24 teams go into the hat for Paris draw

The Citizen (KZN) - - FRONT PAGE - Paris

– With just six months to go un­til the tour­na­ment’s open­ing game in Paris, an­tic­i­pa­tion is grow­ing ahead of the 2019 women’s World Cup as the French cap­i­tal pre­pares to host the draw for the fi­nals to­day.

The spot­light on the women’s game con­tin­ues to grow, and next year’s com­pe­ti­tion in France – which runs from June 7 to July 7 – will be the most lu­cra­tive yet.

There re­mains a chasm, though, com­pared to the men’s World Cup that will take some years yet to close, in fi­nan­cial terms and in terms of the me­dia spot­light.

How­ever, there are some ad­van­tages to that – just 12 months ago, Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin took the stage in the Krem­lin at a politi­cised draw for the World Cup in Rus­sia, but this time at least the foot­ball can be the sole fo­cus.

The hosts will be among the top seeds for the 24-team tour­na­ment, in which the United States will de­fend their crown while Olympic cham­pi­ons Ger­many will be strong con­tenders too.

Com­pe­ti­tion is likely to be in­tense, how­ever – 2011 win­ners Ja­pan will fancy their chances, as will Phil Neville’s Eng­land, semi­fi­nal­ists at the last World Cup and at Euro 2017.

“We’ve got the ex­pe­ri­ence now but we want to make sure we go all the way,” Eng­land star Fran Kirby (above) told The Guardian re­cently.

Get­ting be­yond the group stage may not be too hard for them, even if the over­all stan­dard of women’s foot­ball is im­prov­ing all the time.

“I think this will be the first women’s World Cup ever that will be highly com­pet­i­tive all the way through,” Aus­tralia coach Alen Sta­j­cic told the Syd­ney Morn­ing Her­ald.

Be­yond the lead­ing names, this is also a big oc­ca­sion for Scot­land, whose women have qual­i­fied for their first World Cup in the same coun­try where their men last went to a ma­jor tour­na­ment, back in 1998.

“I’m not one bit in­ter­ested in draw­ing glam­our coun­tries,” Scot­land head coach Shel­ley Kerr ad­mit­ted to the BBC.

“I’m hop­ing we get a favourable draw that gives us the best pos­si­ble chance of get­ting out of the group.”

The last tour­na­ment in Canada was the first with 24 teams and Fifa pres­i­dent Gianni In­fantino proudly an­nounced re­cently that to­tal prize money had dou­bled since then, to $30 mil­lion, in­clud­ing a record $4 mil­lion for the win­ners.

That rep­re­sents a step in the right di­rec­tion, but a long way short of the fig­ures in the men’s game – France pock­eted $38 mil­lion for win­ning in Rus­sia.

The stand­ing of women’s foot­ball was high­lighted again this week when pro­lific Nor­we­gian striker Ada Hegerberg was awarded the first women’s Bal­lon d’Or.

Nor­way, win­ners in 1995, have qual­i­fied, but Hegerberg has not played for her coun­try since their meek exit from Euro 2017. – AFP

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