marozsán, who at 23 has already amassed 64 caps and 22 goals for her national side. And of course, there’s captain Nadine Angerer, the only goalkeeper ever to be named World Player of the Year.
“Our first goal is to stay in the tournament for as long as possible. If we can make it to the final four, I personally think we would be a huge success, and then we’ll see what happens,” says Head Coach, Silvia Neid.
After participating in every Women’s World Cup so far, Japan finally won the coveted trophy in 2011, beating the USA in a penalty shootout. They followed that victory with a silver medal at the 2012 London Olympics and an Asian Cup win last year. Homare Sawa, 2011 World Player of the Year and one of Japan’s biggest sporting stars, has been reinstated to the side by head coach Norio Sasaki after being surprisingly dropped in recent games. Yūki Ōgimi will likely play an important part in Sasaki’s plans, she has returned to the Bundesliga, where she was top scorer in 2011. Captain Aya Miyama (147 caps) will look to continue the side’s impressive World Cup record.
Their run in the Algarve Cup in March ended in a disappointing ninth-place finish, but the tournament helped Sasaki identify the issues addressing in the months leading up to Canada, including passing in defence, stamina and conditioning.
“Through trial and error, I think we found our direction for the FIFA Women’s World Cup in June,” he says.
Norway is hoping to celebrate the 20th anniversary of their 1995 World Cup win by adding another star to their jersey. The former European and Olympic champions will also be keen to bounce back from their failure to reach the World Cup quarter-final in 2011 for the first time in their history.
Norway has a number of experienced players to choose from, including captain Trine Bjerke Rønning and midfielder Solveig Gulbrandsen, who came out of retirement last year. But two of the biggest talents in the side are youngsters Ada Hegerberg (19) and Caroline Graham Hansen (20). Hegerberg famously, at just 16, scored five goals in 41 minutes in a Norwegian Toppserien league game. Last summer she joined Lyon, where she scored 33 goals in 30 appearances. Wolfsburg’s Graham Hansen, described as Norway’s biggest women’s football star, is working her way back to fitness following knee problems. Coach Even Pellerud says the priority is to work on details like set pieces and defensive structures ahead of the tournament. In March he said the team had yet to discuss their final goal, but added: “It’s in their nature that when these girls enter the field, it’s to get a medal”.
Women’s football is serious business in the USA, as made evident by the popularity of the US Women’s National Team. The team has won two World Cups, four Olympic gold medals and seven CONCACAF Championships/Gold Cups.
They have a wealth of talent at their disposal; from midfield maestro Megan Rapinoe, who famously scored an Olimpico at London 2012, to Amy Rodriguez – one of the top scorers in last season’s National Women’s Soccer League – and rising star up front, Christen Press. Alex Morgan is also making her way back after ankle injury and hopes to make her mark on the tournament. Meanwhile, former World Player of the Year, Abby Wambach, seems fully focused on World Cup success, controversially deciding to forgo club football this coming US season to prepare for Canada.
Head Coach Jill Ellis, meanwhile, has been criticised for not always playing the attractive football expected from a team of their stature. Speaking after their Algarve Cup win, she said: “Sometimes you win pretty or ugly. This has to be our mindset moving forward to gain the advantage”.
Brazil is the most successful Latin American national women’s team, having picked up six Copa America wins. They have come close to winning the World Cup too, finishing third in 1999 and as runners up in 2007. After a disappointing showing at this year’s Algarve Cup, finishing seventh, they’ll be hoping to reclaim their spot on the world stage in Canada.
It’s impossible to talk about Brazil without mentioning the biggest star in women’s football. The five-time World Player of the Year, Marta, is competing in her fourth World Cup. She will look to cement her place as all-time World Cup top scorer, for which she was level with the now-retired German striker Birgit Prinz at the 2011 tournament.
Head Coach Vadão has said Brazil’s biggest assets are their technically gifted players; as those who watched their performance against Team GB at the 2012 Olympics can attest to. Among others, he points to young star Andressa, who recently signed for Boston Breakers in the US NWSL. There is also Debinha, the 23-year-old forward, who was top scorer in the Norwegian Toppserien league last season.