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 final preview looks at newcomers Chile, former finalists Sweden, South East Asia’s finest Thailand and bookies favourites the USA.
Current FIFA Ranking: 39
Best placing – N/A
Las Chicas de Rojo qualified for their first ever Women’s World Cup Finals finishing runners up to Brazil in last year’s Copa América Femenina, which Chile hosted.
Coach José Letelier was a former goalkeeper who won the Copa Libertadores in 1991 with Colo-Colo and repeated the feat as head coach of the women’s equivalent in 2012. He has been in post since 2015 and his work with the Women’s set-up has focused as much on creating enablers for the game to develop in Chile, raising the profile and ensuring that women’s football gets the right resources to move to the next level. He is keen to see that that the sport is respected in its own right and his team’s performance at last year’s Copa América in front of home crowds could only have helped that agenda.
Facing the world stage, the squad looks like it will lack the experience to make it far, even though a fair proportion of the team have played in Europe. Not only is this their first World Cup but there only appear to be a handful of players with over 20 caps (although I’m a bit dubious about some of the stats I’ve read to be honest!). A confidence boosting and surprising 3-2 victory over Australia last November was avenged just three days later by the Matildas who knocked in five without reply. Since then, they haven’t won in ten internationals.
Perhaps fittingly for Letelier’s background, goalkeeper Christiane Endler has become a key player, supporting captain Karen Araya in getting the coach’s message across to the other players. Now featuring for Paris St Germain, Endler made her debut for her country at just 15-years old. Araya is a busy midfield player who plays for Sevilla in Spain. The 28-year old is very mobile, likes a shot from distance, particularly from set-pieces, and will take any penalties Chile might get.
In summary: It’s going to be a very tall order for Chile to get beyond the group stage but if there is a way through it looks most likely to come in their match up with Thailand. As a side observation, they’ve never played England and, barring a bit of a miracle, that doesn’t look likely to change at this tournament.
One to watch: María José Rojas (Forward, SK Slavia Praha)
South America has proved a tough place for women footballers to earn respect. Which perhaps explains why María has had the very definition of a nomadic career, playing in seven countries across five continents over the last ten years. She scored 63 goals in 23 matches with her first club Universidad de Chile, which helped to secure a scholarship at Texas University.
Since then she’s gone out and seen world as a club player and become an important part of her country’s attack. Comfortable on either wing or as a central striker, Rojas can isolate and beat a full back, makes intelligent runs into the box and will put away her fair share of goal scoring opportunities.
Current FIFA Ranking: 9
Best placing – Runners-up 2003, USA
The Swedes won their qualifying group pushing Scandinavian rivals, Denmark, into the playoffs. They have a pretty useful track record in the tournament actually, finishing runners up to Germany in 2003 and third eight years later.
Peter Gerhardsson is the head coach, who had a modest playing career which included appearances for the Swedish U-17, U19 and U-23 teams. He can point to a wealth of experience managing and coaching men’s teams prior to taking up with the Women’s squad just over two years ago.
There are plenty of caps in the group. Montpelier’s Linda Sembrandt has over 100, as does Wolfsburg defender Nilla Fisher. National treasure, Caroline Seger, will captain the team and manage proceedings from midfield. With 43 caps already under her belt, 23-year old Stina Blackstenius will provide a bit of ‘X’ factor up front. The Swedish number 11 had a good Euro 2017 championships demonstrating her speed and skill on the ball, and movement off it. She followed this up with strong performances in the qualifying campaign scoring important goals to ensure Blågult (the blue and yellow) won the group.
In summary: Sweden should make it comfortably out of Group F. Even though the USA has been drawn in there with them the rest of the group isn’t that strong by their standards. Should they progress they can at least rest easy that it will be a while before they would see the tournament favourites again. Last eight achievable.
One to watch: Hedvig Lindahl (Goalkeeper, Chelsea)
Two-time recipient of Sweden’s Diamantbollen (player of year), the domestic, double-winning Chelsea keeper was going head to head with England’s Carly Telford this season for the no.1 shirt. Brave, agile and quick off her goal line, Lindahl has that ‘little bit of crazy’ that every keeper needs to succeed and she’s highly respected by her peers, particularly of course in Sweden where she’s played most of her career.
With 157 caps for her country, like many of her teammates, she’s certainly not short on big game experience and, at 36 years old, one wonders if this will be her last World Cup – although keepers do seem to last that bit longer than their outfield colleagues…
Current FIFA Ranking: 34
Best placing – Group stage
Thailand qualified on the back of 4th place at the 2018 Asian Women’s Cup. They are the most successful team in South East Asia and see the current crop of players as a ‘Golden Generation’ (hmmm, careful with that). But Chaba Kaew have won just 1 of their last eleven matches, including horror shows at both the Asian Games and the Yongchuan Invitational event scoring just four times in seven matches.
Head Coach, Nuengrutai Srathongvian, was a goalkeeper during her playing days and, on the side, won a gold medal at the Southeast Asian Games in 1995 – in field hockey. She’s coached all age groups within the Thailand set up which will have given her a front row seat on emerging young talent to put in the current squad. Two separate stints as head coach have led to qualification for the World Cup on both occasions.
Nearly all of the 23 named play their domestic football in Thailand, with the exception of American born goalkeeper Tiffany Sorpao who plays for the Kennesaw State Owls Varsity Team.
Federation investment is reportedly on the rise in Thai football, but perhaps at some point they will need to follow the lead of other countries developing their women’s game, like Jamaica, and persuade a few players to get some experience overseas. The World Cup would be the ideal shop window for one or two to make their mark, especially if that mark is in a scout’s notepad.
In summary: Realistically it looks like another one of those situations where 3rd place up is up for grabs. If they can avoid too much damage against the US and Sweden, then the Chile game is massive and the one where they will need to be at their best.
One to watch: Kanjana Sungngoen (Attacker, Bangkok)
Kanjana Sungngoen plays for Bangkok and is considered by those that watch a lot more Thai football than me to be the player to look out for. Quick and well balanced, Kanjana can play as a winger, wide of a front three or as an orthodox striker. The 32-year old has been instrumental in all of Thailand’s successes up to this point and will carry the lion’s share of her country’s expectation in France.
United States of America
Current FIFA Ranking: 1
Best placing – Winners in 1991, China, 1999, USA and 2015, Canada
Is there much mileage in pointing out that the USA have never been able to defend their World Cup crown in the tournament that follows? It’s a fact teetering on a cliff-edge – we all know it – and it’s one that Team USA will be hellbent on consigning to the history books in France. So, much so that they have undertaken a TEN-game preparation programme to ensure they arrive in peak condition with everyone firing on all cylinders.
Never mind ten games. it feels like they’ve had a fifteen-year head start on the rest of the world. They haven’t, but it feels like it. Soccer has been a mainstay of female school sports since the late ‘80s in the US and even though debate continues Stateside about the long-term commercial viability of soccer per se when compared to alternatives, the Americans take it seriously. They want to win. A lot. I’ve been following Fox TV (FS1) coverage of their progress for a few months now, right up to last week’s “disappointing” 3-0 victory over Mexico.
All of which means I’ve convinced myself that I have a window into Head Coach Jill Ellis’s mind on how she is likely to set the team up (4-3-3) and who will probably start against Thailand on June 11th (only Lindsay Horan v Sam Mewis in midfield is in doubt for me). On a side note, America’s FIFA World Coach of the Year (2015), Ellis, hails from Portsmouth, England. So, in a way, if she wins, England wins…
Trying to pick even a handful of players out of this squad to focus on is tricky. Goal scorer Alex Morgan has just reached 100 goals for her country but that only puts her 6th on the all-time list, and still behind Carli Lloyd who hasn’t quite retired yet (but surely will after this tournament). Megan Rapinoe is a technically gifted and creative player out on the left of the front three – cards on the table, Rapinoe is my favourite player in the women’s game right now. She has a bit of everything to prize defences open and contributes her share of goals. Julie Ertz is a fierce competitor in central midfield while, behind her, Becky Sauerbrunn is a powerful central defender.
It’s a very experienced group with 11 players over 30-years’ old. Eight players have a century of caps and many more are heading that way. This does give them the appearance of an ageing squad but the counterpoint to that is that there is such depth of talent in the 23 that you feel like they can comfortably cover a World Cup schedule with its inevitable fatigue, injury niggles and suspensions.
If there is a weakness, perhaps it’s at the back where they are susceptible to a quick counterattack. England fought out a 2-2 in the SheBelieves Cup, and more recently Australia scored three… in a 5-3 defeat. And here’s the problem. Good teams will score against the US. But that’s not going to be enough; they’ve got to stop the juggernaut going the other way.
In summary: They’re the favourites.
One to Watch – Rose Lavelle (Midfielder, Washington Spirit)
Not one of the established names, but 24-year old Rose has forced her way into a highly competitive midfield unit with plenty of years ahead to enable her to put her stamp on the team. The Washington Spirit player is nicely balanced and efficient in possession but also has a trick that can get her a yard of space when required.
For a creative player she works hard, supporting both defence and attack, and has chipped in a handful of international goals. But she’s at her most watchable in the final third when seeing and executing slide-rule through-balls for Morgan and co. to run on to.