2015 World Cup: Group B 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 Isaac McIntyre proudly presents to you The Football Sack’s Group B preview.

The Football Sack’s Group B preview

Germany

Many say that Germany has no competition, and that may be true for the two-time world champions, but to underestimate the other contenders would be a massive mistake for Die Nationalelf to make – complacency will be their greatest enemy as the team fights to come out of Group B on top. A top place finish for the team could see them take on Australia in the Round of 16 fixtures and if they can leap that hurdle they’ll more than likely come face to face with England or France in the quarterfinals where the real battle begins for the side.

Road to Canada

The two-time champions smashed apart the field in their qualifying group, winning all ten of its games with a massive goal differential of +58. Only Ireland came close to stopping them with the Germans claiming victory in stoppage time to take a 3-2 win on the road and boosting Melanie Leupolz to hero status with her tight finish.

Manager

The team is known for playing with discipline regardless of circumstance and one of the biggest reasons for that stability is Silvia Neid. Known for scoring Germany’s first ever World Cup goal all the way back in 1991, she eventually went on to record 20 years on the coaching staff and is entering her second decade as the woman in charge. By winning the 2007 Women’s World Cup, Neid became the first German national coach for both men and women to win the World Cup at the first attempt. This is also Neid’s last major tournament for the women’s side with Steffi Jones replacing her at the helm in 2016, so another World Cup win could be an outstanding swan song for the dominant German coach.

Key Players

The most important player of the German side is arguably captain and stalwart keeper Nadine Angerer. The eighth most capped player in Germany’s history, Angerer was with the German side when they took out victories in both 2003 and 2007, and is looking to add a third title to her belt before her retirement at the end of the 2014/15 season. During the entire 2007 tournament Angerer did not concede a single goal, setting the record for most consecutive minutes played without conceding a goal in World Cup play to 540 minutes, including a blocked penalty kick from Marta in the final against Brazil.

Célia Šašić will be another key figure in Germany’s line-up, currently leading the line and sitting equal third in the all-time leading goal scorer list for Die Nationalelf, and Šašić will be keen to prove her worth in the World Cup after a tibia fracture ruled her out of the winning 2007 side.

The team will be without reigning World Player of the Year Nadine Kessler; and while she was key in helping the team qualify for the finals multiple knee procedures will keep her from competing in Canada.

Fact You Didn’t Know

The Germans have always had a presence in the Women’s World Cup, never missing the knock out rounds for as long as the competition has stood. Their impressive World Cup resume contains, as well as the two titles, twenty-three wins that have been answered by only six losses and three draws across their entire campaign.

Verdict

Germany is one of the most complete teams in the tournament, possessing outstanding technical ability, impressive passing, elite goalkeeping and an immense variety in attack. About the only perceived weakness for Germany resides with its back line. Collectively, it is a group that reads the game well, but generally shows a lack of pace in the back. If opponents can put themselves in some one-on-one situations then Germany is vulnerable. Considering the power and skill of the German team coming to the competition, anything less than coming away with the third championship title will be considered a failure for the nation. They will have their eyes on following in the men’s team’s footsteps and taking out the second World Cup title in as many years.

Côte d’Ivoire

A close 1-0 victory over South Africa gave the Ivory Coast their first ever appearance in the FIFA World Cup finals with the team looking to slip under the radar long enough to come through third in the group they have drawn. Although Norway and Germany stand as strong competitors against the side, the Les Elephantes will be hoping that they can stay ahead of Thailand with a big win.

Road to Canada

After barely making it back into the African Women’s Championship, the Ivory Coast advanced to the knock out stage of the qualifying tournament after going 1-1-1 in group play. In the semi-finals they took Cameroon to extra time before losing. With three spots reserved for African entrants at the 2015 Women’s World Cup, Ivory Coast faced an all-or-nothing match against heavily favored South Africa in the third-place game but the underdogs prevailed, marking their track to Canada with a single goal in the game and making history in the process.

Manager

Clementine Toure has packed plenty of personal success into her short managerial career thus far. Toure was part of the coaching staff of Equatorial Guinea in 2008 when it shockingly won the African Women’s Championship on home soil. At last year’s African Championship she coached Ivory Coast to a third-place finish, helping Les Elephantes qualify for the World Cup for the first time in their history.

Key Players

The Ivory Coast boast multiple players that could see them excel in the World Cup finals with the first of those being Jose Nahi, the 25 year old forward who is one of five of the team members that plays outside of the Ivory Coast. Currently in second in the all-time scoring chart for the side, fans have taken to calling her “the female Emmanuel Adebayor” for her prowess in front of goals.

Veteran goalkeeper and commanding captain, Dominique Thiamale will be leading from the back with her booming commands and is looking to keep the Ivory Coast in the game with her presence between the sticks. Although she conceded four goals in the opening qualifier, Thiamale went on to concede only four more over the rest of the African Women’s Championship, putting her side through.

Finally, newcomer Ida Guehai has been a star in midfield claiming two goals in the qualifying rounds with one of them being the single goal against South Africa in the 84th minute that sent Côte d’Ivoire through to the finals.

Verdict

While other lightweights have relied on one or two special players to raise the level of their less-talented teammates, Ivory Coast’s success is more by committee. Clementine Toure’s team boasted nine different goal scorers during all African Women’s Championship qualifying matches and its commitment to team defending – something African sides often struggle with – helped it concede just four goals in its last four AWC games.

Ivory Coast isn’t the most skilled side but they do find ways to win. A focus on team unity and discipline as well as resiliency and work ethic will serve them well in Canada.  Unfortunately, with their lack of finals experience and strong, star players, it’s hard to see them advancing to the knock out round and may be sent packing by Norway and Germany before they can find their feet in the prestigious competition.

Norway

Norway has a chance to take down Germany and if they do it could be their chance to go the whole way in the competition. Even if they struggle with the two-time world champions and come second in the group, the lead up to the finals are still relatively easy for one of the best teams in the world and Norway are less than likely to get beaten by the Ivory Coast and Thailand, both of whom are new teams in the competition. Former champions themselves, Norway were runners-up to Germany in the last European Championships and they are hoping to return to the field of contenders with the 2015 World Cup.

Road to Canada

The serial qualifiers methodically took care of business en-route to a 2015 Women’s World Cup berth. Norway’s only defeat in ten UEFA qualifying games was a 2-0 loss against the Netherlands after it had already secured first place in its group. While Norway went 6-1-0 in World Cup qualifiers during the 2014 calendar year, it managed just a 2-4-2 record in all other games in that time frame including four losses in the Algarve Cup to China, Iceland, Germany and Russia.

Manager

If you’re going to be known for something, you might as well own it. And while a direct style of play isn’t the most glamorous footballing image to project Norway has derived a great deal of success by mastering it. Current coach Even Pellerud used it when he led Norway to a World Cup title in 1995 during his first stint in charge. He implemented a similar style when he coached Canada where national players credited Pellerud with turning them into a truly competitive program. After Norway exited in group play of the 2011 World Cup and failed to qualify for the 2012 Olympics, the program lured Pellerud home.

Key Players

Norway are looking to new super stars from their young generation to shine at the World Cup with 19-year-olds Caroline Graham Hansen and Ada Stolsmo Hegerberg leading the side. Hansen netted eight goals in qualifying to lead the team while Hegerberg, of Lyon fame, also scored five.

There is also plenty of experience on the team, however, with 2011 World Cup veteran Maren Mjelde anchoring the defense or midfield, and striker Isabell Herlovsen and midfielder Lene Mykjaland are both expected to play in their third World Cups. Finally, 34-year-old Ingrid Hjelmseth provides a solid, reliable presence in goal and will be looking to add to Norway’s lethal attack with a shield in goals.

Fact You Didn’t Know

The 1995 World Cup in Sweden is part of Norwegian sports heritage. Norway won all their matches in the group stage and, having lost two Euro finals, were not among the favourites in their final clash against Germany but defeated their opposition with two goals scored within the space of four minutes, becoming world champions.

Verdict

Many have their doubts about Pellerud’s focus on the youth in his side and are hoping that the talent can be matched with experience as they fight to make it out of the group against Germany. Mixing old with new worked two years ago in Norway’s campaign to the Euro 2013 final but lately the Norwegian side has struggled to turn up against big sides like Germany, Japan and the United States. They will need every single one of its players to be firing on all cylinders if they are to dream of another World Cup Championship. If Norway can change their fortunes against Germany they may have a chance to make it all the way in the tournament.

Thailand

The final team of Group B has been said to be the weakest of all 24 teams travelling to Canada but Thailand will have already marked off the fact that they are in the finals as a win in its own right. A win over the Ivory Coast and possible draws against Germany and Norway are the side’s best chance to make it out in a third placed position but fans hold little hope to see the outside of the group stage in Canada.

Road to Canada

Thailand is one team that has certainly benefited from the expanded Women’s World Cup field. With the number of Asian Football Confederation berths increasing from three to five, Thailand secured the final spot with a difficult 2-1 win against host Vietnam in a fifth-place playoff at the 2014 Women’s Asian Cup.

Manager

Thailand made a coaching change during World Cup qualifying, promoting assistant Nuengrutai Srathongvian to the lead post. While that move could be jarring for some international sides, Srathongvian is a familiar face for her players because of her experience in leading Thailand’s U16 and U19 programs.

Key Players

Thailand lacks any names that spring to mind in their starting eleven but regardless of their unknown qualities they still have rising stars. Foremost of which is defender Darut Changplook. Her strong backline plays are well known in the Asian Championships and after two failures to qualify she’ll now take her signature blue-dyed hair to the big stage for a chance to impress.

Thailand will be looking to their forwards, Nisa Romyen and Taneekarn Dangda, to bag goals with both players adept at breaking past defenses and excelling at one-on-one situations. Romyen netted eight goals in the preliminary rounds and will be looking to bring her scoring talents to the group stage while 22-year-old Dangda has served in Sweden and will be hoping her experience abroad will prove decisive.

Fact You Didn’t Know

The squad’s average age at the Asian Cup was 22 – making them one of the youngest teams to qualify for Canada – and many players have obligations with university and provincial youth teams. It was from these teams that coach Nuengrueth Sathongwien picked her squad for the Asian Cup.

Verdict

Thailand’s strength is a passing game that relies on good spacing and a keen awareness between teammates with many of the players have been together for years on national youth teams.

The fact that other countries will not be as familiar with Thailand’s style may play to its advantage and a well-executed game plan could upset opponents who expect a pushover. If the players can remain composed and compact as a unit, Thailand could have a respectable showing but any expectations of the team advancing past a group that sports two experienced programs in Germany and Norway will be too much to ask in its Cup debut.

Their appearance in the World Cup finals are already their victory and anything beyond that is merely icing on the cake for the debutant side.

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