Offside Rule Podcast’s World Cup preview continues with Group C and D. Florence Lloyd-Hughes assesses the runners and riders.
Group C: Australia, Brazil, Italy and Jamaica
The Aussies are born winners. It’s in their sporting blood. Olympic Games, the Ashes, Netball World Cup, the Australians know how to deliver.
Quarter-finalists in 2011 and 2015, the Aussies will be expected to go at least one better this time.
Sam Kerr, who made her World Cup debut in 2011 at just 17, is now in her prime and has been dominating the W-League and NWSL.
It’s not just Kerr that teams should be worried about. Caitlin Foord, also a alumna of Germany eight years ago, and Emily Gielnik pose a significant threat.
Australia’s main weakness is in defence. In a friendly last month, the Matilda’s put three goals past World Cup holders USA but conceded five.
The open and exciting style that Australia plays allows them to be easily exposed. They will need to firm up their defence if they want to go all the way.
The team seem to have managed to move on from the controversial sacking of head coach Alen Stajcic at the start of the year. The gossip and negativity that consumed the squad after that incident is hopefully extinguished.
Joining the Matildas in Group D is Brazil, a global name in world football but a historically frustrating side at the Women’s World Cup.
Brazil haven’t been able to better the 2007 final appearance which ended in 2-0 defeat to Germany. Since then, Brazil have failed to go beyond the quarter-finals.
Marta, who has scored an incredible 15 goals across four World Cups, has decided to return for this year’s tournament, despite initial questions over her commitment to the side.
This week, the 33-year-old suffered a thigh injury in training but she will want to push through to play in what potentially could be her last World Cup.
Another returning World Cup legend is 41-year-old Formiga, who will be playing in her seventh World Cup, a record across both the men’s and women’s tournaments.
Brazil need to put their dreadful run of nine straight defeats behind them if they’re to have any chance of progressing in this tournament.
Italy will be fighting Brazil for second place in Group C. It’s the Azzurre’s first appearance at a World Cup since 1999.
The squad, which is largely made up of non-professional players, includes eight players from the two-time Serie A Femminile champions Juventus.
The progression of Italy’s domestic competition will help the national side’s chances in France. Expect a more technical and physical group of players compared with the Euros two years ago when Italy struggled.
The team that is expected to be a fan favourite in France is World Cup debutant’s Jamaica.
The Reggae Girlz’s journey to the World Cup hasn’t been an easy one. Their rags to riches story even features Jamaican legend Bob Marley, whose daughter Cedella donated to keep the team alive after funding was cut.
A recent New York Times piece detailed the financial struggles that the team has had to cope with.
Khadija Shaw is the team’s standout player but watch out for 17-year-old Jody Brown.
It’s unlikely that Jamaica will make it out of this group but be prepared to enjoy the journey.
Group F: England, Scotland, Japan and Argentina
In the UK, the build-up to the tournament has unsurprisingly been focused on England’s Lionesses. The hype and weight of expectation is nearing Sven and the ‘Golden Generation’ levels of hysteria.
It’s surprising that there hasn’t been the release of some World Cup anthem featuring a portly bald man in an England shirt singing a cheery tune. But, maybe England have learnt from past failures and are embracing the positive mood that has been flowing through St George’s Park and Wembley since Russia 2018.
Phil Neville’s team head to France with a World Cup trophy firmly in their sights and the intention to better the bronze that was won in Canada four years ago.
A healthy number of players that experienced the highs and lows of Canada remain in England’s squad. Fran Kirby, who was just a youngster playing for Reading in 2015, won’t be the star of the show as Neville’s squad is packed with fire power. Ellen White, Nikita Parris, Georgia Stanway and Beth Mead all come to the tournament off the back of impressive domestic seasons, a stark contrast to Kirby.
It is the combination of experience and star power that really makes England the stand-out favourites in Group D.
Two-time Champions League winner Lucy Bronze will be relishing this opportunity on the big stage and her European pal Toni Duggan is also preparing to entertain. However, in his short tenure, Neville is yet to consistently feature the two stars in their best positions. They’re joined by major tournament regulars Karen Bardsley, Jill Scott, Karen Carney, Millie Bright and Steph Houghton.
The strength and depth of this squad is remarkable, but they must get off to a strong start against Scotland in Nice. The pressure could start to take its toll if things don’t go England’s way. Neville’s tendency to experiment with his starting line-up is starting to frustrate fans and with so much talent at his fingertips, he tends to get overwhelmed by the options.
This is Scotland’s first World Cup and they will be looking to make a lasting impression on the global women’s football scene.
Their qualification was secured under the leadership, intelligence and creativity of head coach Shelley Kerr, who has been in post since 2017.
In just two years, she has nurtured young talent and built an exciting side that has a good chance of making it out of the group stage.
The last time Scotland met England at a major tournament in ended in a humiliating 6-0 defeat. Scotland were missing their best players in Holland two years ago and this time they won’t be turned over so easily.
Chelsea’s Erin Cuthbert is certainly one to watch. The 20-year-old has plenty of tricks in her repertoire and her goalscoring talents earned her place in UEFA’s Women’s Champions League team of the season. Cuthbert has bagged seven goals in just 26 international appearances, so expect flare and fireworks.
Veteran playmaker Kim Little, who has amassed over 100 caps for Scotland but is still just 28 years old, will be seeking redemption after she missed Euro 2017 through injury. Little has had another impressive season with Arsenal and will be gunning to prove why she is one of the world’s best. Caroline Weir will also be dangerous after she enjoyed a great debut season with Manchester City.
Scotland will be relishing the opportunity to burst England’s bubble and that first encounter is sure to be tense and edgy.
Although, domestic attention is focused on England and Scotland, there are two other teams that will be hoping to make it out of Group D.
Japan, winners in 2011 and finalists in Canada, still rank seventh in the world despite boasting a young and inexperienced squad. These players head to France with an average of just 38 caps between them.
Mizuho Sakaguchi and Lyon’s Saki Kumagai are the only players that remain from the emotional and historic win in 2011. That dramatic penalty shootout-win against USA, which came just months after their country suffered a tsunami, will act as a great motivator for this young squad.
Fourteen of this 23-person squad are aged 23 or below and most of the team currently play in their domestic league.
Japan fell to England in the group stages of the 2011 World Cup but both sides have changed a lot since that tournament.
The final team in this group, and the proverbial pushovers, are Argentina, who make a first appearance at a World Cup since 2011.
Most of the recent conversation around Argentinian women’s football has been focused on the domestic league and it’s lack of professionalism.
In March, the Argentine Football Association revealed that the women’s top tier would become professional from the forthcoming season onwards.
This move was partly down to the action of Macarena Sanchez, who sued her former club UAI Urquiza and the AFA over the lack of financial support given to players. Many players in the top division are only given a monthly travel or expenses allowance and some are effectively paying to play.
Just nine of Carlos Borrello’s squad are professional. Lyon’s Sole Jaimes is the most recognisable name in the side but Mariela Coronel, Florencia Bonsegundo and Estefani Banini also all play in Europe.
Argentina have never won point at the World Cup. At the Cup of Nations tournament in Australia the team conceded 10 goals and failed to score in any of the games. There should be goals galore in Group D.
Follow Florence on Twitter @floydtweet