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. This preview looks at Group E which features good outside bet Canada, OFC dominators New Zealand and Euro 2017 Champions the Netherlands, First up though the Indomitable Lionesses of Cameroon…
Current FIFA Ranking: 46
Best placing – RO16 in 2015, Canada
Cameroon made it out of their group in 2015, their first and only World Cup prior to this one. Attacking midfielder cum striker Gabrielle Onguéné was the driving force at that tournament guiding the Indomitable Lionesses past Switzerland and Ecuador to the round of 16.
Repeating this feat looks a tall order. Onguéné will be there again but look behind the scenes and it gives the impression of all being a bit unstable. Head Coach Alain Djeumfa was the squad’s fitness man up until the end of last year when suddenly his boss, Joseph Ndoko was fired. Djeumfa does have coaching experience with several sides in Cameroon and will be assisted by former captain Bernadette Anong, but he’s not had much time with the team and one can’t help wondering how organised it’s all going to look on-field once the serious business gets under way.
Much of their preparation has consisted of playing (and beating) domestic or academy sides. A rather meagre looking three international friendlies has seen them beat Croatia but lose to China and Spain.
The squad is made up of players operating in seven countries worldwide. Defender, Estelle Johnson, was eligible for the USA, where she lives, and Mali where her mother is from, but chose Cameroon, the country of her birth, after being approached by former coach Ndoko.
In summary: Cameroon have landed in a very tough group this year and will need something resembling a once-in-a-lifetime big performance to progress to the knock-out phase.
One to watch: Ajara Nchout (Forward, Vålerenga)
Chout has been in the Cameroon set-up since the 2012 London Olympics. This will be her second World Cup. She’s played in a variety of countries including the US, Russia and Sweden but settled in Norway where she scored 15 goals in 19 games for IL Sandviken.
A move to Vålerenga followed but chances were slightly harder to come by with 3 in 6. Nonetheless, Ajara secured a Player of Year nomination in Toppserien and has shown that she is confident and hard-working player who likes to play on the shoulder of the last defender, chase lost causes and generate defensive mistakes – all of which lead to scoring opportunities for herself and her teammates.
Current FIFA Ranking: 5
Best placing – 4th in 2003, USA
In 2015, Canada hosted the tournament so didn’t need to play a competitive game to qualify. This time round they had to go through the formalities of the CONACAF Championships. They finished 2nd, again. As losing finalists to the United States, again. It might seem churlish to point this out, but the Canucks have won CONCACAF twice, avoiding a US team on each occasion. Just saying…
John Herdman had led the Women’s team for seven years but was offered a move to the men’s team which, though highly unusual in the sport, he accepted. Kenneth Heiner-Møller took the reins in 2018, bringing a wealth of experience that included steering Denmark Women to the 2007 World Cup Final. He’s been pleased with the talent he’s inherited and has looked to develop a team that keeps the ball better and approaches matches on the front foot.
“It used to be that you could defend and counter-attack to win tournaments, but you can’t do that anymore. You have to be able to control all the moments of the game to be a successful team throughout a tournament. You don’t see games played at one pace; you see the rhythm change throughout a game. From my perspective, that makes it a better game to watch.”Kenneth Heiner-Møller, Canada Head Coach talking to the FIFA Website, 2019
Fans of the English FAWSL may have glimpsed Adriana Leon flying down the wing in a handful of appearances for West Ham. Meanwhile, Janine Beckie is pushing her way into the Manchester City attack. They have over 100 caps between them supplementing some considerable experience within the ranks – not least the 282 caps won by talismanic striker, Christine Sinclair.
In summary: Canada are definitely not a side to be underestimated in France. They haven’t lost in their last nine and are very difficult to score against. The problem for the Canucks may be at the other end where they’ve only scored eight goals in that unbeaten run. That kind of conversion rate is unlikely to stand up at the business end of the tournament.
One to watch: Christine Sinclair (Striker, Portland Thorns)
At 35, evergreen striker Christine Sinclair is still banging in the goals. She scored a classic poacher’s finish against England in April – volleying a rebound home from close range – but there is so much more to her game. A born leader with strength, skill and athleticism, Christine’s clinical finishing has helped the Portland Thorns to two championships in the USA. She’s able to hold the ball up, link midfield to attack and presents a palpable goal threat from free kicks.
She’s confirmed that she is hoping to play on until the 2020 Tokyo Olympics but that that will likely be her ‘bow’. Which makes this her final World Cup. Currently on 9 tournament goals she will be keen to hit double figures quickly and then look to move further up the all-time list. Not many footballers end up on their country’s postage stamps. But Christine has!
Current FIFA Ranking: 8
Best placing – RO16 in 2015, Canada
It seems like the Netherlands arrived late to the international women’s football sorority. But now they’re here, they mean business! The side won Euro 2017, looking comfortable throughout and wearing the pressure of hosts well. Head Coach, Sarina Wiegman, would have hoped to build on that tournament success with a confident World Cup qualifying campaign but were pipped to top spot in a winner takes all clash with Norway.
Wiegman, a former central midfielder with 104 international caps, didn’t panic and the Dutch negotiated a path through playoff opponents Switzerland, and then Denmark, winning both ties 4-1 on aggregate.
Group E rivals Canada are higher in the FIFA rankings, but the Netherlands have a very talented group featuring 2017 World Player of the Year Lieke Martens on the left wing, Sherida Spitse anchoring the midfield and Shanice Van Der Sanden offering breathtaking pace down the right. Arsenal WFC will supply a significant proportion of the Dutch attack with playmaker Daniëlle van de Donk and now energetic midfielder Jill Roord looking to supply the bullets for clinical striker Vivianne Miedema, who at just 22-years old, already has 57 goals in 74 caps.
In summary: Despite mixed preparation in 2019 which has seen the Dutch lose to Poland and Spain they remain a solid each-way bet. A slow burn through the first two group games should prepare them for their showdown with Canada, by which time both teams may already have qualified for the knockout stages anyway. If they are fully firing by then, the Netherlands are more than capable of going all the way.
One to watch: Shanice Van Der Sanden
There aren’t many in the game that look like they are playing football with quite the same unbridled joy that this lady does. She offers the kind of explosive pace down the right that full backs do not want to be isolated with. What’s worse, it endures for 90 minutes and is backed up with good crossing, passing and instinctive awareness of where her teammates are.
The 26-year old joined Liverpool after the Netherland’s Euro 2017 triumph. Shanice quickly (as always) showed enough on the domestic scene to convince serial French Champions, Lyon, that she should be charging up and down their right flank instead. She’s played there ever since, winning a League / Cup / Champions League treble this season. Don’t blink you might miss her…
Current FIFA Ranking: 19
Best placing – Group Stage
New Zealand won the OFC Championship for the fourth time in a row to seal their place in France.
Glaswegian Head Coach, Tom Sermanni, is one of the most experienced in the international women’s game having worked with the USA and Australian senior teams, taking the latter to two quarter finals. He’s optimistic about his squad’s development but retains a (stereo-)typically Scottish pragmatism about what New Zealand can achieve, when compared to rival federations that invest more time and money in their players and can therefore prepare more professionally for tournaments.
History isn’t on their side either. The Football Ferns haven’t got out of the group stages in their previous four attempts and it’s looking a tall order again, although with 16 to go through to the knockout stages, one or two best-3rd-place spots could still be up for grabs by the time they get to play Cameroon on June 20th.
In their own continental federation, of course, they are all conquering. Similarly, to the top performers in Africa, Asia and South America, there just hasn’t been the competitive challenge to prepare the squad for the standards of global competition. That’s unlikely to change soon, whereas one suspects other continents will see more significant rivalries develop.
Maybe the answer lies in a switch to the Asian conference, which is what Australia did in 2006. And as nearly half the squad is based in the northern hemisphere already – with more likely to follow – the geographical considerations (or perhaps budget restrictions) of playing across Oceania would surely become increasingly moot. But without New Zealand, where would that leave the OFC? It’s tricky isn’t it?
The team has plenty of experience in with six players having earned well over a century of caps. Versatile utility player Ria Percival leads the way with 139 shared across roles in defence and midfield. Born in Basildon, Essex, the 29-year old has 3 world cups behind her already. She came back to her roots last season playing at West Ham United. Highly competitive captain, Ali Riley, currently plays at Chelsea and has also enjoyed successful spells in Sweden and America.
The USA thumped them 5-0 recently in a friendly and New Zealand fans wouldn’t have enjoyed a 2-0 defeat to Australia in Sydney, but they have beaten Norway this year, who topped the Netherland’s qualifying group, and smashed and grabbed a 1-0 win over England last weekend with Erin Nayler excellent in goal.
In summary: The Football Ferns play both strongest teams in their group first which perhaps isn’t ideal, but getting a point out of either one of those matches opens it right up for the Cameroon clash.
One to watch: Erin Nayler (Goalkeeper, Bordeaux)
Nayler has been a staple in the New Zealand side since her debut in 2013. She won player of the match shutting out hosts Canada in the 2015 tournament, which cemented her reputation as one of the best keepers in the women’s game.
Now 27 years old, she plies her trade in French Division 1 for Bordeaux where she has just signed a two-year extension. Literally a ‘safe pair of hands’, Erin provides composure and leadership to her teammates on and off the pitch. She’s brave, agile, quick off her line to thwart danger and makes good decisions on crosses – looking to catch if possible, which seems to be a steadily dwindling skill these days.