The FIFA Women’s World Cup begins on the 7th June 2019 with 24 teams contesting six groups to reach the round of 16 knock out stage. Here is a preview of Group B which features former Champions Germany, tournament newbies South Africa, inaugural hosts China and steadily improving Spain.
China – People’s Republic
Current FIFA Ranking 16
Best placing – Final in 1999
The Steel Roses won’t be fancied to go that far in this tournament even though they have gone all the way to a past final – in 1999 vs USA. Nearly the entire squad plays its football in China, relying then on international games to get first-hand experience of higher quality players and differing football styles.
Even coach, Jia Xiuquan is home grown. A former player himself, he took over last year and has presided over 14 wins in 21 matches mostly against minnows, generally located within Asia. This included a 3rd place finish at the 2018 Asian Cup which secured qualification for France. Against better opposition they’ve generally come up short, although they did hold the Dutch to a 1-1 draw in this years’ Algarve Cup before going down on penalties.
Li Ying is a busy player in the midfield alongside PSG’s Wang Shuang. They will look to top scorer Ma Xiaoxu for goals. The Dalian Quanjian forward has 61 strikes for her country.
In summary: The Germans are up first for the Steel Roses so their match with South Africa looks key to establishing a potential route through as a best third place side. A positive result against Banyana Banyana might even give them the confidence to try and progress by beating Spain outright for a top two spot.
One to watch: Wang Shuang (Midfielder, Paris St. Germain)
A former U-19-star, Wang was injured prior to the 2015 World Cup so she barely played. This, then, is her chance to finally establish herself on the world stage. Last year she took the decision to play away from China and join French side Paris St. Germain which surely has only been good for her development as an international player. A hard-working, box-to-boxer with a good range of crossing and passing off her left foot, the 24-year old will be key to supplying opportunities for her strikers to feed off.
Current FIFA Ranking 2
Best placing – Winners in 2003, USA and 2007, China
The Germans are one of the favourites to win the tournament despite a disappointing Euro 2017 championship, where they fell at the quarter-final stage to Denmark. They’d won eight out of the previous nine tournaments!
Three coaches in three years year’s hints at some instability behind the scenes, but they still qualified convincingly for the World Cup despite an early wobble against Iceland. Current Head Coach Martina Voss-Tecklenburg previously led Switzerland’s Women’s team. As a player she was a serial winner in Germany securing 6 domestic league titles and 5 DFB Cups. And 27 goals from midfield in 125 international caps is none too shabby either.
The coach has limited their preparation games this year so may have been able to at least keep one or two cards a bit closer to her chest. There are a couple of interesting inclusions as well, such as 17-year old Essen midfielder Lena Oberdorf and Frieburg’s 18-year old Klara Bühl. While these players are unlikely to make a significant impact this time around, it’s interesting to note that Voss-Tecklenburg has seen the value of giving them senior tournament experience. Indeed, there are nine players in the squad arriving in France with fewer than 15 caps.
That said everyone knows they also have a bunch of fantastic, experienced players at some of Europe’s most successful clubs. And, if results are indicative, they are coming into the tournament in good shape. They’ve beaten France and Sweden on the road and drawn with Japan, all teams expected to be competitive.
Expect goals from Wolfsburg’s Alexandra Popp and Lyon playmaker, Dzsenifer Marozsán, as well as SCS Essen striker, Lea Schüller who has announced her arrival on the international scene with 8 goals in her first 13 appearances. The team will move the ball well and keep a good shape defensively, with Almuth Schult likely to be one of the better goalkeepers on show.
In summary: It will be a bit of a surprise if Die Nationalelf don’t get as far as the semi-finals. But as their defeat to the Danes proved at Euro 2017, one below par performance and you’re on the plane home.
One to watch: Dzsenifer Marozsán (Midfielder, Olympique Lyonnais)
Don’t miss Dzsenifer Marozsán, who is the exceptional player in a talented squad, possessing all the attributes of a world class number 10. Already a treble winner with Olympique Lyonnais this season, the 27-year old’s vision, passing and creativity should make her one of the standout players of the tournament, and expect her to be on all corners and set-pieces with seemingly laser guided delivery. Her career is littered with trophies and personal honours at all age groups, but the World Cup is surely now the one she wants the most.
Current FIFA Ranking 49
Best placing – N/A
When they beat Mali 2-0 in the CAF Women’s Africa Cup of Nations last year, Banyana Banyana secured a place in their first ever Women’s World Cup. They weren’t quite able to get their hands on the continental championship, pipped at the post by Nigeria on penalties, but could at least revel in a terrific achievement and the excitement ahead.
Coach Desiree Ellis understands the challenge that awaits her squad and is taking a pragmatic approach with perhaps half an eye on damage limitation. A former Spurs Ladies player in England, she scored 231 goals in 330 league appearances. Now in her second stint with South Africa Women she is setting up her team on the foundations of good shape, containing opponents and then looking to counterattack at speed.
Experienced centre back Janine Van Wyk is important in this respect. The 32-year old captain has played over 150 international matches and leads with a cool head and good ability on the ball. At the other end of the pitch, when they get there, African Player of the Year, Thembi Kgatlana will be on her toes to attempt to use her scintillating pace to make something happen in front of goal.
In summary: They will do well to get a point, perhaps even score a goal in these championships. They were hammered 7-2 by Norway last weekend and in their friendly with the USA recently, they struggled with possession and territory, relinquishing both almost entirely throughout the match.
One to watch: Thembi Kgatlana (Striker, Beijing Phoenix)
Defenders will not want to find themselves isolated with Thembi Kgatlana. She’ll be one of the quickest players on show in France. A fearless and hard-working player, the 23-year old was voted CAF African Women’s Player of the Year 2018 and became a household name in South Africa at the Women’s Cup of Nations, scoring a brilliant half volley on the run against Nigeria which secured a surprise 1-0 win in the group stages. Should she score a World Cup goal, it may well be one of the more memorable celebrations you’ll see.
Current FIFA Ranking 13
Best placing – Group 2015
England fans got a chance to look at Spain Women’s team a couple of months ago with the Lionesses running out 2-1 winners. La Roja were tidy on the ball and moved England around, but lacked a bit of cutting edge on the day. Their qualifying campaign, however, paints a different picture with an average of three goals per game and a 100% record.
PSG’s Irene Paredes leads the team and marshals the Spanish backline with strength and composure. Jennifer Hermoso has 27 strikes in 67 caps and backs this up with some impressive scoring stats at FC Barcelona, PSG and Atlético Madrid.
Jorge Vilda took over as Head Coach following Canada 2015 – Spain’s only World Cup to date – and immediately set about bringing in some new faces and changing the tactical approach. His squad selection for France has not been without controversy, leaving out several Atlético Madrid players considered key to the group, while bringing back midfielder Patri Guijarro who missed 5 months of Barcelona’s season injured. A very successful coach with the age group set-ups, Vilda has already made a modicum of progress with his side winning the Algarve Invitational in 2017 and then the Cyprus Cup last year.
And yet 2019 has had something of a rollercoaster feel to it. The team came into the year on the back of creditworthy draws with Germany and Belgium then lost to the USA. Then they beat Euro 2017 winners Holland, lost to Poland, beat Switzerland and Brazil, then lost to England. Competitive then, but inconsistent.
In summary: Spain should make it out of their group but will need to be at their very best to go much further through the knockout stages.
One to watch: Celia Jiménez Delgado (Defender / Midfielder, Reign FC)
Currently playing at Reign FC in the USA, Celia is an emerging talent in the Spanish squad – so perhaps one to ‘look out for’ rather than a solid ‘one to watch’! Extremely mobile, she can play down the right as a full back, wing back or midfielder, hugging the touchline to provide width, beat an opponent and deliver a probing cross. The 23-year old has good recovery pace and isn’t afraid of putting her foot in when matches get a bit more physical.