FIFA Women’s World Cup – Group C

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. Our preview continues with Group C which features ‘dark horses’ Australia, South American Champions Brazil, unbeaten in 2019 Italy and a debut World Cup appearance for the Reggae Girlz of Jamaica.

Australia

Current FIFA Ranking 6

7/8 qualifications

Best placing – Quarter Finals in 2007, 2011, 2015

I’m not entirely sure how I feel about the sponsoring of an international team’s nickname, but if a bit of extra investment can propel the Westfield Matildas to success at the World Cup, expect everyone else in the women’s game to be getting in on the act real soon.

Judging the standard of the Australian team is not without its challenges. For years they have played in the Asian conference which, granted, is a significant step up from what Oceania had to offer (New Zealand sort of excepted). But they haven’t won a continental championship since 2010, falling short both times against Japan – who are effectively seeded below England in Group D.

What Head Coach, Ante Mililic does have, however, is a stellar forward line. Caitlin Foord, Lisa De Vanna and Sam Kerr are going to be a handful for anyone.  Even the USA struggled to contain them in a recent friendly and had to rely on their own firepower to secure a 5-3 victory.

Several players have made over 100 appearances for the Matildas, with De Vanna closing in on 150 caps and 50 goals. A high proportion play their club matches in America, although many are seeing opportunities to get loans in Europe or Australia during the US off-season. At the other end of the experience spectrum, 16-year old Bankstown striker, Mary Fowler, will be one of the youngest players to go to a World Cup Finals.

In summary: This is a squad with plenty of experience and yet still reasonably young overall. Brazil presents the sternest test for them in game 2 but the Seleção haven’t looked their strongest recently. Group C is eminently winnable for Australia and ‘dark horse’ status could sit well on them in the knockout stages.

One to watch: Sam Kerr (Striker, Chicago Red Stars)

Sam Kerr, Australia

Kerr is regarded by many in the women’s game as one of the world’s best players right now, sharing her time between stints in the Australian W-League and American NWSL. The last thing opponents want to see is the Matilda’s no.20 spinning through the air following one of those acrobatic goal celebrations (that managers publicly frown upon, but secretly love).

Brilliantly balanced, with bags of pace, Kerr’s presence makes playing a high defensive line risky.  Equally adept working space in front of a packed defence or running in behind it, she anticipates errors and is very good in a 1-2-1 situation with the goalkeeper. Unless she can ‘fill her boots ‘during the group stage, the 25-year old’s viability for the tournament’s golden boot could be determined by whether the Aussies can get as far as the semi-finals, something they have not been able to do before. 

Brazil

Current FIFA Ranking 10

8/8 qualifications

Best placing – Final in 2007, Germany

Brazil dominate the women’s football scene in South America and have won the Copa América Feminina seven times in eight championships. They’ve found dominating the world stage, however, a more difficult proposition; only making the semi-finals twice in seven attempts.

They smashed through World Cup qualifying but the set-up has not been without controversy.  Firing head coach Emily Lima in 2017, the Brazilian Federation unwittingly sparked a full-on player revolt over wages, recognition and more respect for women players that ended with several key members of the squad retiring in order to force a change in attitudes.

Coach, Vadão, has had the job of rebuilding. His CV would be a challenge to edit down to the widely accepted best practice of two pages long, having had an extraordinary 29 coaching jobs – none of which lasted longer than the very first appointment he was given in 1990. This is his second spell with the Brazil women’s team, although he might regret returning if World Cup results continue along the same lines as recent matches.

The Seleção have lost their last eight internationals, including defeats to England, Japan and the USA at the SheBelieves Cup – all plausible candidates for the 2019 FIFA title in fairness. What perhaps is more concerning is the manner of the 1-0 defeat at the hands of Scotland in April, neatly demonstrating that hard work beats talent if talent doesn’t work enough. Brazil fans will be hoping that this was a timely lesson learned.

One to watch (yet again) – Marta

Marta, Brazil

Six-time World Player of the Year, Marta won the Golden Ball at her U-19 championships and the 33-year old has maintained a staggering goalscoring record since then with 110 strikes in 133 caps. Genuinely a living legend in women’s football, she currently holds the record for the most World Cup Final goals (15) and will be looking to add to this tally in France.

With a cultured left foot, Marta is a technically outstanding No.10 in the best tradition of South American players in this role – skill, flair, quick feet, creative, unpredictable.  Her 19-year career has spanned Brazil, Sweden and latterly the USA, where she plays for Orlando Pride.

Italy

Current FIFA Ranking 15

3/8 Qualifications

Best placing – Quarter Final in China, 1991

Given Italy’s World Cup track in the men’s game, the women only qualifying for two previous tournaments is somewhat surprising; and rather suggests that Federcalcio (effectively the Italian Football Federation) didn’t feel that female representation was particularly important.

Head Coach Milena Bertolini is attempting to change all that. She has acknowledged that La Squadra Azzurra are some way behind the level of other European countries but is keen to use her 15 years’ experience as a top-flight central defender to improve the organisation and competitiveness of her side.

Drawing almost exclusively from players playing their trade in Italy, Bertolini’s side have had good results this year against relatively limited opponents. In seven wins and two draws, only opponents Chile and Thailand had made the 24 for France. But pre-tournament morale will have been boosted further with their most recent victory over a decent Switzerland side, enabling Italy to arrive in France as one of very few teams unbeaten over 90 minutes in 2019 (note: they did lose a penalty shoot-out following a draw).

Juventus provide the backbone of the first team. Sara Gama is an uncompromising central defender who wears the captain’s armband, while Barbara Bonesea is a talented attacking midfielder with 32 goals in 37 appearances for Le Bianconere. They are supplemented by players from 6 other clubs including veteran Milan striker Daniela Sabatino who operates just shy of a 1 to 2 goal:game ratio for her country.

In summary: After the FIFA draw, Italy may have seen one of the four available 3rd place spots as the most realistic bet for their progression, specifically targeting the Jamaica game as a three-pointer. But they may now take some confidence from Scotland’s recent win over Brazil that they could get something there to take them through without needing to rely on other results.

One to watch: Cristiana Girelli (Forward, Juventus)

Cristina Girelli, Italy

Forward Cristiana Girelli has scored 27 international goals for her country. She was prolific at AFC Brescia before joining the Italian Champions. Girelli is an archetypal ‘fox-in-the-box’, good both in the air and on the ground, getting a yard on her marker to convert crosses. Opponents won’t want to give her room on the edge of the penalty area either, as she’s partial to a distance strike.

Jamaica

Current FIFA Ranking 53

1/8 qualifications

Best placing – N/A

The Reggae Girlz are another women’s team on their maiden voyage (sorry, no pun intended) into World Cup Final waters. They qualified by finishing third at last year’s CONCACAF Women’s Championships, beating Panama on penalties following an exciting 2-2 draw. They are the first Caribbean country to reach the finals.  

Yet incredibly, Jamaica lost their FIFA ranking in 2011 having not played a competitive fixture for 3 years. It wasn’t until 2014 that the spark of women’s football was reignited when Cedella Marley (yes, from that Marley family) became involved. She had designed a successful range of men’s sportswear garments, and decided to put the proceeds of this business venture towards funding the national women’s soccer team. Marley remains a passionate ambassador for the Reggae Girlz, enabling soccer development and education by attracting sponsorship and providing direct financial support.

Good fortune also arrived when Hue Menzies took on the role of Head Coach. Rather than simply try to make the best team out of what he had available, he sought to find ways to change how Jamaicans perceived women in soccer, and indeed how the players should see themselves. This would foster a more professional approach in spite of the limited resources available to him, compared to more established international set-ups.

Having put the core of his squad together, Menzies then looked to put players into higher education in the USA or into academy programmes in Europe.  Daily training in a formalised, educational environment, Menzies felt, would make them more competitive, more independent and more pre-disposed to learning the game – all of which would have the added bonus of developing them as young women. The squad is a blend of players who grew up on the island and those that are eligible to play for Jamaica through family connections, which perhaps has also helped in getting an educational foothold in countries like the US.   

Youngest squad member, Jody Brown, is highly regarded and was pivotal in helping the team to qualify for their first World Cup, being named Best Young Player at the CONCACAF Championships at just 16 years old.

In summary: Jamaica, on the face of it, look unlikely to get out of their group. But huge steps have been made in a relatively short time. Giving opponents something to think about and possibly uncovering one or two players with the potential to play professionally could be regarded as success and give Marley and Menzies more to work with before the next CONCACAF tournament.

One to watch: Khadija Shaw (Striker, Florida Krush)

Khadija ‘Bunny’ Shaw, Jamaica

Khadija Shaw made the tournament’s best eleven list at the 2018 CONCACAF Championships. ‘Bunny’ as she is nicknamed has performed well for Coach Menzies at Florida Krush last season and went on to put in some good displays at the University of Tennessee.

A quick and powerful forward, she was front and centre on British TV screens recently taking on the Scottish Women’s team in a pre-tournament friendly and scoring two fine goals in the process.

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