Friday, September 07, 2007

du Nord Women’s World Cup 2007 Preview

By Adam - a faithful and obviously dedicated reader of du Nord.

Group A

-GERMANY Reigning world and European champs Germany appear to have the easiest group on paper. But the team and coach Silvia Neid aren’t taking anything for granted in defense of the title they won four years ago. The Germans are strong and tactically sound at every position and have a deep bench. Twelve of the players on the squad were a part of the championship team in ‘03, including top scorer from that event, Birgit Prinz, and midfielder Renate Lingor. An injury to starting goalkeeper Silke Rottenberg gives backup goalie Nadine Angerer a chance to uphold Germany’s reputation for having a stingy defense.

-ENGLAND Long considered one of the middle-tier teams in Europe, England find themselves in the World Cup for the first time in twelve years. Nine of the players on the squad play together in the Women’s Premier League for championship team Arsenal, and the English boast attacking midfielder Kelly Smith, one of the best players in the women’s game. But can the rest of the team support her? After strong performances against the USA and Germany in a small tournament in January, England are out to prove they can play—and win—against the elite teams in women’s soccer.

-JAPAN After finding themselves in fourth place and out of contention in Asian qualifying for the World Cup, Japan had to defeat Mexico in a home-and-away series to book their ticket to China ‘07. The team relies heavily on midfielder Homare Sawa, who’ll be playing in her fourth World Cup, but with an impressive showing at the ’04 Olympics and a recent win over pre-tournament favorite Brazil in a friendly match, Japan look to improve upon their lackluster performance in qualifying.

-ARGENTINA At the Women’s World Cup four years ago, Argentina lost all three of its first round games, including a 0-6 loss to Japan and a 1-6 loss to Germany. This time around, the team wants to show it’s better than a three-and-out performance. The young squad, led by veteran striker Mariela Coronel and goalkeeper Romina Ferro, are out to prove they’ve tightened up on defense and are more confident in front of goal than they were four years ago.

Verdict: Germany should finish first in the group, but Japan and England are both capable of springing an upset. Be sure to set your TIVO for the match between Japan and England. It’ll be a battle for second place in the group and one of the most exciting matches of the first round. The second place team from this group will most likely face the United States in the quarterfinals.

Group B

-USA Another of the favorites to win it all, the US enters this World Cup riding a 37 game unbeaten streak under head coach Greg Ryan, who took over in 2005. Ryan stresses strong team defense and his players are fit, fast, and adept at playing in multiple different formations. Critics say the team often struggles to score during the run of play, but forwards Abby Wambach and Kristine Lilly look to impose their potent, attacking style of play upon opponents. New players, such as midfielders Carli Lloyd and Lori Chalupny, and goalie Hope Solo, hope to erase any doubt that the US can’t win the cup without the team’s famous stars of the past.

-NORTH KOREA The buzz surrounding North Korea coming into this, their third World Cup, is similar to what it was in ‘99 and ‘03. Many people consider them the best team in Asia and a dark horse to win the cup. But, because the team plays few games outside of their region, they remain enigmatic. In the typical style of Asian women soccer teams, the Koreans rely on speed and agility and play a possession-based passing game. At the youth level, the North Koreans won the U-20 Women’s World Cup in 2006 and are hoping the young players from that squad, coupled with the fact that the team is playing close to home, can help veteran forward Ri Kum Suk make a lasting impression at the full international level.

-SWEDEN Second-place finishers at the ‘03 World Cup, Sweden lost in the final to Germany on an overtime goal. But, make no mistake—the game could have gone either way. Nine players from the ‘03 team return, most notably the dangerous striking pair Hanna Ljunberg and Victoria Svensson. A rash of injuries recently plagued the Swedes, but if the team stays healthy and young standout Lotta Schelin, a dominating force in midfield, plays to her potential, Sweden could reach the final again.

-NIGERIA While they may be the best team Africa has to offer, Nigeria historically struggles in World Cup play. They advanced to the quarterfinals in 1999, but had a dismal showing in 2003, going three-and-out without scoring a goal. The players are hard tacklers, who have the ability to play fast, creative offensive soccer. Defensively, though, Nigeria is suspect. Forward Cynthia Uwak, one of the best strikers in Africa, leads a Nigerian team hoping to overcome past inconsistencies.

Verdict: The media dubbed this the “group of death” because three of the teams are currently ranked in the top five in FIFA world rankings (USA 1, Sweden 3, North Korea 5). While it isn’t unthinkable that North Korea or Sweden could shock the US and take first in the group, the United States is favored to make it out on top. That means North Korea and Sweden will have to duke it out for second place and a spot in the quarterfinals against Germany. Every game in this group is a must win. Overshadowed by the other three contenders, the Nigerians (currently 24 in the world) have to raise their game tremendously if they hope to escape the group.

Group C

-NORWAY Once a powerhouse in women’s soccer, having won the World Cup in ‘95 and Olympic gold in ‘00, Norway fell off the radar after a loss to the US in the quarterfinals of the ‘03 World Cup. The team relied heavily on a direct style of play in the past, launching long balls over the top of defenses for forwards to run on to or win in the air. Under new coach Bjarne Berntsen, however, the team has learned to play a more technical, passing game similar to other European powers, Germany and Sweden. The team is full of inexperienced players, but the return of star midfielder Solveig Gulbrandsen from pregnancy, and the presence of goalie Bente Nordby, one of the best in the tournament, might be enough to help Norway go deep into the tournament.

-AUSTRALIA The Australians have been a part of the last three Women’s World Cups but have yet to make it out of the group stage. Recently, the Australian Football Association switched from the Oceania qualifying region to the Asian qualifying region. And the switch has made all the difference for Australia. The fast, athletic players face much better competition against the likes of China, North Korea, and Japan. If defender Cheryl Salisbury can keep the defense as strong as it has been, Australia just might make it out of their group this time.

-CANADA Like he did when he coached the Norwegian Women’s National Team, Canada coach Even Pellerud relies on his players’ physical strength and power to win games. Canada plays quick, counter-attacking soccer that led them to fourth place in the ‘03 World Cup. Kara Lang and Christine Sinclair make a lethal combination up top for the Canucks, but two lopsided losses in recent warm-up matches against the United States and Brazil, along with questionable team harmony, make a repeat of their performance from ‘03 seem a bit lofty.

-GHANA The Ghanaians have long been one of the best teams in Africa, second only to Nigeria. Like Nigeria, they might be good enough to dominate in their region, but on the international scene, the Ghanaian women face an uphill battle. Goalkeeper Memunatu Sulemana is one of the best players on the team. And she has to be. In previous World Cups, Ghana’s defense was known for its lapses. Offensively, Ghana boasts the African Women’s Player of the Year Adjoa Bayor. But Sulemana and Bayor will be hard pressed to help Ghana make it out of their group.

Verdict: Norway is the strongest team in the group, but if Australia and Canada play up to their potential, first place might not be assured for the Scandinavians. Ghana’s speedy, opportunistic play might allow them to disrupt the standings for the other three teams (and they’re fun as Hell to watch), but they won’t finish in the top two of the group. Canada vs. Australia should be the best game in the group.

Group D

-CHINA It’s hard for fans of women’s soccer to imagine China not being one of the obvious favorites to compete for the title. Following the team’s second place finish in the ‘99 World Cup, though, China’s women’s program fell into a period of decline. They still play the same style that made the team powerful in the late ‘90s, focused on speed and sharp passing. The Chinese simply don’t have the athleticism and strength that allowed them to take games over as they once did. New coach Marika Domanski-Lyfors, who coached Sweden to a second place finish at the ‘03 World Cup, is confident the Chinese can finish in the top four, buoyed by the play of veteran forward Han Duan and youngster Ma Xiaoxu. With home-field advantage in this World Cup, and in the Olympics next summer, China might find their way back to the top of the women’s game.

-BRAZIL There is no doubt that Brazil is the most improved side in the women’s game. After being relative pushovers in the first two World Cups, the Brazilians placed third in the ‘99 event. And, in the Olympics in ‘04, Brazil almost toppled the US in the gold medal game. 2006 FIFA World Player of the Year, Marta, and lethal striker Cristiane constantly shred defenses with their amazing dribbling skills and pinpoint passing. Known for their creative, attacking soccer, the Brazilian’s often come under fire for their lazy defending. Should the Brazilians figure out a way to keep other teams from scoring, they might live up to the hype as pre-tournament favorites.

-DENMARK The Danes are the weakest of the European teams in the World Cup. But if their performance in the Algarve Cup in March was any indication, the team is ready to show the world what it can do. Denmark placed second in that tournament, which included Sweden, Germany, Norway, and China, losing to the US in the final 0-2. Speedy forward Johanna Rasmussen’s runs up the flanks can wreak havoc on opposing defenses, and if midfielder Katrine Pederson can help her team maintain possession in the middle of the park, Denmark might be able to survive the group stage.

-NEW ZEALAND With Australia playing in the Asian Confederation to qualify for the World Cup, New Zealand was able to roll through the Oceania qualifying tournament, outscoring opponents 21-1, and book a spot in the World Cup. But New Zealand plays few games outside of its weak qualifying region. In July, the young and inexperienced Kiwis played a friendly match against the US and lost 1-6. Still, defender Rebecca Smith and veteran Wendi Henderson are hoping their young team can gain valuable experience for the next World Cup in 2011.

Verdict: If the fans can invigorate the mediocre home team, China might be able to upset Denmark and Brazil and take first place in the group. If the Chinese flounder, expect Brazil to finish first and Denmark to clinch the second place spot in the group. New Zealand isn’t strong enough to upset any of these teams and probably won’t win a game.

Round 1 of Group Stage Matches & Scores:
-Mon Sep 10
Germany v Argentina
-Tue Sep 11
Japan v England
USA v N Korea
Nigeria v Sweden
-Wed Sep 12
Ghana v Australia
Norway v Canada
New Zealand v Brazil
China v Denmark


Blogger mamacita chilena said...

Thank you Adam for that great run down! Sounds like it should be a fantastic cup, I wish I could watch!!

And thank to you Brucio for making a point of including women's soccer in your blog as well.

10:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you!!

1:03 AM  
Anonymous Matt L said...

Great preview. Thanks for taking time to put it together.

Matt L

9:21 PM  
Blogger Nicole said...

I have to say, I didn't know much about the Women's World Cup until I read your article. It was full of valuable insight and very well written.

Great article, looking forward to future updates.

7:30 PM  

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