June 25, 2011

World Cup Predictions

Although I have two more previews to post from Group D, the matches are about to start so it is time to step out on a limb and make my predictions. So here it goes, my predictions for the 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup.

Group A
1) Germany - In my mind, this tournament is Germany's to lose. They are probably playing the best of any team right now. They will be playing at home in front of large enthusiastic crowds. They have easily defeated each of their group stage opponents the last time they played each. It's hard to see them not winning Group A, even though it is a very strong group.

2) France - Second place in Group A is a very tough call. It should probably come down to France vs. Canada, although the Nigerians may have a say in it before all is said and done. I believe France to be technically a better soccer team than Canada. They are also a balanced team. I think they have enough experience to make it to the quarterfinals, although young Marie-Laure Delie may make the difference.

3) Canada - It is hard not to pick the Canadians to make it to the quarterfinals and if they were in any other group, I probably would have. They will get a quick baptism of fire against Germany in their opener, but the June 30 match against France could make or break them. Christine Sinclair is a great clutch player, but I'm not sure it will be enough for the Canadians to advance.

4) Nigeria - The traditional African power has the misfortune of being in the toughest group. They too have a nice blend of experience and youth, but there is heavy emphasis on the youth. While they must be considered dangerous, if for no other reason because of Nkwocha, Mbachu, and Oparanozie, I think this team is still four years from being a real challenger for the quarterfinals.

Group B
1) England - Group B might be the most wide open group of the four. England can look awfully impressive at times as they did against the United States in April. But they can be equally disappointing as well. England and Japan should be the class of this group, with the Japanese looking less than sharp in recent matches. If the English back line can hold up, they can win this group.

2) Japan - The Japanese just haven't played their best match lately. A tie with the Korea Republic and two losses to the United States showed little of the Japanese team we are used to seeing. Whether the tragedy at home is having an effect on them or whether they are just going through a bad stretch right now, they have been struggling. If things go well, they could win this group, but if they go badly, they could miss qualifying for the quarterfinals as well.

3) Mexico - This could be a team of the future, as they have improved by leaps and bounds over the past year. Maribel Dominguez is a top notch striker and young Cecelia Santiago could be a revelation in goal. But experience is often telling in big tournaments like this one and both England and Japan have the advantage there. They will be dangerous, but I don't think they will quite make it to the quarterfinals.

4) New Zealand - This is another team that is showing continued improvement. They have conflicting recent results against their Group B opponents, tying England last fall, but losing a 5-0 decision to Mexico earlier this year. They are getting closer, but this just isn't the year.

Group C
1) Sweden - It all depends on which Swedish team shows up. As I said in their preview, they are consistently inconsistent. It should be a shootout between Sweden, Korea DPR, and the United States. With none of these teams appearing to be at the top of their game right now, I can see the Swedes slipping through and winning this group. In most of the recent matches when the US has defeated Sweden, their top scorer Lotta Schelin was not there. She will be for this tournament.

2) United States - I am certainly as guilty as the next person for being too negative on this team. But even their staunchest supporters would have to admit this team has not been hitting on all cylinders over the past year. Many of their back line are coming off of injuries and there isn't a team at this World Cup that doesn't have a great striker. The return of Solo and Wambach from injuries will help, but they will have to fight to advance out of this group.

3) Korea DPR - Once again, I fall back on the "experience being a key factor" theory. Most teams have at least some roster turnover between World Cups, but this team has had a hefty roster turnover since qualifying. While I know they will be strong technically, they haven't won very many games recently and with a young team, sometimes it takes time to learn how to win, no matter how talented you are.

4) Colombia - With all due respect to a good young team, I just can't see them surviving this group to make it to the quarterfinals. They have some nice talent on their roster and they definitely can't be dismissed, but I think their best soccer is still a few years away.

Group D
1) Brazil - There can be no doubting the talent on this team and they do have the world's best player in Marta. But you always have to wonder if they don't do quite enough between World Cups to prepare for it. This group could have been quite a challenge for them, but injuries have hurt both Australia and Norway. In the end, they have the talent and experience to take this group, and oh yeah, they have Marta.

2) Norway - This is a very solid team, but they have lost some key players to injury. I like the experience and leadership that Stensland brings and the Norwegians are a tough defensive team that will give up few goals. It probably comes down to them or Australia for the second spot and I'm going with the old saying that a good defense beats a good offense.

3) Australia - They are always an interesting and exciting side to watch and this squad should be no exception. In 2007, they played Brazil very tough in the quarterfinals. I think they could have advanced at least that far if they had not lost Kate Gill. I just believe she is a tough player to replace and it could make just enough difference to keep them from advancing in this tournament.

4) Equatorial Guinea - They are probably the unknown quantity (and quality for that matter) in this World Cup. They kind of came out of nowhere to qualify last year and they certainly earned their spot here. But this is whole different arena at the World Cup and while they have a strong team, I don't think it's strong enough.

Germany over Japan.
England over France.
Sweden over Norway.
Brazil over the United States.

Germany over Sweden.
Brazil over England.

Germany over Brazil.

In a rematch of the 2007 final, I see the host Germans defeating Brazil 3-1.