It’s now less than two weeks until the 2011 Women’s World Cup starts in Germany, and over the next couple of weeks we are taking the time to bring you a quick run-down of the teams that are taking part in another of the groups of this year’s competition. We have already presented Group A, Group B, and Group C. We conclude our previews with Group D, where possibly the best player in today’s game will play, and where another newcomer to the Finals hopes to leave its mark.
Norway (Tournament Odds–16/1): Perhaps overlooked of late owing to Germany’s last two World Cup triumphs, along with die Nationalelf’s recent domination at the UEFA Championships, it might be forgotten that the Scandavians were the first nation to represent Europe at the upper echelons of the women’s game. A losing finalist in the first World Cup of 1991, the Norwegians recovered to earn the 1993 European crown before claiming a World Cup of their own in the 1995 edition. That triumph might have been particularly sweet for the Gresshoppene considering it was won on the home soil of Sweden, which before that time had been a constant thorn in Norway’s paw. Further, the final victory came over a German squad that had usurped Norway’s status as the pre-eminent side in Europe. Needless to say, coach Eli Landsem’s squad land in Germany with a considerable chip on their shoulders and something to prove. Throughout qualification there was a concern that the relatively young and inexperienced players in defense would be an Achilles’ Heel for the Norwegians; however, they progressed with relative ease, allowing only two goals the entire time.
While dynamic young forward Cecilie Pedersen of Norwegian club Avaldnes symbolizes the youthful talent Landsem has brought with her for Group D play in Augsburg, Leverkusen, and Wolfsburg, the nation’s fortunes might rest more so on the more experienced players that occupy the midfield. There we find Ingvild Stensland, another member of that Champions League-winning side Olympique Lyonnais. Sitting on a quarter-century of caps for Norway, the captain will likely be instrumental in retaining the side’s shape and organization throughout. Considered for FIFA World Player of the Year several times over, Stensland has enough quality herself to make an impact should some of Norway’s talented youth get a bit of stage fright.
Australia (Tournament Odds–50/1): Here we find possibly the women’s equivalent of the men’s Spanish national team before its breakthrough triumph in Euro 2008. The Matildas have been a nation apparently ready to break into the elite set of international football only to disappoint their fans by not meeting great expectations. This iteration might just make a splash if they are able to advance out of a rather tight Group C, having set a high mark by qualifying for the finals from the Asian Football Conference as Champions–the first time any Aussie side (men’s or women’s) has done so. Coach Tom Sermanni is no stranger to the odd giant killing, though, as in his initial match holding the reigns in 2005 he led the Matildas to victory over the mighty Germans. Australia’s game is about speed and precision passing, which sets their first group match against Brazil as potentially one of the more entertaining matches in the opening round. Again, that is if these young Aussies live up to their potential–the squad Sermanni has selected has an average age of 22. The Matildas could very well see themselves waltzing out of the tournament should they allow the Samba Queens and Norway dance all over them.
Perhaps as a corrective measure, Sermanni just this past week recalled forward Lisa DeVanna to the squad after having previously banished her during training for breaking team rules. The diminutive DeVanna has worldly experience, having playing in England with the Doncaster Rovers Belles to go with her current stint with magicJack in the US, and having her speed available to come off the bench to refresh the Aussies’ attacks will be an asset to Sermanni. She will also be able to inject a bit of veteran guile into the Matildas’ forward line, as the other strikers on the squad have fewer caps combined than does DeVanna.
Brazil (Tournament Odds–9/2): The South Americans come to Germany seeking to claim what their fans might likely consider to be a Brazilian birthright. Having come close four years ago when As Canarinhas lost to Germany in the final, this talent-laden squad want to assert their dominance on the women’s game just as their male counterparts have done for so long. Coach Kleiton Lima has benefited from holding his dual role as national team coach and manager at the Brazilian club Santos to identify more closely the types of players he needs to call for A Seleção Brasileira to take the title from their hosts. He has seen the young players that took Silver at the 2008 Olympics in China mature and utilizes their talents well by employing a style of play familiar with those who have paid a bit more attention to the Samba Kings over the years. Brazil is unapologetic when it comes to scoring in bunches against the opposition, having cruised through CONMEBOL qualification with a game in hand by virtue of previous 4-0 and 5-0 scorelines against the likes of quality sides Argentina and Colombia, respectively.
Mentioning Brazil, one cannot omit speaking of Marta. Commonly considered the best player in the world’s game today, the Alagoas native’s career demonstrates the difficulties professional football for women faces in North America. Much in the way Pele served as the ambassador for the men’s game in the 1970s by coming out of retirement to play in the North American Soccer League, Marta made a rather audacious move to the Women’s Professional Soccer team Los Angeles in 2009 while still in her prime. The Los Angeles club folded a year later under financial woes, but Marta remained playing in the United States–this time with FC Gold Pride. A year later, this club also folded, but Marta remains playing in the US, now with new franchise Western New York. Throughout these upheavals, Marta has remained, well, Marta. She tallied nine goals for Brazil in the qualifiers, and should Brazil finally reach the summit over the likes of heavyweights Germany or the United States, expect Marta to have been the player who made it happen.
Equatorial Guinea (Tournament Odds–300/1): The World Cup debutantes from one of Africa’s smallest nations face the longest odds, and considering Nzalang Nacional were unlucky to be placed in a group that included three nations accustomed to being in the finals, it might indeed turn out to be a short stay for them. This squad should not make their fans blush with embarrassment, however, as Equatorial Guinea did not qualify for Germany simply on a wing and a prayer. Having stunned other continental heavyweights by winning the 2008 African Championships held on their own soil, Equatorial Guinea nearly repeated the feat in 2010, losing to Nigeria in the final but qualifying as the second representative from the CAF. And, despite the odds-makers giving Nzalang Nacional little chance of advancing, the squad does boast a number of players who play professionally in the Brazilian women’s league and are likely to be rather familiar with how best to thwart the likes of Marta and Co. Continuity might be a concern, though, as the coach that guided the side through qualification is gone, having been replaced just in March this year by Marcelo Frigerio. The Italian did win his first two matches in charge of Equatorial Guinea, so perhaps their odds should be shortened after the world sees them play their opening match against Norway in Augsburg.
While much of the nation’s hopes likely rest on the shoulders of solid GK Miriam Paixao Silva, the jewel in this side might be naturalized citizen Jade. Having previously played in the Spanish youth program, the striker laced them up for Equatorial Guinea instead, scoring three goals during qualification, which counted roughly as a third of the nation’s offense. In the pre-Olympic qualifier against Cameroon that also served as a warm-up for the World Cup Finals, she notched a brace, so for the Africans to have a chance in a very tough group, Frigerio must have Jade remain on form.
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