Welcome to a new beat. Over the next month, we’ll be diving deep into the 2019 Women’s World Cup. You can consider this edition an overview of everything you need to know to track Utah Royals FC players in France, as well as a general overview of the entire tournament. Future editions will cover game analysis, previews, and general updates. Let’s dig in.
***There are so many stories and narratives across the world that go so little talked about, so it is regrettable that this article can never be as expansive as I would like it to be, but hopefully, it will break a little bit of the ice and expose readers to a side of the beautiful game that perhaps they hadn’t seen before.
***If you are interested in further World Cup coverage of individual teams, The Guardian has done an excellent job as well as the tournament website.
The eighth edition of the Women’s World Cup takes place in France, consisting of 24 nations from 6 confederations. Throughout the World Cup, 52 games of football will be played across 9 different venues. The group stage begins on the 7th of June and ends on the 20th. Elimination rounds start on the 22nd and culminate in the final played on July 7th.
The group stage consists of six different groups, each group with four teams in it. In a round-robin style, each team will play each team in the group once, garnering 3 points for a win, 1 point for a draw, and 0 points for a loss. The top two teams in each group will advance, with the four best third place finishing teams also advancing, narrowing the pool down to 16 teams for single elimination rounds.
For viewers in the United States, FOX holds the exclusive English-speaking rights featuring every game. The games are spread across all of Fox’s sports networks, mostly on Fox Sports 1 and Fox, as well as three games on Fox Sports 2. For those of us in Mountain Time, through the group stage, most days during the World Cup will have a game at 7AM, 10AM and 1PM. For a more specific game by game schedule, see here.
Utah will be losing six players to the tournament. Becky Sauerbrunn, Kelley O’Hara, and Christen Press from the United States. Desiree Scott from Canada. Katie Bowen from New Zealand, and Rachel Corsie from Scotland. Scotland along with Chile, Jamaica and South Africa will be making their first appearances at a Women’s World Cup Tournament.
Gunny Jónsdóttir came very close with the Icelandic National Team in qualifying for their first-ever World Cup tournament, but they barely missed out, despite leading their qualifying group the majority of the way and giving Germany their first home defeat. Diana Matheson was also included in the provisional Canadian squad but, unfortunately, withdrew from camp following a foot injury.
Planning Out Your Royal Watching
*All times in Mountain Time
*To see a full schedule see here.
Round 1. Monday,June 10th, 1PM, v. Cameroon, Fox Sports 1
Round 2. Saturday, June 15th, 1PM, v. New Zealand, Fox Sports 2
Round 3. Thursday, June 20th, 10AM, v. Netherlands, FOX
Round 1. Tuesday, June 11th, 7AM, v. Netherlands, Fox Sports 1
Round 2. Saturday, June 15th, 1PM, v. Canada, Fox Sports 2
Round 3. Thursday, June 20th, 10AM, v. Cameroon, Fox Sports 1
Round 1. Sunday, June 9th, 10AM, v. England, FOX
Round 2. Friday, June 14th, 7AM, v. Japan, Fox Sports 1
Round 3. Wednesday, June 19th, 1PM, v. Argentina, Fox Sports 2
Round 1. Tuesday, June 11th, 1PM v. Thailand, FOX
Round 2. Sunday, June 16th, 10AM v. Chile, FOX
Round 3. Thursday, June 20th, 1PM, v. Sweden, Fox
Group A - France, South Korea, Norway, Nigeria
Having a stellar squad and playing at ‘home,’ France are going to be the team for everyone to beat going into the tournament. I think that they are going to win this group pretty handedly, and if things go as predicted, will face the United States in the quarterfinals. In terms of second place, I am much less sure. I expect Nigeria and Norway to contest for the second spot in the bracket, and South Korea to finish on the bottom. Either way, whoever is third between Norway and Nigeria, I would not be shocked to see them squeeze into the round of 16.
The Teams/Player to Watch
France - While they have never won a World Cup, and haven’t even qualified for the majority of them, if there is a year for France, this is it. There are so many good players on this french side, so it’s impossible to pick out solely one. A huge chunk of the roster are teammates on the club level, many playing for Lyon who have won the last 13 domestic titles in a row, as well as the last four Champion Leagues. Chemistry should not be an issue for this team. Keep your eyes out for Eugénie Le Sommer, Amandine Henry, and Wendie Renard.
Nigeria - In a qualifying confederation which suffers from massive resource disparity and gender roles, which keep many women out of sport, Nigeria continues their tradition of appearing at every Women’s World Cup. In only one tournament, they have made it out of the group stage, making a quarterfinals exit in 1999. Asisat Oshola is only 24 years old and has already won three African Women’s Footballer of the year awards. Be on the lookout for her as well as former Washington Spirit star Francisca Ordega and defender Onome Ebi, who will set a record for being the first African player to make four World Cup rosters.
South Korea - This will be the Korea Republic’s third tournament appearance after previously qualifying in 2003 and 2015 where they lost in the round of 16. My player to watch is Ji So-yun, a 28-year-old playmaker from Chelsea. In her last three seasons, she is averaging a goal and an assist every other game.
Norway - Another one of those teams that continues to extend a track record of qualifying for every World Cup. More than just qualifying, Norway has had some fantastic performances finishing runners-up in the first tournament in 1991 and then going on to win it four years later. In fact, Norway has gotten out of the group stage in every edition of the tournament outside of 2011. While the eligible star player is Ada Hegerberg, who most recently one the first ever Women’s Ballon D’Or. She has removed herself from the national team in protest of the unequal treatment between the men’s and women’s teams. Once a Royal, always a Royal. I’m looking at Elise Thorsnes. Also keep an eye out for Caroline Graham Hansen, a Wolfsburg standout who recently moved to Barcelona and Maren Mjelde.
Group B - Germany, China, Spain, South Africa
I can see two different countries winning this group. Germany is the traditional team that most people will probably go with, but Spain has been incredibly hot through qualifying despite the legendary Verónica Boquete retiring from international football. That said, China is also a solid team, who could compete for a spot in the knockout rounds. Overall, I expect Germany to take the group over Spain by an incredibly small margin, perhaps goal differential. China will take the third spot, and I would not be surprised to see South Africa take three defeats. Then again, this is the World Cup, and any attempt to predict the unpredictable in and of itself is silly.
The Teams/Player to Watch
Germany - This will be Germany’s eighth World Cup appearance. They won it in 2003 and 2007, were runners up in 1995 and finished in 4th place the last swing around. They are an incredible team and definitely one of the favorites to win it all, currently ranked #2 in the world. The star player is 27-year-old Dzsenifier Marozsan, who began her Bundesliga career at the age of 15 as well as Alexandra Popp. In the midfield, also be on the lookout for Sara Dabritz, a phenomenal box to box player.
China - One the more historic international footballing countries, China has taken a turn downhill. They have qualified to seven of the eight World Cups and have made five quarterfinals appearances including finishing runner ups in 1999 and 4th place in 1995. After the departure of several key players and several manager changes, they enter the 2019 World Cup as a nation with high standards, but also a bit of an unknown quantity. Be on the lookout for Li Ying and Wang Shuang.
Spain - Previously Spain has only qualified for one World Cup, being the one in 2015 where they didn’t get out of the group stage. Although as aforementioned, they are a squad which is coming in incredibly hot picking up all three points in each qualifying group game, which even in a relatively weak group is an impressive feat. The Spanish roster is special in the sense, that like the French team, huge chunks of the roster play together on the club level with 3⁄4 of the roster coming from either Barcelona or Atletico Madrid. If you’re going to orient your eye on a player to watch, keep it focused on Jennifer Hermoso, who plays a false 9. Marta Torrejon is also a stellar right back.
South Africa - Headed into their first-ever World Cup, South Africa is not exactly in a good run of form with pre-tournament friendlies ending in a 3-0 defeat from the United States and a 7-2 drumming from Norway. Lacking a ton of experience and ingrained with a younger movement of players, look for former Houston Dash player and current South African captain Janine van Wyk to keep the backline together. Thembi Kgatlana is a promising young forward who plays in China, but like many of her teammates, lacks a lot of international experience.
Group C - Australia, Italy, Brazil, Jamaica
This is a wide open group that is going to be a very fun with several star studded storylines. Despite Australia’s 3-0 blunder of a loss to the Netherlands coming into the tournament, I still think that this is their group to lose, and in fact, I have them going all the way to the quarterfinals, if not further. It is probably a result of my own naivety and pull on the heartstring story that got Jamaica to this point, but I think that they can upset Brazil and get another surprise draw against Italy to send them into the round of 16. Italy and Brazil will, in my eyes, likely round out the two bottom spots of the group depending on who wins the game between the two and/or can steal a point from Australia.
The Teams/Player to Watch:
Australia - Two words. Samantha Kerr. Okay, maybe a few more words than that. The Australian national team is perhaps the most familiar team for many Americans besides their own due to the high number of players which ply their trade in the NWSL, and conversely, the high number of NWSL players which ply their trade in the Australian W-League in the offseason. It is a physical squad littered with talent ranging from the upcoming stars Ellie Carpenter, Hayley Raso, Emily van Egmond, and Caitlin Foord to experienced veterans in Lydia Williams, Clare Polkinghorne, Lisa De Vanna and former Utah Royal, Katrina Gorry. This will be the seventh World Cup for the Westfield Matildas who have appeared in each edition but the first, ending their run in the quarterfinals at each of the last three.
Italy - This will be the country’s third go around at a World Cup title after previously qualifying in 1991 where they were quarterfinalists and again in 1999 where they failed to make it out of the group stage. They are in relatively good form, winning seven out of their last nine. Italy are also another one of those teams where nearly every player on the national team also plays in the domestic league, with only the sole defender Elena Linari playing overseas, and really only a bit across the border in Madrid. Most players hail from Juventus, Milan, Roma or Fiorentina. Look for Barbara Bonansea to be the attacking standout and Sara Gama to run the defense.
Brazil - Being longtime heavy hitters and qualifying to every World Cup and Olympics, with their worst-ever Olympic performance being quarterfinals, Brazil does not appear to be the team that they once were. In fact, they don’t even remotely resemble the team that won the 2018 Copa America. They’ve lost a horrific nine games in a row, and while recent past is not always reflecting of the upcoming future, it definitely appears that Brazil will have an uphill battle ahead of them. Winning the FIFA Player of the Year on six different occasions, Marta is the most notable star on this team, but it is a squad littered with other storylines as well, including her potential injury bad enough to keep her out of the first game. NWSL devotees will know Andressinha in the midfield, Monica in defense, and Debinha in attack. But playing for Brazil also belongs the oldest player in the tournament, Formiga at 41 years of age.
Jamaica - It’s their first time at a World Cup. In fact, it’s the first time that a country from the Caribbean has ever qualified for a Women’s World Cup, and if you’re looking for an underdog in this tournament, make it the Reggae Girlz. This team didn’t even exist until it was refunded by Bob Marley’s daughter, Cedella in 2014. Head coach Hue Menzies was a former math teacher and collegiate soccer player before he took over the program on a volunteer basis which moved to a payed position only recently. For the most part, the team is nearly entirely self-funded, but it is paying off as players like Khadija “Bunny” Shaw work through the collegiate system, star for their national team - scoring a record 19 goals in qualifying, - and land promising footballing careers. Also be on the lookout for 17-year-old Jody Brown. If you want a more detailed read of the Reggae Girlz, this one from the Washington Post is excellent.
Group D - England, Scotland, Argentina, Japan
This group is fun. This group is going to be a lot of fun, and it doesn’t hurt that the first game of the group is another addition of the centuries old rivalry between England and Scotland. Ultimately, I think that England will top the group and actually then go on to a top four finish. Japan will sit just below them, guaranteeing a spot in the round of 16. Scotland will also make it into the round of 16 by finishing the group stage as one of the better third place teams, which then puts Argentina on the bottom. That said, a lot could change, and particularly, if Scotland can stay tight defensively against England and get a result in that first game, that will blow the entire group open.
The Teams/Player to Watch:
England - England enter their fifth tournament appearance as one of the best teams in the world, currently ranked #3. Everytime they have qualified, they have bowed out in the quarterfinals with the exception of 2015 when they took home third place. They’re also coming off a tournament victory in the spring after beating out the United States for first place. England is a very dynamic team, and they can play on the counter and through possession; they can do it all. Captained by defender Steph Houghton and supplemented by Lucy Bronze and Millie Bright, their defense is one of the best in the world. Their attack is also very strong led by Chelsea standout Fran Kirby in the 10 slot, and a dangerous front of Reign FC player Jodie Taylor, upcoming star Beth Mead and the experienced Ellen White as well as other strong interchanges.
Scotland - Scotland qualified to the 2017 Euro’s, their first-ever major tournament and are now following it up with their World Cup debut. Obviously captained by our very own Rachel Corsie, they are a gritty team, that many would consider underdogs, but I genuinely believe that this team not only has what it takes to do well, but I think that they will be able to execute on that. Corsie herself said that she and her teammates are not content with just appearing at the tournament. They want to prove to the world what they can do and inspire the youth of Scotland while doing it. My star player for Scotland is Kim Little, if you haven’t heard of her, watch out, and even if you have heard of her, watch out. There is no player in the tournament that I am more excited to watch than the former Seattle Reign and Arsenal standout. Seattle Reign? Yeah, Laura Harvey connection there, and I strongly encourage you to join me in praying that they team up together again. Outside of Little and Corsie, Erin Cuthbert is a 20-year-old Chelsea star in the making nabbing a goal every three games. Caroline Weir is a young midfielder who has drastically improved over the last year, and Jennifer Beattie is an experienced defensive presence with over 120 caps.
Argentina - France will be Argentina’s third World Cup, and first in over a decade after previously qualifying in 2007 and 2003. The vast majority of this roster plays their club games locally in Argentina where their presence is heavily stigmatized. The remainder of this squad plays abroad in Spain with the exception of Sole Jaimes who recently completed a move to Lyon. She is going to be a player to watch, as well as captain and former Washington Spirit player and current mastermind for Levante, Estefania Banini playing as the creator in the midfield.
Japan - Another one of those select countries who have qualified for every World Cup. The history of this team in the tournament is extremely rich. Last time around, they finished runners up falling victim to a Carli Lloyd hat trick within the first sixteen minutes, and the tournament before that in 2011, they not only made it all the way to the final, but they also won it. If you want to watch beautiful passing soccer, then Spain is absolutely the team to watch. The majority of this team plays in the extremely competitive domestic league, with the exception being captain Saki Kumagi who lines the defense for Lyon and Rumi Utsugi who plays for Reign FC in the United States. On the attacking front, be on the lookout for Mana Iwabuchi, who made her professional debut at 14 years of age and took home the Player of the Tournament Award in the Asian Cup in 2018, in addition to Kumi Yokoyama and the slightly more experienced Yuika Sugasawa.
Group E - Canada, Cameroon, New Zealand, Netherlands
If there is to be a group of death at this tournament, is this it? Maybe, I dunno. It certainly could be. Canada and the Netherlands are fantastic teams who should not only lead the top of this group, but they are both stacked to make long runs in the tournament. My prediction is that the Netherlands coming off winning the Euro’s in 2017, top the group and make a run all the way into the third place game. Canada will take second in the group and make it to at least the quarterfinals. New Zealand will probably take the third place spot and hopefully Katie Bowen and company will advance to the round of 16 by having a better record. The game I am most looking forward to from a Utah Royals perspective? The second round matchup on June 15th between Canada and New Zealand, or otherwise worded as, the contest between Desiree Scott and Katie Bowen. The one between Canada and Holland should also be fantastic.
The Teams/Player to Watch:
Canada - The country has qualified to every World Cup except for the first and for the most part have bowed out in the group stage, the exception being 2003 when they lost in the third place game to the United States and in 2015 when they ran all the way to the quarterfinals. Christine Sinclair is the all-time leader in appearances, goals, and assists for the Canadian National Team heading into her fifth World Cup. She currently sits only three goals behind Abby Wambach, who holds the all-time international record of goals scored in international competitions with 184. Considering she’s 35 years old, there would be no bigger stage to break the record on than the World Cup. Joining Sinclair in the attack is Manchester City star Janine Beckie who is on rate for a goal in just about every other game. The country also has several other stellar attacking options in Adriana Leon and 18-year-old future superstar Jordyn Huitema, although building chemistry for Sinclair has proven to be an issue. The midfield is held together by our very own Desiree Scott and Houston Dash player Sophie Schmidt. Where Canada’s strength truly lays is in the defense. If the old adage that “defense wins championships” is true then Canada is in pretty good hands. The group of Ashley Lawrence, Kadeisha Buchanan, Rebecca Quinn, Allysha Chapman and others has been phenomenal. Canada is also lucky for choice with some of the best goalkeeper selection in the world including North Carolina Courage player Stephanie Labbe, Sky Blue saver Kailen Sheridan, and Sabrina D’Angelo.
Cameroon - Cameroon qualified for their first-ever World Cup in 2015 when they got to the round of 16 and have now qualified for a second time in a row. The players for Cameroon are rostered for clubs all over the world, a good section of them across Africa and another section in France and northern Europe. Genevieve Ngo Mbeleck is a workhorse in the midfield and should be a player to watch. Joining her is 25-year-old Jeannette Yango. In the attack is Madeleine Ngono Mani, who is the all-time leading scorer for Cameroon and could potentially still have a goal up her sleeves. A more likely scorer in attack would be Gabrielle Onguéné. The 30-year-old took home the player of the tournament award at the 2016 Africa Cup of Nations.
New Zealand - The Football Ferns head into their fifth World Cup appearance, never making it out of the group stage and actually have yet to win a game in the tournament. They are led by Tom Sermanni, one of the more recognizable coaching names in Women’s Football known for coaching the United States for a short period of time and more recently the Orlando Pride. The club’s biggest weakness is that they don’t score a lot of goals, and they lack a world class playmaker but if they can stay compact defensively, they could sneak into the round of 16. In the buildup to the World Cup, their recent results have been all over the place. Since April of this year, they have upset Norway and England as well as picked up a win against Mexico, yet also taken a surprising loss to Wales, and a more expected loss to the United States, only scoring more than a single goal in the win over Mexico. In defense, look for a world-class defender in North Carolina Courage Abby Erceg who is coming off of the 2018 NWSL Defender of the Year Award, captain Ali Riley, and long-term defender Ria Percival who holds over 130 caps, as well as excellent players of the future in CJ Bott and Rebekah Stott. Their defensive capabilities are boosted by an equal talent in goal in Erin Nayler. With such a stellar defensive cast and her own lightning quick ability, our own Katie Bowen steps into the midfield as she enters her third World Cup adventure.
Netherlands - Holland has qualified for only their second World Cup after appearing at only their first in 2015 when they made it to the final 16. The Dutch actually finished second in their qualifying group but earned a place at the table after beating both Denmark and Switzerland in two-legged playoff series. I have extremely high expectations for the Orange Lionesses and rightfully so. Led by Lieke Martens, the 2017 FIFA Player of the Year, 22-year-old youth superstar Vivianne Miedema of Arsenal, Shanice van de Sanden of Lyon, and Danielle van de Donk, also of Arsenal. This is perhaps the most dangerous attacking unit in the competition. While an incredibly dangerous attacking unit, the defense sometimes looks random and confused. It’s no doubt that players like Dominique Bloodworth and Stefanie van der Gragt are good, but much like Australia, the Dutch may have to bank on their ability to outscore opponents instead of keeping the clean sheet. That said, the Netherlands are coming in hot outscoring teams 13-1 in the last four games, including a 3-0 smacking of Australia.
Group F - Chile, Sweden, Thailand, United States
There are several interesting storylines in this group. Thailand heads into their second-ever World Cup after bowing out in the group stage. For Chile, this will be their first go around. The United States will matchup with Sweden, the team that stunned the world as they knocked them out of the 2016 Olympics in the quarterfinals. All in all, the defending Stars and Stripes are far and away the favorites to win this group, and I expect them to do so in a thrashing manner. By topping the group, if predictions are correct and barring an upset, they will go on to play France in an extremely heated quarterfinal match. The winner of which, at least in my eyes, will probably win the whole thing. Sweden will very well likely line up right behind the USA and Chile and Thailand will fight for the third and fourth spots, Chile will probably take the third.
The Teams/Player to Watch:
Chile - Another country making their very first visit to the Women’s World Cup. They have not won a match in 10 games, last picking up a win in November of 2018 against Australia. Their sheer presence at this tournament is a win in and of itself. While they qualified after finishing second in the Copa America Femenina, the team didn’t even play between 2014 and 2017, going 981 days without playing a game, and they were practically shut down due to a FIFA scandal and blatant sexism. Yet, here they are on the biggest stage in the world. Like a stereotypical team from South America, they are good in tight spaces and technical on the ball. Maria Rojas and Yanara Aedo can be dangerous in attack while captain Karen Araya runs the midfield. The most recognizable player on the team, and really the only international star is goalkeeper Christiane Endler who plays for Paris Saint-Germain.
Sweden - The Swedes have appeared in every edition of the World Cup. Historically one of the best teams, they have made it out of the group stage in each edition except for one, and finished runner-ups in 2003 and third-place on two other occasions. Defensively, they are led by one of the greatest centerbacks of all time in Nilla Fischer CB, who heads into her fourth World Cup with tons of experience internationally as well as domestically with Europen giants, Wolfsburg. Hedvig Lindahl is another legend of the game in between the sticks for Sweden. With over 150 caps for her national team, this will be her fifth World Cup. Also, look out for Linda Sembrant. In the midfield look for Caroline Seger, and the incredible talent Kosovare Asllani, a dynamic and exciting player who has been all over Europe on a club level. In the attack, there are a couple of experimental options, but I am keeping my eyes on the young Stina Blackstenius.
Thailand - The entirety of Thailand’s National Team play domestically in the Thai league, with the exception of Suchawadee Nildhamrong, or as she goes by her English name, Miranda Nild, who recently graduated California Berkley, and Tiffany Sornpao who plays for Kennesaw State. Forward Nildhamrong was a key player in qualifying and may continue to be for the World Cup, but if Thailand are to find any success at this tournament, two of their more experienced players in Rattikan Thongsombut and Kanjana Sungngoen are going to have to be able to not only offensively, but defensively as well.
United States - Not much to say here. For the most part we know what to expect. The United States is the best team in the world, and they have enough experience to play like it. France are favorites, but the United States are also favorites. It is ironic that the only defeat the United States has suffered in the past 24 games has been to the hands of Les Bleues, and that the two teams will likely be scheduled to meet in the quarterfinals. This will be the country’s 8th World Cup. Three time winners in 1991, 1999 and 2015, and runner-ups 2011, with their worst-ever finish in third place in 1995, 2003, and 2007. Equally impressive for the Olympic Games, the country has made it to the gold medal game and won it 4/5 times. It is only in the latest Brazilian games that the country exited early, and that exit clearly drives their hunger and determination for the 2019 edition of the tournament. That said, there are plenty of questions to ask. How much a home field advantage does France have? Will Alyssa Naeher be able to replicate the many perfect performances of Hope Solo? Is Kelley O’Hara 100%? Is Dahlkemper good enough?
Regardless, it’s the World Cup. Buckle up, get ready, enjoy it. I hope that you, like me, anxiously await to witness history.