The 2015 Women’s World Cup kicks off on the plastic pitches of Canada this weekend with current holders Japan looking to retain the crown they surprisingly won four years ago. They’ll face stiff competition from traditional powerhouses like the USA, Germany, Sweden and Brazil. Other sides expected to challenge include hosts Canada, England and a very dangerous looking France team that has come on leaps and bounds in the past or decade or so.
By Matthew Hernon
The tournament has been expanded from 16 to 24 teams, meaning there are a number of countries making their debut, including dark horses such as Spain, Switzerland, and Holland as well as rank outsiders such as Thailand and Costa Rica. Here’s our guide to all the teams in the competition and the players to watch.
Canada: Bronze medalist at the London Olympics, they are seen as one of the main challengers in this year’s competition. The hosts are used to playing on plastic pitches and will have a fervent home crowd on their side.
Holland: Set to play in their first ever World Cup. A good footballing side, they have emerged as a force over the past decade and finished third at the 2009 European Championships.
China: Reached the World Cup final in 1999, but are no longer the force they once were. A young squad, they are moving in the right direction again after failing to qualify for the 2011 tournament.
New Zealand: Have never gone past the first round, but will fancy their chances this time. They reached the quarter-finals at the 2012 Olympics.
Christine Sinclair (Canada): One of the best players in the world, “Captain Marvel” has scored more than 150 goals for her country.
Xu Yanlu (China): A tricky player nicknamed the “Chinese Messi.”
Vivianne Miedema (Holland): This 18-year-old is considered one of the brightest young talents in the game. Scored 16 goals in the qualifiers.
Abby Erceg (New Zealand): The country’s first ever footballer to reach 100 caps, she’s a powerful defender with Maori heritage.
The Ivory Coast
Germany: The two-time winners are, as always, one of the leading contenders for the main trophy. They will be without 2014 World Player of the Year Nadine Kessler, but have enough quality to cope with the loss.
Norway: Should do much better than four years ago, when they surprisingly exited at the group stages. Even Pellerud, the man who guided them to the world title in 1995, has returned to the fold.
Thailand: The first Southeast Asian side to qualify for a World Cup, they benefited from the absence of North Korea, who were banned after five of their players tested positive for steroids.
The Ivory Coast: Unlikely to get anything out of Germany or Norway, but will be confident of beating Thailand, which would give them a fighting chance of making the last sixteen.
Celia Sasic (Germany): Born in Germany to a Cameroonian father and French mother, she has averaged more than a goal a game in over 100 appearances for her country.
Ada Hegerberg (Norway): An exciting young striker enjoyed who enjoyed a fine season for Olympique Lyon.
Kanjana Sung-Ngoen (Thailand): A hero in Thailand thanks to her two goals in the play-off against Vietnam.
Jose Nahi (The Ivory Coast): Giant striker, nicknamed the “Female Adebayor.”
Japan: The reigning world champions and Olympic silver medalists are once again amongst the favorites for the top prize. Coach Norio Sakai says they are stronger than four years ago.
Switzerland: Seen by some as a potential dark horse in the tournament, thanks to players like Lara Dickenman and Ramona Bachmann. Playing in their first ever World Cup.
Ecuador: Also making their first appearance at the tournament, they defeated Trinidad & Tobago in a playoff to qualify. Finished third at the 2014 Copa America.
Cameroon: Third side in this group making their debut, they finished second in the African Women’s Championship. Likely to be battling it out with Ecuador for third place.
Homare Sawa (Japan): A legendary figure in her homeland, she’s making a record breaking sixth appearance at a World Cup.
Lara Dickenmann (Switzerland): An excellent attacking midfielder who has managed a goal every other game for Olympique Lyon.
Carina Caicedo (Ecuador): As you might expect from a former sprinter, she’s pretty quick.
Annette Ngo Ndom (Cameroon): An experienced goalkeeper who is likely to be busy against Japan and Switzerland.
USA: There’s lot of pressure on the Olympic Champions, who are expected to reclaim the crown they last won in 1999. Anything less would be deemed a failure.
Sweden: They have qualified for all seven world cups, reaching the semi-finals three times, but ultimately falling short. Game against America is the pick of the first round ties.
Nigeria: Clearly the best team in Africa, but have only made it past the first round at a World Cup once in 1999. Unfortunate this time to be in the group of death.
Australia: Quarter-Finalists in the last two tournaments, The Matildas are a young and energetic side. They finished runners-up at last year’s Asian Cup, narrowly missing out to Japan.
Abby Wambach (USA): The experienced forward was included in Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in May.
Asisat Oshoala (Nigeria): Recently named Women’s Footballer of the Year by the BBC.
Lotta Schelin (Sweden): Has been compared to Zlatan Ibrahimovic, which he wasn’t too happy about http://www.thelocal.se/20131226/zlatan-its-a-joke-to-compare-me-with-women
Caitlin Foord (Australia) Right-back/winger who won the Best Young Player Award at the 2011 World Cup as a 16-year-old
Brazil: Not the team they once were, but still capable of beating anyone on their day. Will look to star striker Marta to provide the inspiration.
Spain: Head coach Ignacio Quereda, in charge since 1988, finally guided the team to their inaugural World Cup. A place in the Quarter-Finals shouldn’t be beyond them.
South Korea: Lost all three games at their one and only World Cup appearance in 2003. Expected to do better this time around.
Costa Rica: Another debutant, Las Ticas will be hoping to cause an upset like their male counterparts last year. Surprise finalists in the CONCACAF Championship last October.
Brazil (Marta): Superstar named FIFA World Player of the Year five consecutive times between 2006 and 2010.
Veronica Boquete (Spain): A brilliant playmaker who became the first Spanish female footballer to write an autobiography in 2013.
Ji So-yun (South Korea): Chelsea attacker recently won the PFA Player of the Year Award.
Shirley Cruz (Costa Rica): Creative midfielder who has spent almost a decade in France playing for Lyon and now PSG.
France: Semi-Finalists four years ago and currently ranked number three in the world, they are definite contenders. Breezed through qualification winning all ten games.
England: Will be out for revenge against France, who knocked them out at the Quarter-Finals stage four years ago. They’ve looked a lot stronger since Mark Sampson took over in 2013.
Colombia: Managed just one point from three games in 2011, but have improved since. Runners-up in the last two South American Championships.
Mexico: Yet to win a game at a World Cup. Need to improve after a lackluster qualifying campaign in which they scraped through after beating Trinidad & Tobago in extra time.
Louisa Necib (France): An elegant midfielder with Algerian ancestry, she has, unsurprisingly, been labeled “the female Zidane.”
Fara Williams (England): Was homeless during her early years as a footballer, now the heartbeat of the England side. Yoreli Rincon (Colombia): Comparisons with Marta may be a little premature, but she certainly is a player of great promise.
Renae Cuellar (Mexico): Coach Leonardo Cuellar will look for his namesake to provide the goals and creativity.
So what team will take home the trophy? Former Nadeshiko defender and World Cup winner Kyoko Yano—who will be commentating for NHK during the tournament—is confident her ex-teammates will be celebrating again.
“Japan’s prospects look good,” she tells us. “It’s going be tough. There are a lot of strong teams such as America and Germany. I was also very impressed by France at the Algarve Cup. They are a very technical side who are capable of going very far in Canada. If you were to put me on the spot, though, I would say Japan are going to win it, possibly beating the US in the final. They [the U.S.] were so determined to avenge the World Cup final defeat at the Olympics; hopefully Japan can now get one back over them.”
You can read the full interview with Kyoko Yano in JSoccer Magazine which can be purchased via http://jsoccer.com/.