The 2019 Women’s World Cup is just days away which means only one thing: analysing statistics, studying team tactics, and reading up on player’s forms, in order to make sensible, well thought-out predictions, only to look like an utter fool a few days into the tournament as you’ve been proven completely wrong.
Whether the favourite for the Golden Ball breaks their leg in the first training session, the so-called “safe” Golden Glove prediction comes down with a bad case of butterfingers, or the player who was touted as the next big thing clashes with their manager and is resigned to playing left bench for the entire competition, one thing is for sure: We’ve all been there.
Us in the current Forge Sport Press team were joined by contributor Nicole Oshisanwo as well as current University of Sheffield footballer Grace O’Callaghan to lay down our predictions ahead of this year’s biggest international championship.
Michael Ekman (Sports Coordinator): USA. The US has always been the dominant force of international football, having finished no lower than third place ever since the inception of the World Cup in 1991. Additionally, having lost only once in their last 24(!) matches sees them come into the tournament on spectacular form. They’ll face Thailand, Chile, and Sweden in the group stage, with only the latter posing a potential challenge against the Stars and Stripes. Realistically, this would then place them in a round-of-16 clash against either Spain or China. Two good teams but two that the US should be able to brush aside either way, as they take their first steps to the final in Lyon.
Alex Brotherton (Sports Editor): USA. The USWNT is quite simply the behemoth of the international game. The three-time world champions have reached at least the semi-final stage in all seven editions of the Women’s World Cup since 1991, and as the top team in the FIFA World Rankings they will be expected to do so again. The 2019 SheBelieves Cup may have represented a slight hiccup, with draws against England and Japan costing Jill Ellis’ side the title, but with the mercurial talents of Alex Morgan and Carli Lloyd they are likely to go far in France.
Nicole Oshisanwo (Contributor): USA. It’s impossible to look past the current champions and the country who has won it the most times. There are some questions about squad depth in the team, especially at fullback and also questions over head coach Jill Ellis’ experimental team selections, but this is still an incredibly strong team. The pace and technique of Alex Morgan and the flair of Tobin Heath should combine to make the USA an attacking threat, whilst the experience throughout the squad will give them the mental strength in any tough games. The USA have a relatively easy group and should qualify comfortably. After that, I expect them to sail through to the finals.
Grace O’Callaghan (Footballer): France. The French spine of Bouhaddi, Renard, Henry and Le Sommer is arguably the strongest in world football. While they have struggled in the past on the world stage, with their best result being fourth place in the 2011 World Cup, results have been strong under new manager Diacre, with France losing just twice in her 22 games at the helm. The home advantage should be enough to see them past a likely quarter-final against reigning champions USA and a semi-final match-up with England.
ME: The Netherlands. Normally, a team that is ranked 8th best in the world and hold the title of European Champion wouldn’t be considered a surprise wildcard. However, looking at their overall history, there is definitely a case for them to be seen as underdogs. This is only the second time the Dutch have qualified for the World Cup, having previously been knocked out in the round-of-16 in 2015. Additionally, their European Championship win took place on home soil. While that obviously doesn’t guarantee the trophy, undoubtedly, having the home advantage in every game was definitely a huge help. Moreover, the team would have hoped for a better result in the Algarve Cup, finishing in second-to-last place. However, I’m still excited to see how the Leeuwinnen will do in France. Perhaps the pressure of football’s biggest tournament will be that extra motivation that allows the team to put their recent bad run of form behind them and build on their European Championship win.
AB: Australia. The World Cup ever-presents have never made it past the quarter final stage, and haven’t won a major tournament since 2010, when they lifted the AFC Women’s Asian Cup. But the Matildas have reason to be quietly confident. They proved their metal last year with impressive victories against heavyweights Japan and Brazil, and with the likes of Sam Kerr and Lisa de Vanna in top form, there’s no reason to believe they can’t pull off similar feats. The AFF’s recent announcement of Australia’s bid to host the WWC in 2023 will give them all the more incentive to put on a show this summer.
NO: Brazil. It might seem strange to name Brazil as a surprise wildcard, but they are currently on a run of absolutely abysmal form and are winless since July 2018. Perennial contenders in the past, Brazil will need to shake off their current malaise and make it to at least the quarter-finals. With a relatively easy group, they certainly have time to play themselves into the tournament and they’ll be hoping that the experience afforded to them by having the oldest squad in the tournament will see them through.
GO: Norway. They might be missing Ballon D’Or winner Ada Hegerberg, who refuses to play for the national team in protest of a lack of respect towards women’s football, but Norway are not to be taken lightly. They beat reigning European Champions Netherlands to automatic qualification, a demonstration of their strength. Chelsea pair Maren Mjelde and Maria Thorisdottir are a solid centre back partnership, and Barcelona winger Graham Hansen offers X-factor in Hegerberg’s absence.
ME: Eugénie Le Sommer. She has consistently been an essential part of the Lyon team that has dominated French club football these past 10 years. As well as averaging a goal roughly every other game for Les Bleues, I predict her to go that extra mile in the World Cup to become top scorer, as the backing of the home support can be what pushes her, as well as the entire French squad, that little bit more to edge out their opponents.
AB: Vivianne Miedema. The 22-year-old Dutch striker is one of the most prolific goal scorers in the world right now, having just propelled Arsenal to the Women’s Super League title with 22 goals and 10 assists in just 20 games. Just as ruthless for her country, notching 57 goals in 74 appearances, Miedema is poised for a big summer when she leads the line for the reigning European Champions.
NO: Vivianne Miedema. With 22 goals in 20 games this season she has looked absolutely unstoppable at times for Arsenal. She is able to hold up the ball while bringing others into play, use a burst of pace to get past a marker, or simply smash them in from range. She’s the complete package and teams will need to be on their guard.
GO: Sam Kerr. Her quality is evidenced by the fact that, at only 25, Australia’s superstar captain is already the all-time leading scorer in the American NWSL. An entertaining and athletic striker, Kerr thrives off running in behind defences, and is capable of outrageously acrobatic finishes. She looks set to score a hatful in a group consisting of Jamaica (the lowest-ranked team in the tournament), an Italy team that last qualified for the world cup 20 years ago, and a defensively shaky Brazil.
ME: Alex Morgan. Since the Golden Ball almost always goes to the best offensive player in the winning team, it’s logical to think that it will land at the feet of whoever fits that bill in the USWNT, and currently, that player is Alex Morgan. While her and her current club Orlando Pride have been struggling in the league, Morgan seems to always be able to turn up for the national side and has remained an integral part for years. However, there are many players who could challenge her for this award, like Carli Lloyd or Tobin Heath, if they can perform in the tournament. It will be interesting to see if she is able to overcome her fairly disappointing league form and step up for her country yet again.
AB: Alex Morgan. The American striker plays an essential role in the well oiled USWNT machine and I fully expect her to step up to the plate in France. Winner of the 2018 US Soccer’s Female Player of the Year award, she is the focal point of the US’ heavily offensive approach, so should receive ample service from wide players Tobin Heath and Megan Rapinoe. I expect the US to go the distance and Morgan to be their driving force.
NO: Amandine Henry. With the current Ballon D’Or holder Ada Hegerberg missing the World Cup to take a stand on equality within football, some of the other excellent footballers in this tournament will come to the fore. However, for me, Henry is one of the favourites. A brilliant player whose composure and passing range make her stand out for Lyon, France will be expecting big things. With the incentive of the men’s accomplishments driving them, she will captain the hosts to what they hope will be World Cup glory.
GO: Amandine Henry. If France lift the trophy, it will be down to huge performances from their captain Henry. The 29 year-old midfielder is not the flashiest player, but her composure and ability to control games makes her a key element towards French success. If France fail to overcome the USA in the quarter finals, then American trickster Tobin Heath could challenge for this award. While always exciting, Heath has previously struggled to convert her creativity into goals, however 11 goals in her last 15 games suggest this could be the tournament that establishes her as one of the world’s best.
ME: Almuth Schult. Having played second fiddle to Nadine Angerer for several years in the national team, Schult has established herself as a trustworthy number one, having first impressed in Germany’s gold medal win in the 2016 Olympics. She remains a fundamental part in Wolfsburg’s league dominance as well as their consistently strong performances in the Champions League. Such form will undoubtedly continue heading into the World Cup.
AB: Sarah Bouhaddi. The French goalkeeper has long been one of the world’s best and is a stalwart in a Lyon team that has just won its fourth consecutive Champions League. She has a great understanding with centre backs Wendie Renard and Griedge Mbock and fullback Amel Majri, all of whom play in front of her at Lyon. While Norway, Nigeria and South Korea are no attacking slouches, Bouhaddi’s experience, and the comfort of playing on home soil, will make scoring against Les Bleues a feat of its own.
NO: Almuth Schult. Although struggling a little for form recently, Schult has long been regarded as one of the best keepers on the game. Playing behind one of the better defences in the competition, she’ll have a great chance to keep some clean sheets throughout the competition and take home the Golden Glove.
GO: Sarah Bouhaddi. Bouhaddi has been the subject of ire from Lyon and France fans alike, with her sweeper-keeper style leaving her vulnerable to costly errors. However, she is capable of pulling off great saves that single-handedly keeps her team in the game. With the indomitable Wendy Renard leading the defence, France will be a hard team to score past if Bouhaddi is on song.
Best Young Player:
ME: Mallory Pugh. While Pugh may see her game time cut short due to the already well established places of the USWNT forwards, I believe that she has the potential to be the Stars and Stripes wildcard player. Having scored in several of the friendlies leading up to this year’s tournament, she clearly has the capability to be the type of player who offloads the other more experienced strikers. If she is able to get some good performances coming off the bench in the first few group games, she may very well overtake the more regular player’s in the starting line-up as the tournament goes on.
AB: Georgia Stanway. The last two seasons have seen the attacking midfielder emerge in both the Manchester City and England setups, and at 20 years-old she’s already a remarkable talent. She’s by no means a guaranteed starter for The Lionesses with all the experienced heads in the squad, but if she can convince Phil Neville to give her a chance then the sky’s the limit.
NO: Lea Schüller. This is a tricky one to pick, with so many players impressing last year, but I’m going to go with Schüller. The forward has been in excellent form for Essen this season, with 14 goals in 22 games and can be lethal for Germany as well, scoring all four goals in a World Cup qualifier against Czech Republic in 2018. If Germany manages to get themselves in gear, they are capable of reaching the latter stages of the tournament, giving Schüller plenty of time to impress.
GO: Lea Schüller. 21 year-old striker Schüller from SG Essen is in great form for the national team of late, scoring 6 goals in 6 games in the qualifiers. It’s no surprise that, after some poor German performances in recent times, which saw the end of their dominance over European football, Schüller has been hailed as ‘a beacon of hope’ by German media. She’s already played over 100 times for Essen, scoring 46 goals in the process, so brings more experience than most players her age.
Where England will finish:
ME: Semi-final. England have performed extremely well in knock-out competitions these past years, finishing third in the last World Cup, semi-finals in the last European Championships, and first in the latest SheBelieves Cup. I see no reason why England can’t continue that impressive run of form. However, once they reach the semi-final stage, they’ll be facing one of the competition’s heavy hitters. While England have a good team this year, there are still a few teams that are just slightly better and will unfortunately send The Lionesses packing their bags.
AB: Semi Final (at least). While doubts may still remain over Phil Neville’s managerial abilities at the top level, England are looking as strong as ever. The SheBelieves Cup victory in March, which included wins against Brazil and Japan and a draw with the United States, provided a big confidence boost, as did recent defeats of Spain and Denmark. What’s more, The Lionesses squad hits a great balance between experience and exciting young talent. The leadership of Karen Bardsley, Lucy Bronze and captain Steph Houghton will prove crucial in tough moments, while the flair and hunger of Georgia Stanway, Nikita Parris and Fran Kirby could light up the tournament. Drawn in a group with Japan, Scotland and Argentina, and unable to face the USA or France until the semi-final stage, England should be aiming for the last four at the least.
NO: Semi-finals. They’ve been in great form since Phil Neville’s appointment and put in some strong performances earlier this year to win the SheBelieves Cup. With the likes of Lyon bound Nikita Parris and the sensational Fran Kirby driving the attack, there is certainly plenty to admire going forward, whilst the partnership between stalwart captain Steph Houghton and Millie Bright gives England a solid base. Although impacted by the lack of Jordan Nobbs, the England midfield is still driven by veteran Jill Scott, who looked impressive in England’s scrappy 2-0 win against Denmark. Back-to-back semi-final heartbreak in the Euros and the previous World Cup is certainly something to keep in mind however and with 11 players set to make their World Cup debuts, there is certainly an argument that the mental strength of senior squad members will be key to any chance of success. As an England fan however, there’s a part of me that thinks this year they could make it to the final, and once there, it’s anybody’s game.
GO: Third place. England should no longer be seen as dark horses, as the 3rd ranked team in the world, they are genuine contenders. They have a good mix of experience, through big names like Steph Houghton, Fran Kirby and Lucy Bronze, and young fresh talent, such as Georgia Stanway, Kiera Walsh and Beth Mead. A favourable draw means they are well placed to reach the semi-finals, however they will likely have to get past France or the USA to reach the final, and this may prove a step too far.