First out of the pot, Group E features the hosts, two frequent party-goers, and a new face in the crowd.
Playing as hosts could be a boon for Hope Powell’s Great Britain squad. The team may have something extra to play for. An inspired performance by Team GB could raise the profile of the women’s game at home – something not lost on the players per recent interviews.
Hosting rights also come with an additional burden of pressure. Just ask Germany as last year’s World Cup hosts; pegged as favorites to win a third straight world title before crashing out against Japan in the Quarterfinals.
Team GB has a healthy mix of precocious talent and seasoned veterans. Arsenal striker Ellen White had a memorable performance in Germany last summer. Powell will hope the 23-year-old can duplicate the same form. If Kelly Smith can ward off injury, she could be the central cog in Team GB’s plans.
Name to know: Jill Scott is a versatile, box-to-box midfielder capable of contributing timely goals. Kim Little is one of the two Scottish players in the squad, and is considered one of the most fearsome goal poachers in the FA Women’s Super League.
The Football Ferns captured hearts at the World Cup last summer after scoring two stoppage time goals to tie Mexico in their final group stage match. It wasn’t enough to advance to the Quarterfinals – or even escape last place in the group – but it marked their finest World Cup performance to date.
Much has changed since. Head coach John Herdman couldn’t decline advances from the Canadian Soccer Association and parted ways with the program he helped build.
The World Cup also saw New Zealand distance itself from the ‘kick and rush’ tag that typically characterized its style of play. The team will try to avoid a reversion back to form under new coach Tony Readings. New Zealand can be counted on for dogged performances as their 2-2 draw against the U.S. in February proves. It will take more than that to finish in the top half of a relatively tough group, though.
Name to know: Ali Riley has a sterling reputation in U.S. women’s soccer circles. The speedy L.A.-born outside back was one of the most distinguished outside backs in Women’s Professional Soccer. Chances are she’ll make an appearance on many Team of the Tournament ballots.
2008: Finished bottom of Group G with one point. The pair of New Zealand’s only goals came in a spirited 2-2 draw against Japan in the group’s opening match. They have a knack for that kind of thing.
Brazil possesses arguably the most prodigious female player of the modern era, but why is the team itself a notch below the world’s elite? A lack of resources and meaningful support from the CBF has hamstrung the side. Friendlies are infrequent and domestic friendlies are even rarer, resulting in few opportunities to build team cohesion.
An unorthodox tactical formation did the team no favors in Germany last summer. Former coach Kleiton Lima insisted on a three-back defensive unit that seemed ill-suited to Brazil’s bevy of skilled players.
Despite reaching the finals of the 2007 World Cup and the 2008 Olympics, a major title has eluded Brazil. An Olympic Gold Medal would finally establish Brazil as a legitimate power in the world’s eyes. And, perhaps more important, back home too.
Name to know: Winning FIFA World Player of the Year five times over makes Marta a known commodity, so let’s go with the ever-unheralded Formiga. The hard-nosed defensive midfielder has been with the national team since the 90s and remains a potent force in the center of the park.
2008: Brazil came within 14 minutes of a penalty kick shoot-out in the final against the U.S. The side avenged its World Cup loss against Germany in the semifinals but were denied gold by Carli Lloyd’s stoppage time goal.
African women’s soccer has long been dominated by a duopoly consisting of Nigeria and Ghana. A continental shift in powers is underway as neither team qualified for the Olympics this summer.
Cameroon will be making its first appearance at a major international tournament. The team narrowly edged out Nigeria in penalty kicks in the Final Round of Olympic qualifying. Cameroon’s involvement might not come as a massive surprise, given the positive effects of globalization in the women’s game. Eight of the team’s players currently ply their trade in Europe.
The squad is one of the youngest in the tournament with five teenagers in its ranks. Francoise Bella leads the team with 58 caps while the rest of the roster has averaged around 20 appearances each.
Cameroon might not be pegged for a Semifinals run, but a thorough test against the best teams in the world will go a long way in promoting development. This could only be the beginning.
Name to know: Madeleine Ngono Mani has scored enough goals to merit the no. 9 shirt. The 28-year-old is the program’s leading goal-scorer. She’ll now have the chance to impress worldwide audience.
Destined for the Quarterfinals: Brazil, Great Britain
July 25 – Great Britain vs. New Zealand
July 25 – Cameroon vs. Brazil
July 28 – New Zealand vs. Brazil
July 28 – Great Britain vs. Cameroon
July 31 – New Zealand vs. Cameroon
July 31 – Great Britain vs. Brazil