There’s no doubt that there are three legitimate favorites to win the 2019 Women’s World Cup; Host France, Germany, and of course, the U.S. Women’s National Team.
Behind them are a second tier of teams who could push those three for the title, including England, Japan and even Brazil if they put everything together.
[MORE: Full 2019 World Cup schedule, live streams]
But who are the dark horses, teams that could really surprise a few and make a deep run in the tournament? Let’s take a closer look, below.
Winners of the 2017 European Championships, the Netherlands are looking to make a splash at this year’s World Cup. It wasn’t until the mid-2000s that the Netherlands really started to invest in their women’s team (with the creation of the professional women’s Eredivisie in 2007), and it’s starting to pay dividends.
The Netherlands qualified for its first World Cup in 2015 and fell in the knockout round to eventual finalists Japan, but the team features some of the most talented players in the world. They’re led by former World Player of the Year and Barcelona midfielder Lieke Martens, while 22-year-old Vivianne Miedema has scored 45 international goals. Miedema, one of four Arsenal players in this Netherlands squad, scored 22 goals for the Gunners this past season in just 20 Women’s Super League games. Another former club teammate, Dominique Bloodworth, just signed with Wolfsburg after appearing more than 100 times for Arsenal.
Captain and goalkeeper Sari van Veenendaal, also at Arsenal, has taken the position from veteran Loes Geurts and it will be interesting to see how van Veenendaal does as the new No. 1.
The Netherlands combines a strong and young squad, but a they’ll have to wait until the final group stage match to know what their road to the final will look like. Should they beat Canada and win the group, they’ll likely face either England or Japan in the Round of 16. If they finish as runners-up, the Netherlands could face the U.S. Women’s National Team or Sweden. Either way, it’s likely a tough start to the knockout round. However, this Netherlands team looks up to the challenge.
The other favorites to get out of Group E, Canada is one of the most experienced squads at this World Cup and it’s likely the last World Cup for legendary striker and national team captain, Christine Sinclair. The 35-year-old has scored more than 180 international goals and could look to break Abby Wambach’s international record of 184 international goals at this World Cup, especially if Canada makes a deep run.
Along with Sinclair, the team features veterans Sophie Schmitt and Desiree Scott, but there’s also a youth movement in the squad. Rising star, forward Jordyn Huitema, already has more than 20 caps and is still only 18 years old, while fellow teenagers Jayde Riviere and Julia Grosso also made the team.
It’s a squad that’s going to rely heavily on defending with Lyon’s Kadeisha Buchanan and Orlando Pride’s Shelina Zadorsky taking big roles at centerback. But with Huitema available off the bench for some pace up top, and Sinclair’s goalscoring ability, this team could surprise a few and make another deep run, just like at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.
Another team with one of the world’s best strikers, captain Sam Kerr may be the best in the world at her position. The 25-year-old split time between the Chicago Red Stars – scoring six goals in six games – as well as Perth Glory, with 17 goals in 13 games, so she’s clearly one of the most in-form strikers on the globe.
Lisa de Vanna could start or come off the bench in her fourth World Cup, while a mostly young backline will look to keep opponents off the board, including right back Ellie Carpenter of the Portland Thorns.
The team also interestingly features 16-year-old forward Mary Fowler, who has already made four appearances off the bench.
Australia will have a tough road into the knockout round, with Italy, Brazil and Jamaica in Group C, but if the Matildas can make it out of there, they’ll be in good shape moving forward and battle tested. The Matildas can go as far as Sam Kerr can take them, and if she keeps scoring, they can certainly go far.