We’ve now seen everyone once at the World Cup. We should be clear that one game does not a World Cup make, especially when 16 of the 24 teams will advance to the knockout round. You may or may not remember that the defending world champions Japan struggled in its opener four years ago, fortunate to escape with a 2-1 win over New Zealand. However, after they sneaked through the group stages, they played their best soccer when it mattered most.
However, unlike the men’s game, many of the teams coming to Canada were somewhat of a mystery, scouting reports gleaned from grainy highlights or past results against teams that were a long way from what they’ll face at the World Cup. Even countries like Spain, obviously a men’s superpower for the last decade, played its first women’s game outside the continent of Europe on Tuesday, which might explain a little of the nervousness in a disappointing 1-1 draw with Costa Rica.
While no one is eliminated (not even Ivory Coast and Ecuador, who lost 10-0 and 6-0, respectively) and there is plenty of soccer to be played, we at least have tangible evidence of what each team can and cannot do. Who should we have bought stock in before the tournament? Who should we have sold?
MOVING ON UP (find the entire list — lots more — on EqualizerSoccer.com)
Costa Rica – One of the beneficiaries of the World Cup expansion, Costa Rica was supposed to take their beatings in Group E and smile, but they not only got a point, they got it against a European opponent (Spain). We had seen them much more organized on CONCACAF, but still it’s a surprise to see it carry over on the world stage. Young players like Raquel Rodriguez and Lixy Rodriguez give them a bright future (that might take them past Mexico in the region).
[ CURREN: Has Africa finally arrived on the world stage? ]
Germany – Yes, it was Ivory Coast, and we already knew they were title contenders, but the manner in which they eviscerated poor Ivory Coast was impressive (if Alexandra Popp could have finished, it might have ended 15-0), and without Dzsenifer Marozsan. There are still some concerns about Nadine Angerer’s form in goal, and even in a 10-goal defeat, Ivory Coast was dangerous on the counter, but that seems to be nitpicking at this point.
Nigeria – Perhaps the most impressive team in the first game, even if they didn’t get all 3 points. Asisat Oshoala is the real deal as the Super Falcons made Sweden – who has had more than its share of success on the world stage and was picked by some as a contender in Canada – look awful. They will have to figure out how to defend set pieces and hope Precious Dede can improve in goal, but they appear like they can play with anyone right now.
HOLDING STEADY (find the entire list — lots more — on EqualizerSoccer.com)
Brazil – They won convincingly and will likely do so in their next two matches as well, but the real pressure will begin in the knockout stages, and there’s not a whole lot of experience to help out Marta when that begins. There is talent and athleticism, though.
France – They were called “disppointing” by many broadcasters, yet got 3 points in a game they conceded just three shots against a decent England team. It wasn’t terribly entertaining, but I see no reason to drop their stock when they should roll in their next two matches.
United States – They may have played a poor first half by their standards, but they have three points and the inside track to win Group D, which should give them a relatively easy path in the knockout rounds to at least the semifinals. And Alex Morgan is just about back, too.
GOING DOWN (find the entire list — lots more — on EqualizerSoccer.com)
Canada – Their stock is down, but I think John Herdman has a plan, which includes easing into this tournament before unleashing his proverbial hounds in the knockout stages. It’s dangerous, but the three points in the opener cuts him a little slack, although with a banged-up Kadeisha Buchanan, neither the Netherlands nor New Zealand will prove an easy task.
Mexico – Again, they were hosed out of a winning goal, but if Mexico was truly on its 2011 World Cup level where they drew with New Zealand and England, it shouldn’t have come to that against a team as poor as Colombia. With England and France remaining, it’s hard to see them getting any more points.
Sweden – They tend to play their best games against the United States, but Sweden has to be considered in real danger of an embarrassing exit here. If they don’t get a point against the U.S., they face Australia in a game they both may need to have to advance. And based upon the evidence of the first game, I’m not so sure Sweden is much of a favorite in that one.