The pitch debate has raged on over the past year. Talk of players refusing to play, qualified nations contemplating withdrawing their national teams and the on-going conversation of gender equality in sport reigned supreme over the soccer world for the past 15 months or so. But all the negativity, all the questions, all the frustration was put on the backburner last weekend. The 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup kicked off on a beautiful day in Edmonton, Alberta. Over 52,000 fans packed Commonwealth Stadium (#TwineTime included as a member of #TeamMedia) decked out in #CanadaRED and rang in the month long event.
Before we dive into 2015, for those unfamiliar with the FIFA Women's World Cup, here is your quick fix on FYI's:
- The inaugural tournament, titled the Women's World Championship, was held in 1991 in China. Team USA was victorious besting Norway 2-1. Interestingly enough, this initial event took place 61 years AFTER the inaugural FIFA Men's World Cup. How is that for gender equality? Yikes!
- There have been 6 Women's World Cup tournaments. China (2001, 2007) and the USA (1999, 2003) have hosted the event twice. The USA (2001, 1999) and Germany (2003, 2007) are the only teams to win multiple titles. Other winners include Norway (1995) and Japan (2011). Will we see a new champion crowned this year?
- 2015 will mark the first year of the new format. A record 24 nations will be competing in Canada. In comparison, only 12 teams competed in 1991 at the inaugural event, showing how much this sport is growing internationally. Also a first, similar to the men's world cup, this year will see the addition of the Round of 16 playoff round. This should be a huge hit with fans as it means more games and, perhaps, more upsets?
- The USA holds two distinct records heading into Canada 2015. They are the only host nation to win on home soil (1999) and they are the only nation to make the podium in every tournament (2 wins, 1 runner-up, 3 3rd place finishes). Can they continue this trend north of the border?
- 2 players participating in the 2015 tournament will be playing in their sixth (6!!) Women's World Cup event: Formiga (BRA) and Homare Sawa (JPN). This record spans 20 years! Formiga is currently 37 years old and holds the record as being the oldest goal scorer in women's football history.
- The Lucky 7: There will be seven nations competing in their seventh Women's World Cup (qualified for every tournament) Those seven nations include: Japan, Germany, USA, Norway, Sweden, Brazil and Nigeria
- The 8-Ball: There will also be eight nations competing at their very first Women's World Cup in Canada. Some of the nations on this list may surprise sports fans as the men's program has been quite successful in a few of these places. The eight nations include: Spain, Netherlands, Switzerland, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Thailand, Costa Rica and Ecuador
As Match Day #2 kicks off today, #TwineTime wanted to provide some helpful information on who realistically has a shot to lift the cup, who can challenge for the podium and who could cause a few surprises.
Germany (#1 FIFA Ranking) - The Germans enter 2015 as the top ranked team in the world but probably still feel the sting of 2011. After back-to-back World Cup titles, the Germans went into 2011 looking to three-peat...on home soil!! Everything seemed prime for history in the making. And history happened all right....Germany was upset in the quarterfinals by eventual champions Japan. This followed with sitting out the 2012 Olympics because they failed to qualify. The storied program looked a bit bleak for a few years. Enter 2013 and another European Championship, here come the Germans once again! They already opened this tournament with a massive 10-0 win over newcomers Ivory Coast. The Germans have the ability to score at will and have strong defenders in the backfield, meaning most of the possession time should have them on offense. They have a relative easy group with Norway, Ivory Coast and Thailand. They should find themselves on top of the group but could see a difficult challenge await them in the quarterfinals with France. Canadian turf seemed welcoming to Germany at last year's FIFA U20 Women's World Cup...Germany took home the title. Can they turn red and white into victory black, red and yellow?
USA (#2) - Always the favorites in any female football tournament and this will be no exception. Heading into Canada 2015 most odds makers dubbed the Americans the strong favorites to win the title. They have finished in the top three in every World Cup. They are two-time champions. They have the most name recognized players on their team. And, for the most part, have garnished the most media attention across the sport for years. They have strong leadership up front and consistency in net. Defense may be the weakest part of their overall game but when your defense stacks up better than 95% of the teams competing, how big of a weakness is it really? The catch with the Americans is seeing if they can end the drought. They are suffering a long lay off between tournament wins with their last World Cup title coming 12 years ago (2003). They are placed in the perennial Group of Death (D with Sweden, Nigeria and Australia) so if they can come out of that on top, they should be primed for another long run. They stuttered a bit in the opening half of their first game vs. Australia but found their rhythm at the end to pick up the pivotal 3 points. They can't come out slow in their next game vs. Sweden though.
Who To Watch Out For
France (#3) - The French are playing in only their third World Cup (2003, 2011). While they failed to survive the Group Stage in their debut, 2011 saw them finish in fourth place. Combine that with the fourth place finish at the 2012 Summer Olympic Games and this team has quietly become a team to watch out for. Many are picking France as title contenders. Their pool isn't too daunting, with England, Mexico and Columbia. They already knocked off England in their opening match so they should have the easy road to finish top of the group, meaning a likely worst-case quarterfinal result. Expect lots of close matches when Les Bleues are on the pitch. This team can score but also gives up the goals...usually resulting in some shoot out matches. Get ready for the big game June 26 in Montreal when they should play Germany in the quarterfinals. This will feel like a championship final.
Canada (#8) - The Canadians are playing their sixth straight Women's World Cup and the first on home soil. Pressure on this team will be HUGE. With their previous best finish being fourth place (2003), they will want to do better in front of the loud red and white fans. Canada will also want to quickly forget the embarrassment of 2011 in Germany, where they managed to score only 1 goal in losing all 3 games. Being eliminated in the Group Stage is not an option on home field though. China pushed them in the opening game, playing strong defense and being supported by outstanding goaltending. However, in almost scripted Hollywood-style, the face of women's soccer Christine Sinclair scored the game winning penalty kick at the end to send Canada into a frenzy. Their pool is not simple though with games vs. New Zealand and Netherlands to follow. In fact, of all the pools at the 2015 World Cup, Group A sees the most parity with all 4 teams ranking between 8 (Canada) and 17 (New Zealand). If they can ride the momentum of the opening win, couple in the adrenaline from the home town fans and build off the success of winning a four nations pre-world cup tournament, the #CanadaRED army may find themselves cheering on a team to victory July 5 in Vancouver.
The Dark Horse
Netherlands (#12) - Heellloooo #TeamOranje!! It still seems weird to mention this will be the Dutch's first-ever Women's World Cup appearance. With all the success this nation has on the men's side, you would think it would be the same with the women's program. The Lionesses did not qualify for any major international tournament until the 2009 European Championships. They rolled into Finland and made their presence known to the world, coming away with a surprising third place finish. Since 2009, this team continues to rise on the world stage. They have a very even group to help see them progress to the Round of 16. Once there, I would not want to see them on the other side of the pitch. They should find themselves battling Canada for first place in the group to close the group stage on June 15. Even if they finish second, I wouldn't be surprised to see them match up with the Americans in the quarterfinals. If you are new to women's soccer, you may want to start falling in love with the color of orange, you could be seeing a lot of it over the next few weeks.
Now that I have highlighted a few teams to keep your keen footie eye on, let's go through my picks for the Group Stage. The opening match day results had no effect on my predictions as the games went pretty much as expected I would say.
1. *Canada (#8)
2. *Netherlands (#12)
3. *China (#16)
4. New Zealand (#17)
1. *Germany (#1)
2. *Norway (#11)
3. Ivory Coast (#67)
4. Thailand (#29)
1. *Japan (#4)
2. *Cameroon (#53)
3. *Switzerland (#19)
4. Ecuador (#48)
1. *USA (#2)
2. *Sweden (#5)
3. *Nigeria (#33)
4. Australia (#10)
1. *Brazil (#7)
2. *South Korea (#18)
3. *Spain (#14)
4. Costa Rica (#37)
1. *France (#3)
2. *England (#6)
3. Mexico (#25)
4. Columbia (#28)
There you have footie fans and ball headers, the #TwineTime opening preview for the 2015 Women's World Cup. If you are in Canada and have the opportunity to attend any of the games across the country, I highly recommend you do so. Last weekend was AMAZING and a sporting experience I will never forget. Feel free to share your comments with me here or on twitter. I will be back with a Group Stage summary and a preview of the Round of 16 before the playoffs begin on June 20 (when I will actually be back in Edmonton to watch the game).