World Cup draw
World Cup draw opens up exciting possibilities
Paris in mid-December was a surreal experience. Across the city there were armoured cars, barricades and Molotov cocktails, but on the Ile Seguin the only
gilets jaunes on show were video pictures of the yellow-shirted women’s football teams of Brazil and Sweden, Jamaica and South Africa.
Outside on the streets, the yellowvest movement sought to force political revolution; inside La Seine Musicale there were thoughts of more peaceful evolution as the draw for the 2019 Women’s World Cup unfolded.
The prospect of a new force in the women’s game was raised at Euro 2017 when previously dominant Germany were beaten by Denmark and replaced by Holland. But in north America, Africa and Asia the old regimes remained entrenched, with the United States, Nigeria and Japan retaining regional championships.
The summer should reveal whether Holland’s triumph was a one-off or the
harbinger of the old order’s unseating, with defending champions USA facing plenty of challengers for their crown.
Hosts France are ranked three in the world but have a reputation for cracking under pressure. Fourth-ranked England were semi-finalists at World Cup 2015 and Euro 2017. Holland are now proven winners. Canada have been knocking on the door. Australia and Spain are improving. Sweden were Olympic silver medallists to Germany in 2016 and have experience. Brazil’s golden generation are showing signs of grey, but may have a last hurrah in them.
The game’s nobility, however, will not go quietly. USA, Germany and Japan have won six of the seven Women’s World Cups between them – Norway, in 1995, being the only exception– and all three are strong contenders once again.
The US have outsiders Thailand and newcomers Chile in their group before they face Sweden, by which stage both should have qualified. Winning the group is likely to mean a quarter-final against a French team who were given a tricky but negotiable quartet.
“I like having Sweden as the third game, it allows us to settle into the tournament,” says USA coach Jill Ellis. “We’re going to be battle-tested going into this World Cup with the schedule we’ve planned. It’s not about defending the World Cup; it’s about attacking the World Cup.”
Nigeria are the wildcard in France’s group. There is talent in the squad but it is starved of matches and resources. If their Swedish coach Thomas Dennerby is given time with the players and a warm-up programme they could surprise. Norway, as things stand, will be without Ballon d’Or winner Ada Hegerberg, who is currently estranged from the set-up. South Korea make up the four but are no makeweights.
Runners-up in 2015, Japan are paired with the team they beat in the semi-finals, England who – having lost vice-captain Jordan Nobbs with ruptured knee ligaments – must first deal with Scotland, who they beat 6-0 at Euro 2017. “We’ve got to forget what happened at the last Euros,” says Scotland manager Shelley Kerr. “It’s going to be tough but exciting. We do not fear anyone.”
“This, for the whole of the UK, is a fantastic fixture,” says England boss Phil Neville. “One to capture the imagination of that girl at school who is thinking, ‘on June 9 I’m going to tune in to watch this game and after the game go out on the field and start playing football’.
“That’s what this game can do; it can
inspire the next generation of footballers. It’s about winning and losing, but we’re here to inspire as well.”
Germany ought to win Group B, but have stuttered recently and are under new management. Holland and Canada should contest Group E, but Australia and Brazil need to beware Italy in Group C.
The top two in each group and the four best third-placed countries go through to the knockout stage.
The tournament opens in Paris with France v South Korea on June 7 and closes in Lyon on July 7. Already 200,000 tickets have been sold and FIFA has doubled the prize money – although, as FIFPro noted, the increase from $15million to $30m “actually signifies an increase in the gap between men’s and women’s prize money. This regressive trend appears to contravene FIFA’s statutory commitment to gender equality.”
Come June, the hope is that the schoolgirl Neville spoke of being inspired is one of many around the world.
Euro 2017...Scotland keeper Gemma Fay and team-mates try to keep out England
The draw...at La Seine Musicale, Paris
rematch...france’s marie-laure delie (left) and nora holstad berge of norway will meet again in group A