BY CONNOR STEPHENS
We’re two months away from what promises to be one of the most exciting and hyped Women’s FIFA World Cup’s in recent memory. With the tournament to be hosted in our very own nation along with New Zealand, 64 exciting matches will be played in 31 days across 10 venues in 9 Cities.
The heavyweight United States go in as favourites and are looking to win their 3rd straight title. The experience of champion striker Alex Morgan, who at the age of 33 (will be 34 when the tournament begins), still came runner up in the FIFA Women’s player of the year last year will be looking to lead from the front and guide her nation to yet another trophy. Captain Becky Sauerbrunn will be 38 by the time the World Cup comes around and the United States defence will be looking to her to take charge and come up clutch. Arguably the 2 best players on the team favoured to win are getting on with age. Will this be a strength or a weakness? There are very few days in between games and this could affect the ageing bodies of the key players who have come up big for the States in past tournaments.
England looks to be the United States biggest threat, and will be looking to star playmaker Beth Mead to use her Football IQ to score crucial goals and bring the rest of her team into the game. An ACL injury sustained last year leaves Mead in question for the tournament, but with 15 goals and 14 assists in 844 minutes of playing time in the World Cup qualifiers, she definitely knows her way around the box, and this will be crucial in deciding how far England progress in the tournament. Right-Back Lucy Bronze also knows how to sneak her way up the field and if her opponent gives her just an inch, she can turn an entire game on its head. With Mead being 27 and Bronze being 31, England having 2 key players both in the primes of their careers could mean that the States will have to watch out and this tournament won't be easy going in any way, shape or form.
This looks to be one of the most evenly matched World Cups to date, and another heavyweight looking to add to their collection of trophies will be Germany. Having won the 2003 and 2007 editions of the tournament, the Germans boast arguably their strongest ever line up, featuring the likes of veteran Striker and Captain Alexandra Popp, Midfield generals Melanie Leupolz and Lina Magull, and Defender Kathrin Hendrich who can operate across both the Centre of Defence and as a Wing-Back. Lea Schuller has already established herself as a force to be reckoned with, having netted 15 goals in 9 appearances in the qualifiers, and the depth in this German squad could be the deciding factor when it comes to the dog days of the tournament.
When it comes to a World Cup, it would be rude not to talk about the host nations, and Australia have an absolute spearhead in Sam Kerr, who on her day can win a game off her own boot. Still only 29 years old it seems like she's been around forever, having earned 120 caps and scoring 63 goals for her nation. Will the Australian conditions give the Matildas an advantage, or will they succumb to the pressure of facing the much more favoured Nations if they make it past the group stage? The emergence of young Defender Ellie Carpenter, who at only 5 ft 5 in stature plays like shes a foot taller, will be a nightmare for any Attacker looking for a moments peace, and her physical toughness could help the Aussies against the big Nations. At only 23 years of age, she has already achieved more than most and the next decade looks very promising for the Matildas if she can keep performing at this level.
New Zealand go in as heavy underdogs, but host nations are known to overperform at their own tournaments, so don't write them off just yet. Sharing a pool with Switzerland, Norway and the Philippines, any 2 of these Nations can progress to the next stage and personally I think this draw has done the Football Ferns a huge favour, and will give them the required confidence to go deep into the tournament. Forward Hannah Wilkinson knows how to score goals on her day, and New Zealand will be looking to her experience to lead the team all the way through. Betsy Hassett is an aggressive Attacking Midfielder and will always look to take the game on at all costs, and this could be a nightmare for any opponent, especially when the pressure is on. Veteran Defender and Captain Ali Riley still has a bit left in the tank at the age of 35 and she will be fired up looking to make the most of this tournament for her Nation.
This can be anybody's tournament as it looks very evenly matched, but I have left my tip for the trophy on August 20 until last.
Spain are looking good, led by Alexia Putellas who has won the FIFA Women’s Player of the Year for the last two years, the limelight will be focused on her and she will be ready to lead her Nation from the front. With 6 goals and 3 assists from 12 appearances in the Centre of Midfield during the qualifiers, she hasn't let the pressure get to her and this is Spain's tournament to lose. They are up there with the heavyweight nations, but they have a point to prove, with the world's best player to lead the way. She makes everybody around her better, and I believe Spain has what it takes to go all the way come August, and after a crucial ACL injury has left her out for nearly a year, she will be raring to go. Spain have had their troubles off the pitch in the past year but the squad now look to be on a united front and I think they have the trophy for the taking.
The question is, who do you think will take home gold?