2015 World Cup: Group D Preview

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It’s time for us to all get excited as the 2015 Women’s World Cup is about to kick off and we proudly present to you our Group D preview.

The Football Sack’s Group D preview

It’s a well proven fact that Australian football teams have a knack for finding themselves in the group of death and this tournament is no exception. Do the Matildas stand a real chance of bettering their quarter-finals appearance last time around, or are they doomed for elimination in the group stage? Let’s find out.

United States

Road to Canada

The United States enters the competition in fine form and are considered by many as one of the pre-tournament favourites. The former two-time World Cup winners breezed through the qualification stage without dropping a single point in their five matches last October, notching up 21 goals in the process including a 6-0 demolition of Costa Rica in the qualification final.

2011 WC runners-up start the tournament on the back of an eight match unbeaten streak with their last defeat coming against France 2-0 back in February. In March the United States took out the women’s invitational Algarve Cup for the tenth time and followed it up with victories against the Republic of Ireland and fellow World Cup attendees New Zealand and Mexico.

Manager

After finishing a disappointing seventh in the 2014 Algarve Cup, head coach Tom Sermanni was shown the door and English born manager Jill Ellis was given the reigns.  Under Ellis the squad has moved away from their traditional 4-4-2 formation and developed a more tactical and pragmatic approach tailoring their formation and game plan to individual opponents. Ellis has been coaching for nearly three decades and her objective has been plain for all to see, end their World Cup drought.

Key Players

Despite being 35 when their campaign kicks off on June 8 against Australia, veteran striker Abby Wambach will again be the one both coaches and fans alike will turn to. The United States all-time leading international goal scorer has bagged a remarkable 182 goals from a little over 240 appearances for Team USA and with no signs of slowing down she’s sure to add to that tally in Canada.

Wambach is joined by a host of experienced players including Lauren Holiday, Carli Lloyd and captain Megan Rapinoe who all bring their own attacking-flair and fire power from the midfield having scored more than 100 goals in the 300 plus matches between them. Current longest-serving player Christie Rampone will anchor the formidable defence which kept four clean sheets in their eight game undefeated streak leading in to the World Cup.

Fact you didn’t know

Christie Rampone will celebrate her 40th birthday at the World Cup and the mother of two is the only current United States player to have lifted a World Cup trophy after coming on as substitute in the 1999 finals. The 300 game veteran is one of the most experience footballers at the tournament and in the four World Cups Rampone has played in the United States have never finished below third place.

Verdict

The U.S. is already shaping as one of the genuine contenders for the 2015 crown despite drawing the toughest group. The mix of flair and experience at Ellis’s disposal through the likes of Wambach and Rampone as well as her determined and measured tactical nous mean that the stars and stripes should go deep into the tournament. Anything other the being crowned champions will be a missed opportunity for the footballing powerhouse.

Australia

Road to Canada

The Matildas come into the tournament four years older and four years wiser than they did in 2011 and will be looking at equalling their quarter-finals berth as an absolute minimum this time around. The green and gold qualified via the 2014 AFC Asian Cup with a strong showing seeing them beat South Korea on their way to the final where they were defeated 1-0 by Japan.

Their recent form has left fans with plenty of reasons for optimism after the squad finished 5th in the 2015 Cyprus Cup beating the Czech Republic 6-2. Recent games have seen them lose 2-1 in a close match to Austria and draw against Scotland 1-1, both away from home. Australia will kick off their campaign on the back of an 11-0 victory over Vietnam – nothing better than getting your confidence up by beating someone weaker than you.

Manager

Alen Stajcic was named head coach on a permanent basis in September last year after successfully steering the still young squad to the final of the Asian Cup. Stajcic’s track record as head coach of Sydney FC’s W-League side, steering them to two titles and never finish below a semi-final appearance, has given many Aussie fans reason to believe that with the more mature squad at his disposal the Matildas can escape the group of death.

Key Players

Few stars are shining as brightly in Australian football as Katrina Gorry after the 22-year-old was named the 2014 AFC Women’s Player of the Year thanks to her staring performance at the Asian Cup twelve months ago. Gorry will be looking to combine well in the tournament with experienced midfielders Emily van Egmond and Tameka Butt to lay the basis for the Matildas’ attack.

The omission of all-time leading goal scorer and Matildas legend Kate Gill raised a few eyebrows and ruffled many feathers in the Football Sack office (check out both sides of the story here and here). With Gill’s omission Stajcic will be relying on the likes of Lisa De Vanna and Kyah Simon to provide the goals while 2011 World Cup Young Player of the Tournament Caitlin Foord can provide assistance out-wide and will be all the better for having four more years of experience under her belt.

Fact you didn’t know

Katrina Gorry will have the upper-hand when the Matildas meet the United States in their opening group match on June 8. Gorry has been applying her craft in the USA for Kansas City where she has lined up alongside four US internationals including Heather O’Reilly and Lauren Holiday and may well have inside knowledge for the Aussies in the vital clash.

Verdict

Bravery and determination got the Matildas to the quarter-finals last time round and they’ll need more of the same in Canada despite the team being four years more advanced. If Stajcic can get his troops to dictate their matches, particularly in the midfield, semi-finals should be the minimum expectation and we can all dream for something further.

Nigeria

Road to Canada

Nigeria continue their run of featuring in every women’s World Cup as a host of talented former WC and Olympic players saw them power through their qualification process winning the 2014 African Women’s Championship (AWC). Striker Desire Oparanozie was in fine form at the tournament and will be high on confidence when she takes to the field in Canada after claiming the Golden Boot.

The Super Falcon’s will also take a lot of confidence from finishing runners-up to Germany in the U20’s Women’s World Cup also in Canada last August. More recently the Nigerian’s preparation has stalled with a 0-0 draw against host nation Canada and mystery surrounding if their second pre-tournament match against New Zealand will even take place.

Manager

The Super Falcons are directed by Nigerian head coach Edwin Okon who has been at the helm for nearly two years on the back of a successful tenure with the Falconets (U20’s women). Blessed with a mixture of young talent and established senior players Okon’s recent results at the African Women’s Championship and the U20’s World Cup has many Super Falcons fans hopeful of strong showing in Canada.

Key Players

The Nigerian striking duo of Oparanozie and Asisat Oshoala are the ones to watch when they kick-off their campaign on June 8 against Sweden. Oparanozie will most likely be the focal point of the Nigerian attack as her strength on the ball is one of her best qualities and can hold the ball up to bring the midfield into the game.

Oshoala is a rising start in Nigerian football collecting MVP honours at both the AWC and the U20’s World Cup where she was also the Golden Boot winner. Fittingly it was the dynamic duo that scored one a piece in the team’s 2-0 win over Cameroon to claim the African Championship.

Fact you didn’t know

The 2014 African Women’s Championship was the 11th time the tournament was run, a competition which has been dominated by Nigeria since its inception. The Super Falcons have won the title nine times with Equatorial Guinea the only other nation to lift the crown.

Verdict

The Super Falcons appear to have hit a purple patch over the last few years and should pose a strong threat in Group D. They have so far contested all six Women’s World Cups but only managed to escape the group stage on one occasion where they were eliminated in the quarter finals, they’ll be looking at that as a bare minimum this time around.

Sweden

Road to Canada

Sweden breezed through the European qualification process with the nation ranked 5th in the world topping their group without dropping a single point and conceding only one goal in the process. The Swedes also put in a good showing at the Algarve Cup earlier this year finishing fourth with Sofia Jakobsson the competition’s leading goal scorer.

They head to Canada with only a couple of pre-tournament matches under their belt and having not tasted victory since beating China 3-0 in the group stage of the Algarve Cup. But despite a 2-2 draw with Denmark and a 3-1 loss to Switzerland the Scandinavian squad will still be considered a great threat heading into the tournament.

Manager

Former professional Swedish footballer Pia Sundhage is the head coach of the Scandinavian outfit and with playing stints at sweeper, midfielder and striker she has all the coaching acumen required to get them to the final. Sundhage was appointed to the post back in 2012 after a six year stint in charge of the United States women’s team where she helped them win two Olympic gold medals and finish second at the 2011 World Cup.

Key Players

Captain Lotta Schelin was a powerhouse in 2011, with speed to burn the star striker had 50 one-on-one chances last World Cup and the team will again be looking for a big contribution from her this time around. Schelin typifies the Swedish approach of direct and physical play but her surprising speed and agility makes her one of the most dangerous players at the tournament and a possible Golden Boot contender.

The team’s play is led by the veteran paring of defender Nilla Fischer and midfielder Caroline Seger who are both now 30 years of age and have more 250 caps between them. Seger will be joined in the midfield by exciting World Cup debutant Kosovare Asslani who will look to provide the same attacking flair which helped steer the Swedes to fourth in the 2012 London Olympic Games.

Fact you didn’t know

At 38 years of age most capped Swede Therese Sjögran will enter the tournament as one of the eldest statesmen after making her international debut back in October 1997. Almost to the day 17 years later Sjögran made her 200th appearance for the national team becoming the only Swedish player to do so and only the third European to ever achieve the milestone.

Verdict

Sweden have quality all over the park with some of the most experienced and mature players in the tournament combining with some exciting young blood. They have so far contested every World Cup, finishing third in 2011 and reaching the final in 2003. Under the guide of Sundhage they have more than enough quality to make a deep run and could again feature come the pointy end of the tournament.

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