Who’ll be the Queens of Canada?

The Football World Cup starts on Saturday. I suspect most people reading this will think “Wasn’t the football World Cup last year?” Well yes – but this year it is the Women’s World Cup in Canada (for simplicity’s sake – and to annoy sexist FIFA – I’ll be hitherto calling it the World Cup). So I thought I’d try another preview/prediction post. What can we expect in Canada over the next month?

It should be an exciting event despite two complaints. Twenty four teams is a ridiculous number. The women’s game has improved so that 16 teams was too few – but it should have gone up to 32. First it would have gave women equality to men and secondly twenty four is an uneven number that means third place teams have to go into the knockout rounds which makes the tournament harder to predict. The second beef is the artificial turf. No more needs be said. A men’s World cup will be played on turf on the twelfth of never. The women should be playing on grass. But having made those complaints what might happen in Canada. First let us look at the groups:

Group A – Canada, China, New Zealand, Holland – What Canada will turn up? At the 2011 World Cup they lost every game. Just a year later they got a bronze medal at the Olympics. They have the players – especially Christine Sinclair – but can they cope with being hosts? I think they can. Home advantage helped Canada at the 2010 Winter Olympics and I think it will help them here. A Semi Final is a possibility perhaps even the Final. Of the other teams in the group Holland could have done well – but young prodigy Vivianne Miedema will miss the first game and might miss more. Without this player they would not be in Canada and won’t be able to compete here. At the 2013 Euros Holland (without Miedema) did not score a goal. New Zealand will compete well. Even against good teams  – Great Britain (at the Olympics), Brazil, France and Japan – they lose narrowly. While it will be interesting if China – who lost the 1999 World Cup only on penalty kicks – have begun to reverse their decline.

Predicted Qualifiers – Canada, New Zealand, Holland

Group B – Germany, Norway, Thailand, Ivory Coast – One of the more clear cut groups. Germany are one of the elite teams. Stuffed with stars – Celia Sasic, Nadine Angerer and the brilliant Dzenifer Marozan – they could well win a World Cup for the second year running. European runners up Norway should qualify with them. Thailand and the Ivory Coast will struggle and as Germany score a lot of goals even the team that finishes third might very well not qualify as the third place teams that qualify might very well be decided on goal difference.

Predicted Qualifiers – Germany and Norway

Group C – Japan, Switzerland, Cameroon, Ecuador – Japan were surprise winners in 2011 and have been underestimated again. But they are a good team – no outstanding individuals but a team – and will make a good defence of the title. Switzerland resemble Belgium in the men’s game. At the last Euros they trailed miles behind Germany in their qualifying group but they have a group of emerging players led by the experienced Lara Dickenmann and young stars like Ramona Bachmann and they could be a surprise team. Cameroon were poor at the Olympics and will need to improve. Ecuador are an unknown quality but based on Cameroon’s form might just scrape through in third.

Predicted Qualifiers – Japan, Switzerland, Ecuador

Group D – USA, Nigeria, Sweden, Australia – Every World Cup has a group of death – and here it is. Unlike the men’s game the USA are one of the favourites with a galaxy of stars – Carli Lloyd, Alex Morgan, Abby Wambach, Hope Solo, Megan Rampone among them – and they will contend again. The squad has an average of 100 caps and that is both a help (experience) and a hindrance (some – like Wambach – might be past their best). Sweden are a powerhouse of the women’s game but they have struggled in the last year – beaten 3-0 by France and 4-0 by England for example – and could be shock underachievers. Lotta Schelin might have to score a lot of goals to compensate for a leaky defence. They could be vulnerable to Nigeria – the best team in Africa and Asiast Oshola – the first BBC Women’s player of the year – could be a star. She was top scorer in the under 20 World Cup in Canada so has the advantage of knowing the grounds and the conditions. Australia – like in last year’s men’s World Cup – have an awful draw. In a different group the “Matildas” could have qualified. But not in this one.

Predicted Qualifiers – USA, Nigeria, Sweden

Group E – Brazil, South Korea, Spain, Costa Rica – An interesting group but not one that will produce the winner. Brazil have the best player in the world  – Marta – but they are not supported by their FA and do well despite a sexist FA. Also judging by the under 20 World Cup they don’t have the emerging talent that other teams do and the Marta generation might be a one off. Spain are an emerging team with the talent – especially Vero Boquette – but another sexist FA. They have had the same manager since 1988 – but as since this is their first World Cup this is because the FA don’t give a toss rather than because the team was doing well. South Korea should also go through – they boast England’s player of the year JI So -yun – while Costa Rica like Australia – might have qualified from another group and also have a star player in Shirley Cruz Trana.

Predicted Qualifiers – Brazil, Spain, South Korea

Group F – France, England, Mexico, Columbia – The qualifiers should be obvious here. France are absolutely loaded with talent but like the South African male cricket team have a reputation of crumbling under pressure. But they should win this group. England have a  lot of good players. Strikers Toni Duggan, Leanne Sanderson ,Ellen White, Eniola Aluko and Fran Kirby midfielders like Fara Williams, Jordan Nobbs and Karen Carney and defenders like Casey Stoney are examples. All are good but with Kelly Smith now retired none are outstanding and that could be England’s problem. They could be knocked out in the last 16 the last eight or  – if they play really well – they have an outside chance of a Semi Final. However they should get out of the group – probably in second place behind France. Mexico probably won’t be the threat they were in 2011 – when they drew with England and nearly stopped eventual runners up the USA from qualifying for the tournament. Columbia are described by  football writer Jennifer Doyle as “exciting” and could be dangerous but I suspect the third place team in this group won’t qualify.

Predicted Qualifiers  – France, England

So what will happen form there?. With no confidence whatsoever I predict the following:

Winners – USA. If both they and Germany win their groups and they keep on winning they will meet in the Semi Finals. The winner of that match will probably win the event and I think the USA’s experience will trump Germany’s youth.

Runners up – Japan

Semi Finals – Canada and Germany

Quarter Finals – England, France, Brazil and Switzerland

Last 16 – Ecuador, Sweden, Holland, South Korea,  New Zealand, Spain, Norway and Nigeria

My wish for the event? That the UK press behaves itself. The BBC in the UK are covering every match live for the first time and the sexists are already moaning that no one wants to watch it or it will be rubbish. First point. I want to watch it. But I don’t admit that because my friends would ridicule me. I – and I’m sure I’m not the only one – am “a shy women’s football fan”. That is because the press have made women’s football so toxic that no one will admit to liking it (there is a similarity here of course with the “shy Tories” who wouldn’t admit to voting Tory and thus made the result of the recent UK General Election such a surprise to pundits). The second point? There will be bad football at this World Cup – as there was in Brazil last year. Having sat through Nigeria v Iran and watched Brazil’s awful defending in the Germany semi-Final I know that to be true. But the vast majority of the football in Canada will be far above the level the event’s sexist critics could aspire to. I hope the press recognises this.

Good luck to all 24 teams in Canada. May the best women win!

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