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Tim Grainey – The 2015 Women’s World Cup kicks off this summer in Canada.  The tournament has been expanded to 24 teams and this year’s event has more teams with a realistic chance of taking the title. The teams have been divided into 6 groups of 4 with the top 2 finishers in each group along with the top 4 third place finishers advancing to the Round of 16.

The Grainey Report previews the 6 Groups and 24 teams starting with a look at Groups A, B, and C and followed later this week by an examination of Groups D, E, and F.

More from The Grainey Report on the 2015 Women’s World Cup
Women’s Game Ready for Historic World Cup

Canada's coach John Herdman will have his team ready to defend home soil

Canada’s coach John Herdman will have his team ready to defend home soil

GROUP A
(Canada, China PR, New Zealand and the Netherlands)

Canada

Canada arguably has more pressure on them than any other team.  The Maple Leafs’ have shown great form lately taking the Olympic Bronze medal in London in 2012 and more recently winning the BaoAn Cup title in China with wins over China, Korea Republic and Mexico earlier this month.  In addition to their form, the fact that they are hosts heaps additional pressure on any national team, men’s or women’s.

Despite the pressure, head coach John Herdman has the team well prepared and should advance from what is a challenging group.  Herdman has changed their traditional long ball approach—which under former head coach (and now in charge of Norway) Even Pellerud, helped Canada finish fourth at WWC 2003 in the U.S.–since he arrived from New Zealand’s Women’s National Team after the 2011 World Cup so the team is more comfortable in possession.

The Maple Leafs have some very talented players, led by two experienced goalkeepers in Karina LeBlanc (Chicago Red Stars) and Erin McLeod (Houston Dash), top midfielders Sophie Schmidt (Sky Blue FC) and Desiree Scott (Notts County) and forward Christine Sinclair (Portland Thorns).

The home crowd brings added pressure but also added motivation.  The team will have great support in their important group stage matches, 2 in Edmonton and 1 in Montreal.   But at the end of the day, anything less than a final four appearance for the current Olympic Bronze Medalists will be a huge disappointment.

China PR

China was a women’s soccer powerhouse in the late 1990’s.  The Steel Roses finished in 4th place in 1995 and played the part of runners-up to the USA after losing in penalties in 1999.  The side has slipped in the past few years and did not even qualify for the 2011 World Cup.

They return to the 2015 World Cup with a younger side that base their game on speed and ball control which will cause teams problems.  Yang Li was a goal scoring force in the Asian Cup qualifiers, with 6 goals in five games for the Hao Wei coached side and will be a key if the team is expected to advance to the elimination round.

But most likely this will be building and learning experience for China with the 2019 Women’s World Cup, most likely in France or South Korea, more realistic opportunity to once again challenge for the title.

New Zealand

New Zealand is making their 3rd consecutive World Cup appearance (4th overall) and has the best chance in team history to advance to the elimination round, most likely as a 3rd place finisher.  The Ferns learned what it takes to get to the next stage of tournaments after advancing to the quarterfinals of the London 2012 Olympics and will apply those lessons in Canada.

The biggest obstacle in the past has been the team’s lack of depth but former head coach John Herdman (Canada’s current head coach) and current coach Tony Readings have successfully worked to increase the player pool.  The biggest change with the squad is the number of players getting minutes abroad.  The team is led by defender and captain Abby Ercig (Chicago Red Stars in 2014) along with American-raised defender Ali Riley (Rosengard in Sweden), forward Amber Hearn (Notts County in the FA WSL/formerly with the Ottawa Fury in the W-League in 2011), forward Hannah Wikinson (University of Tennessee), forward Stephanie Skilton (Syracuse University) and midfielder Betsy Hassett (Manchester City/who played at the University of California).

The Netherlands

The Netherlands is one of 7 nation’s making their Women’s World Cup debut but don’t think this will slow head coach Roger Reijners’ side down.  The path to Canada for the Oranje started in 2007 with the push to develop more women’s players and was aided in 2012 when the BeNe League, a domestic league supported by the Royal Belgian Football Association and the Royal Dutch Football Association, was formed.

The majority of players are in this league.  Star striker Manon Melis (Kopparbergs/Gothenburg of Sweden) is a world class striker and backbone of the team.  Since debuting in 2004, Melis has earned 100+ caps and been the focus for opposing defenses.

Vivianne Miedema is the future and 1 example of how much improved the development program is in the Netherlands.  The 18-year-old scored all three goals when the Netherlands defeated Italy (3-2) in the two legs UEFA final for the last spot in Canada.  She scored 41 times for SC Heerenveen in the BeNe League last season and has since joined Bayern Munich in Germany.

This team could easily make the quarterfinals.

GROUP B
(Cote d’Ivoire, Germany, Norway and Thailand)

Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast)

Cote d’Ivoire (or more commonly known as the Ivory Coast) are making their Women’s World Cup debut.  Les Elephantes defeated 2012 Olympic Games participant South Africa 1-0 in the third place match of the 2014 African Championships in Namibia to book their place in Canada.

20-year-old Rebecca Guehai Ida, plays for Juventus De Yopougon in Cote d’Ivoire, scored the game winner against South Africa.  She is just one player of the mostly domestic-based team although a few on the roster have done well in Eastern Europe, including dynamic forward Jose Nahi of Zvezda 2005 Perm in Russia and Tia Ines N’Rehy of ZFK Spartak Subotica of Serbia.

Cote d’Ivoire have the talent to finish third in this group with a win over Thailand but will have difficuly advancing to the Round of 16 as a third place finisher.

Germany

A strong attack combined with a robust defense makes FIFA’s top ranked team, Germany, a good bet to win an unprecedented 3rd Women’s World Cup title.  They have the additional challenge of matching the recent success of their Under-20 national team, who won last summer’s U-20 World Cup also in Canada.

Germany's Nadine Kessler accepts 2014 Ballon d'Or

Germany’s Nadine Kessler accepts 2014 Ballon d’Or

Die Nationalelf (the National Eleven) were World Cup winners in 2003 and 2007 but surprisingly fell to Japan in the quarterfinals at home four years ago. Former FIFA World Player of the Year and goalkeeper Nadine Angerer played with Portland Thorns and Brisbane Roar in 2014 while still backstopping the national team. Anja Mittag—who led all Damallsvenskan scorers with 21 for Swedish champions Rosengard in 2014—is key to a strong attack. Nadine Kessler of Wolfsburg just won the FIFA Ballon D’Or as the World Player of the year over Abby Wambach and Marta of Brazil and is a strong midfielder who won a UEFA title in 2013 with Germany in Sweden.

Germany will advance to the elimination round and nothing short of hoisting the trophy at the final will be considered a success but one well within reach of Silvia Neid’s team.

Norway

Norway is hoping to celebrate the 20th anniversary of their 1995 Women’s World Cup title with a second title this summer and believe they have all the pieces in place.  Head coach Even Pellerud, who guided the team to the ’95 title, is back at the helm.

The Gresshoppene (the Grasshoppers) are paced by two 19-year-old forwards.  Caroline Hansen is now with two-time UEFA Champions League winners Wolfsburg of Germany after a spell with Tyreso in Sweden and Ada Hegerberg has 19 goals in 14 matches for Olympique Lyon in France so far in the 2014/15 season and was previously with Turbine Potsdam of Germany.

Thailand

Canada will be a learning experience for Thailand, making their first appearance at a Women’s World Cup.  The Changsuk (the War Elephants) qualified by defeating Vietnam 2-1 to take 5th place in the 2014 Asian Championships and the final AFC World Cup berth.  Thai coach Nuengrutai Srathongvian sude finished qualifying with 2 wins (the other was a 2-1 group victory over Myanmar) but a 4/13 (goals for/goals against) scoring ratio show how they struggle to find production against better competition even at the regional level.

Forward Kanjana Sung-Ngoen scored three of those four goals.

Japan the current Women's World Cup holders after winning the title in 2011.

Japan the current Women’s World Cup holders after winning the title in 2011.

GROUP C
(Cameroon, Ecuador, Japan and Switzerland)

Cameroon

Cameroon finished second to Nigeria in the African Championships, during which Gaelle Enganamouit was tied with third overall among tournament goal scorers with three. Enganamouit, who spent the 2014 season with Eskilstuna United in Sweden after playing for Serbian power Spartak Subotica, was Eskilstuna’s leading scorer with 5 goals. Thirty-year-old Cameroon defender and captain Christine Manie (Olimpia Universitatea of Romania) is a goal scoring threat on corners and free kicks. Cameroon should finish third in this group but that may not be enough to make the Round of 16.

Ecuador

Ecuador hosted the CONMEBOL Championships at 6,000 feet Quito and finished a surprising third over Argentina. They bucked the odds against CONCACAF’s Trinidad & Tobago (0-0 in Quito and 1-0 in Port-au-Spain) with their winning (and only) goal in 180 minutes coming in the final minute of the Intercontinental play-in from Monica Quinteros. Ecuador is wholly home-bred but could find reinforcements through diaspora in North or South America. Canada will be a learning trip for Ecuador but their surprising qualification does help CONMEBOL in future WWC slot allocations and should spur more development at home.

Japan

The reigning World Champions went to Canada last fall and won two games over this summer’s World Cup host. A good half of Japan’s roster should come from European or NWSL-based players, including Aya Sameshima (Houston Dash) and Nahomi Kawasumi (Seattle Reign FC), the latter who was such a revelation for the NWSL Finalists in 2014. The team has a nice mix of youth and experience and should make a strong challenge to defend their crown.

Switzerland

Another European debutant along with the Netherlands in Group A and Spain in Group E, Switzerland could be a good bet to make the quarterfinals in their World Cup debut. Two players with U.S. connections have been stalwarts: Ramona Bachmann, who played with Atlanta Beat in WPS and now plays with reigning Swedish champions FC Rosengard, and Lara Dickenmann, who played collegiately at Ohio State University in the States and has been a long time mainstay at former UEFA champions Olympique Lyon. Switzerland at times can show their nerves and may be tested by Cameroon but the Swiss should still advance to the round of 16.

Tim Grainey was the contributing editor for women’s soccer for Soccer365.com, the predecessor to 365.WorldSoccerShop.com, in his regular column The Grainey Report. He will be posting stories on the FIFA Women’s World Cup over the coming months as the first kick of Canada 2015 draws near. He is the author of Beyond Bend it Like Beckham. And you can follow Tim on Twitter @TimGrainey.

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