It’s now less than two weeks until the 2011 Women’s World Cup starts in Germany, and over the next couple of weeks and tonight 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. Last night, we took a look at Group A, and tonight it’s time to dip a toe into Group B, which features two teams on the rise and two of the tournament outsiders. Oh, and one of those four is the nation that the “football community” loves to hate at the moment: England.

Japan (Tournament Odds – 14/1): This year’s Women’s World Cup is an opportunity for Japan to prove themselves. In terms of the history of this tournament they are ever-presents, but they have only got past the group stages of the competition once, in 1995 when a single win against Sweden was enough to get them through the quarter-finals. This year, though, things should be different. Rated fourth in the world by FIFA, Japan are a team on the rise. They were edged out of a bronze medal by Germany at the 2008 Olympic Games, and last year finished in third place in the AFC Women’s Asian Cup, as well winning the gold medal at the Asian Games and the EAFF Women’s Football Championship. It’s this sort of form that has seen them shoot up to be the fifth favourites to win the tournament, but can they mix it against the rest of the world? Two narrow defeats against the United States of America may indicate not, but these were both away friendlies. How much we should read into those results is very much open to question.

This tournament may turn out to be the final chance for the iconic figure of Japanese women’s football, Homare Sawa, to truly make her mark on the tournament. Sawa, who turns thirty-three years old later this year, made her debut for the national team at the age of just fifteen, and has scored seventy-five goals in one hundred and sixty-six appearances for her country. Alongside her in midfield will likely be Aya Miyama, who has made eighty-five appearances for her national side. Both players are small – Miyama stands at just 5’2″ tall – but have proved over the years that they are plenty capable of holding their own at an international level. They should, this year, be good for a place in the quarter-finals, at least.

England (Tournament Odds 14/1): Qualifying from the UEFA pool for the finals of the Womens World Cup can be an arduous task, with eight group matches and a play-off to get through in order to get there. England, however, are there for their second World Cup in a row. They knocked Spain out in the group stages, winning seven games out of eight, before winning home and away against Switzerland in the play-offs. There can be little question that the women’s game in England has come on in leaps and bounds in the last few years. Four years ago, they were brushed aside by the United States of America in the quarter-finals of the competition, but 2009 proved to be a critical year in the development of the game in this country. In May of that year, it was announced that a number of the England Women’s Team would be awarded contracts and that summer the team finished as runners-up in the European Championships.

Striker Kelly Smith is one of the players upon much will rest. She has scored forty-three goals for England, and needs one more to equal the record goalscorer, Kerry Davis. Smith has over one hundred caps for her country, as has Rachel Yankey, who earned her century of appearances for the national team last year. Many eyes, however, will be focussed on the most visible face of women’s football in Britain, manager Hope Powell. Powell earned sixty-six caps as an England manager herself, and has been the manager of the team for thirteen years, during which time she became the first woman to earn the UEFA Pro Licence for coaching. If she continue this team’s improvement, a place in the quarter-finals should not be beyond England, though how much further they can progress may well come to depend on their group position. One of the top two teams in this group will likely meet Germany in the quarter-finals. On a balance of probabilities, though (and should they avoid Germany in the quarter-finals they would not be able to play them until the final), a place in the semi-finals wouldn’t seem to be completely beyond England this time around.

New Zealand (Tournament Odds – 70/1): Whether New Zealand hav got it about them to get past England and/or Japan is questionable, but they can take some degree of succour from the history books. At the 2008 Olympic Games, they held Japan to a 2-2. Other than that, though, New Zealand’s record in the biggest tournaments doesn’t make for pleasant reading – five defeats out of five. Australia’s transfer has benefitted New Zealand in making them the near-unchallenged bosses of the Oceania confederation, but we could ask whether a lack of competitive football against higher-ranking teams is stifling the development of the team. New Zealand supporters may look at the men’s team’s performance – where they ended the tournament unbeaten – and think “no”. Their qualification record, however – 13-0 vs Vanuatu, 10-0 vs The Cook Islands, 7-0 vs Tahiti, 8-0 vs the Solomon Islands and 11-0 vs Papua New Guinea – might indicate that the strength of their opposition in the OFC Championship wasn’t that high.

A couple of the New Zealand players ply their trade in Europe. Defender Rebecca Smith is American-born, and plays in Germany for Wolfsburg, whilst midfielder Kirsty Yallop signed for the Swedish club Kristianstads DFF in March. What is striking about the New Zealand squad, however, is its youth. Five of the twenty-one squad players are still teenagers, whilst a further nine are aged twenty-one to twenty-three and just two are over the age of thirty. This youth, combined with the aforementioned lack of experience at this rarified level, surely means that they are going to struggle to get past the group stages of the competition.

Mexico (Tournament Odds – 80/1): If we are looking at an indicator of Mexico’s potential unpredictability at this year’s World Cup, we need look no further than the 2010 CONCACAF Women’s Gold Cup, which they hosted. They beat the United States of America in the semi-finals (the scale of which can perhaps be demonstrated by the fact that they had lost twenty-three of their previous twenty-four matches against the Americans), but were then beaten in the final by Canada. Their place in the final was enough to send them to the World Cup finals for the first time since 1999, but it was a rare ray of sunlight in an otherwise poor last year and a bit, that have seen only wins against Chinese Taipei, Guyana and Trinidad & Tobago as well as that win against the USA, amid a sea of defeats against more experienced opposition, including two defeats at the hands of their group rivals this summer, Japan. Mexico have experienced players, such as Guadalupe Worbis and Maribel Dominguez (who scored six goals during the qualifying stages), but there is little – that historic victory against the USA aside – to suggest that this is a team that will trouble the latter stages of this tournament.

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