Saturday, June 6, 2015

Ladies' Night: Women's World Cup Preview and Predictions

The Women's World Cup is here. It all gets started tonight when hosts Canada faces China at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton.The women's game is growing quite quickly. The first World Cup was held in 1991 with only 12 teams. This year's edition, for the first time ever, will feature 24 of the best women's international teams in the world. The USA won that very first event, held in China, as well as the 1999 edition held here in the United States. Other winners include Norway (1995), Germany (2003 and 2007), and defending champions Japan (2011). The 2011 final between Japan and the United States was one of the best matches I have ever seen. After twice taking the lead, including once in extra time, the USA failed to hold on against their Asian opposition and Japan downed the Americans in penalties.

Women's soccer is the women's sport that is most alike it's men's counterpart. The players are very skilled and play in pretty much the same way as the men. You can watch a women's match and never once feel that you are watching an inferior product. It is soccer at its very core, and thus very, very entertaining.

The favorites of the 24 sides to compete in the coming weeks are the USA and Germany. They are the only nations to have won the tournament twice and are both primed to make a run at a third. Japan, France, and Norway all could challenge those top to dogs for the title. You also have to watch out for dark horse candidates like Canada and England.

Being a 24 team tournament, things get a little wonky when cutting down to the last 16. Finishing in the top two spots in one of the six groups will secure a spot in the knockout rounds and the other four spots are filled with the best of the third place teams. This tends to put an emphasis on goal differential among the middle of the pack, as often the points are tied with those third place finishers. Here is each group and how I am figuring they will finish.

Group A
Canada- 7 pts
China - 6 pts
Netherlands- 1 pt
New Zealand- 0 pts

The hosts should win the  group without much trouble. Canada isn't exactly a power in soccer, in general, but their women's team can compete. They have always been, and will likely continue to be, overshadowed by the USA (as in pretty much everything they do, non-hockey sports and non-sports). Canada's ultimate undoing could, in fact, come at the hands of the American women.

Group B
Germany- 9 pts
Norway- 6 pts
Ivory Coast- 1 pt
Thailand- 1 pt

Germany rolls this group without much issue. Norway, who kind of got screwed on this draw, should take care of Ivory Coast and Thailand to advance to the round of 16. As for the Ivory Coast, the women's team is a ways behind the progress of the men's side and Thailand is thankful to really be here at all. They scrap out a draw as they both fight hard for those crucial third place points.

Group C
Japan- 7 pts
Switzerland- 4 pts
Cameroon- 3 pts
Ecuador- 0 pts

Japan should take the top spot without much trouble as Switzerland is their only real competition. The Swiss should dipatch Ecuador (who's national team is made up of the South American equivalent of beer league players) and Cameroon, who is another story of an African nation on the rise but not quite there yet. The Swiss can give Japan a fight, so I expect them to draw. Cameroon could get a win against Ecuador and use that to launch themselves into the round of 16, where anything can happen.

Group D
United States- 7 pts
Sweden- 5 pts
Australia- 5 pts
Nigeria- 1 pt

This is your group of death, ladies and gentlemen. The USA, Sweden, and Auatralia are all ranked in the top ten in the world and Nigeria is the best team in Africa by far. The USA should still come out on top, but it won't be easy. I am calling for wins agaisnt Australia and Nigeria while they draw against the Swedes. It very well could come down to goal difference between Australia and Sweden to determine who gets the other automatic spot, but the loser in that battle should still get through as one of the best third place teams. I have to feel sorry for Nigeria, who really could advance if they had a better draw than this.

Group E
Brazil- 7 pts
Spain- 3 pts
South Korea- 2 pts
Costa Rica- 2 pts

This might be the toughest group to predict. Brazil are one of the world powers and will win the group with ease, but beyond that things get murky. Spain has a pretty good women's program, although it doesn't live up to the strength of their men, and South Korea are one of Asia's traditional powers. I am going to cop out an bit and call for a lot of draws, including Spain scratching one out against Brazil. South Korea, I guess, will lose to Brazil by less than Costa Rica to finish third and move on to the knockout rounds.

Group F
France- 7 pts
England- 5 pts
Mexico- 4 pts
Colombia- 0 pts

Another tough one to call. France, again, should take the group, but it wouldn't shock me if England sneaks up on them and swims ahead in the end. Either way, I am calling for the two of them to get the automatic spots and Mexico to take third and move on. Colombia, thanks for playing.

Predicted Round of 16
China vs. Switzerland
USA vs. South Korea
Germany vs. Australia
France vs. Spain
Brazil vs. Sweden
Japan vs. Mexico
Norway vs. England
Canada vs. Cameroon

My predicted round of 16 has some fun looking matches. Norway and England would be the highlight. Norway sort of represents the old guard of the women's game and England is one of the European powers who are late to the party, but making some noise now that they are here. Sweden could put up a fight against Brazil as well. In an interesting twist, the USA might have an easier time in the quarter finals than they will in the round of 16.

Predicted Quarterfinals
China vs. USA
Germany vs. France
Brazil vs. Japan
Norway vs. Canada

I guess I am not calling for any upsets in those interesting round of 16 matches. These, however, are some real doozies. The USA should roll through China, but Germany will have their hands full with France, Brazil and Japan are both great teams, and Norway and Canada are both dark horses. These could be some great matches, should they come to pass.

Predicted Semifinals
USA vs. Germany
Brazil vs. Canada

Man, things couldn't get worse for the USWNT here. They kind of get screwed over on their path to the final. A match between the to most successul women's programs out there before the final is most intriguing. Unfortunately for the Americans, I have to go with Germany in this clash of powers. As much as I love Canada and as awesome as a Cinderella run to the final would be, I am going with Brazil.

Predicted FInal
Germany vs. Brazil

This is it, the moment the Brazilians have been waiting for. Their shot at revenge for the thrashing Germany laid upon them in the World Cup semis last summer. I don't think that will happen, however. Germany are the best in the world and they will prove it this summer. They will win their third Women's World Cup and become the first nation to hold both the men's and women's titles at the same time.

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