World Cup draw

World Cup draw opens up exciting pos­si­bil­i­ties

World Soccer - - Contents -

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 La Seine Mu­si­cale, Paris

re­match...france’s marie-laure delie (left) and nora hol­stad berge of nor­way will meet again in group A

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