Women's World Cup Group D: U-S-A! meet super Swedes in Group of Death
With the 2015 Women's World Cup set to kick off on Saturday, FFT will be bringing you the best preview content on the web ahead of the big kick-off.
Here, we present Group D featuring the tournament favourites, big-name bottlers and Africa's best...
Strengths: The depth of quality in the squad selected by Portsmouth-born head coach Jillian Ellis is frightening. Ten players have amassed more than 100 caps each, with Christie Rampone (306), Abby Wambach (242) and Heather O’Reilly (219) all topping the double century. Wambach continues to score at an alarming rate, having recently taken her tally to 182, while Hope Solo dons the gloves once again following her Best Goalkeeper accolade as USA finished runners-up in 2011. Ellis has only been in permanent charge since March 2014 but was assistant to Pia Sundhage, and the same physical strength and fitness remain key components of the side.
Weaknesses: As highlighted by Iceland head coach Freyr Alexandersson following their 0-0 draw at the Algarve Cup in March, the USA tend to resort to a long-ball game when under pressure. This would be meat and drink to better sides at the World Cup.
Expectations: Having finished in the top three at every World Cup, the nation expects that at the very least. Matches will feel like home games, so the pressure is on to make the short journey home with the trophy in their carry-on luggage.
Did you know? Rampone is only the second international (male or female) to win 300 caps. Fellow American Kristine Lilly leads the way with a monstrous 352.
Verdict: Finishing as group winners will, in all likelihood, come down to the result against Sweden in Winnipeg on June 12. But having safely navigated the initial stage, the path could be cleared for another assault on the title. With quality throughout the squad they will cope with any difficulties that tournament football may provide, and it would be a major surprise if The Star-Spangled Banner isn't being sung before the final once again.
Strengths: Moving to the Asian Football Confederation from Oceania in 2006 has helped the Matildas raise their game. They hadn't progressed past the World Cup group stage in three appearances before that but were quarter-finalists in 2011 and 2007. Gone are the easy games against Papua New Guinea and Cook Islands, and they're now used to playing far better opposition, which will hold them in good stead this summer.
Strength in depth up front is always a positive, and head coach Alen Stajcic made a brave call in leaving all-time top goalscorer Kate Gill at home. Gill, top scorer in the 2014 W-League season, performed "really well" in training "but others have as well" said Stajcic - including 20-year-old Caitlin Foord, who was Young Player of the Tournament at the last World Cup.
Weaknesses: The draw. Up against the USA, Sweden and Nigeria, Group D might stand for ‘death’ or ‘don’t bother unpacking’.
Expectations: Limited. They won’t be expected to win it but, like any side wearing the Aussie green and gold, they'll be expected to give everything.
Did you know? Their last World Cup goal, scored by Ellyse Perry, was the first by an international cricketer.
Verdict: Despite their recent progression, Australia have been dealt a bad hand in the group stage. They might be better off for the experience, but it might not feel like that should they fall at the first hurdle.
Strengths: Sweden may have just one major international honour in the trophy cabinet (Euro 1984) but they've come close to increasing that number on numerous occasions, finishing World Cup runners-up in 2003 and three times at the European Championship. Their domestic league is one of the strongest in Europe, with players often fleeing the nest for the continent’s top clubs. Take Caroline Seger and Kosovare Asllani at PSG, for example, plus all-time leading goalscorer Lotta Schelin at Lyon. Head coach Pia Sundhage is one of the best head coaches in the women’s game, and having led USA to the final at the last three world tournaments (2011 World Cup; 2012 and 2008 Olympics), Sweden are in safe hands.
Weaknesses: Getting over the line. You can count on the Swedes to play good football and look dazzling in their famous yellow shirts, but can you count on them with your ‘Sweden to win the tournament’ bet? They're all too often the bridesmaids.
Expectations: To play attacking football and move the ball quickly. They're also expected to win tournaments, something that tends to let them down.
Did you know? Sweden have drawn just two of their 28 World Cup matches, against Nigeria in 2007 and China in 1995.
Verdict: They could progress from the group as winners ahead of the USA, and from there expect them to reach the last eight. They have the ability, experience and know-how to go all the way but it remains to be seen if they have the stomach.
Strengths: The highest-ranked African side, Nigeria are World Cup regulars having appeared at every tournament, but will look to improve on their one showing outside of the group stage (1999 quarter-finals). Head coach Edwin Okon may just have the tools to succeed with African Player of the Year Asisat Oshoala, currently with Liverpool, and the prolific Guingamp forward Desire Oparanozie ready to showcase their talents.
Okon initially left Nigeria’s greatest female player Perpetua Nkwocha out of his preliminary squad, but had a change of heart and the 39-year-old, four-time African Player of the Year is in the party. Expect her to play a minor role on the pitch but a major one off it.
Weaknesses: Despite Nigeria's experience at the World Cup as a nation, only seven members of this squad have featured at the finals. And having been drawn alongside USA, Sweden and Australia, all of whom are blessed with numerous big players, they may suffer stage fright. Goalscoring on the big stage has been a problem - they’ve only netted twice in their last nine World Cup matches.
Expectations: They are always expected to qualify, and the hope will be for a better showing than in recent tournaments. A repeat of the 1999 quarter-finals would be deemed a success but a round of 16 exit would also be respected.
Did you know? Nigeria finished runners-up at the 2014 U20 World Cup in Canada, where Oshoala was top scorer with seven goals and named Player of the Tournament.
Verdict: They will be going head-to-head with Australia for third spot in the group and may just come out on top. Nobody will be overly keen to face them in the knockout rounds but one of the big hitters will eventually send them home.
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