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 and Group B, so that must mean we have arrived at Group C. This group features one of the heavyweights in international women’s football, another that might be but has fallen just short of greatness in the past, a tournament sleeper, and a complete novice just hoping to keep pace.
Colombia (Tournament Odds–60/1 ): Las Cafeteras mark their trip to Germany and first appearance in a World Cup Finals as a young footballing nation on the rise. Having dipped to its lowest FIFA ranking just three years ago, the Colombian FA asked coach Ricardo Rozo to pull double duty after he had led the women’s U-20 squad to a 4th place finish in their 2010 World Cup by guiding the senior side too. Rozo essentially plucked many of his players from that U-20 roster and brought them to Ecuador for the South American Championships. Although Brazil still remain the top power down south, having topped Colombia in that November tournament, Las Cafeteras did successfully oust regional heavyweight and defending Sudamericano Femenino champions Argentina by beating them directly for that 2nd qualifying spot just behind the Samba Queens.
When speaking of Colombia, the name on nearly everyone’s lips is teenage starlet Yorely Rincon. The 17 yr old has been a stalwart for the national program at all levels it seems, having played a part in the U-17 side that traveled to New Zealand for the 2008 U-17 World Cup, Rozo’s U-20 side that was a semifinalist in Germany last year, and now with the seniors who are preparing for their first match against Sweden in Leverkusen. Rincon led a rather potent Colombian attack in the qualifying tournament by pumping in five goals of her own and should be set to contribute in a similar fashion. If Rincon forgot to pack her shooting boots for her return visit to Germany, however, others on the team should be able to pick up the slack–Colombia had eleven players find their names on a score sheet in that Sudamericano Femenino during qualification.
Sweden (Tournament Odds–14/1 ): The Swedes might be the ultimate bridesmaids of international women’s football, as they have been standing on the upper steps for years but have yet to snag a ring for themselves. Having been semifinalists in the first tournament back in 1991 and finalists in 2003, Sweden was unable to even make its usual quarterfinal appearance after failing to advance out of the group stage four years ago. A key problem for Thomas Dennerby then was a lack of goals, as his 2007 Blågult squad relied heavily on an old guard from 2003 that was unable to replicate its previous World Cup form. Dennerby remained in charge after that disappointment, but some of those veterans did not, as Sweden’s coach looked to newer players both in his midfield and at the forward position to get the senior side back in the goals. The Swedes made a statement to the rest of the contenders that they are indeed back on form by qualifying with ease out of Europe, including a 17-0 pasting of Azerbaijan. Yes, that was seventeen goals they recorded on the hapless Azerbaijanis, so expect Sweden to be among the tournament leaders in scoring this summer.
One of those leading the Swedish attack and likely to have her name up for consideration for World Cup accolades is Lotta Schelin. The 27 yr old is only one of a number on the Swedish roster playing outside her nation’s professional women’s league, lacing up her boots for French side Olympique Lyonnais. Even if you pay little mind to women’s football, the recent UEFA women’s Champions League Final between Lyon and Potsdam likely got your attention, as it was widely hailed as being a good example of how attractive women’s football can be played. Schelin was a part of that French side at Craven Cottage, and despite not scoring in the final for a victorious Olympique Lyonnais, she finished second on the goals scorers list in the Champions League with nine from nine matches.
Korea DPR (Tournament Odds–30/1 ): Those odds should give you some indication what the bettors are thinking about North Korea for this Finals–they are the tournament’s dark horse. Building slowly from just making it in 1999 to a quarterfinal appearance in the World Cup four years ago, the Chollima come to Germany poised to consolidate their status as a top women’s football nation with a positive showing and perhaps pip Sweden for second place in Group C. Kim Kwang Min’s squad has consistently been a top ten program internationally and enter this tournament ranked 6th by FIFA, but much of that has been built on being the bully round the block in the Asian Football Conference. Some of that dominance has left over time with the departures of experienced World Cup and Olympic players, as demonstrated by DPR’s qualification from the second spot out of the AFC rather than as the Asian champions. Still, this side has demonstrated its reslience and is discplined enough to recover from an early disappointment should it fall early–North Korea’s first match in Dresden is against the United States.
Often, the ability of a player to confidently operate at several positions on the pitch is a prized asset in competitions of this variety, and Kim Kwang Min is blessed to have Swiss Army gadget player Kim Kyong Hwa on his roster. Kim can be deployed at forward or in the midfield, and despite only being 25 yrs old could be considered a grizzled veteran of North Korea’s squad. She won the U-20 World Cup for Korea DPR in 2006 before being called up to the senior side to play in every match for the Chollima at the 2007 World Cup and the 2008 Olympics, both in China. Her speed should be able to rattle the opposition while her experiences at the game’s biggest stages should help her settle her own side when things do not go according to plan.
United States (Tournament Odds–7/1 ): Along with reigning World Cup champions Germany, Pia Sundhage’s US squad comes to Europe as a clear favourite to win it all. The world’s No. 1 boasts a football pedigree it’s male equivalent can only dream of–the Stars & Stripes have never finished lower than third, having been winners of the inaugural World Cup in 1991 and again in 1999. The nation is an Olympic Gold Medalist three times over with a Silver Medal to boot, and have been champions of the CONCACAF region in every tournament it has competed bar the most recent one. In fact, the loss to Mexico in the 2010 Gold Cup qualifier, after having never lost to its southern neighbor on twenty-five other occasion,s shows just how slim the margin for error is in international football. Having only suffered its second loss since the 2007 World Cup, the US was forced to earn qualification through a two-legged playoff against UEFA’s 5th placed nation Italy. Even then, Sundhage’s side struggled, and were it not for a strategic mistake by the Italian coach to make a late substitute during stoppage time that allowed more time for the US to score a decisive away goal late, the home leg would have been even more tense for an American side largely stripped of its previous international heroines.
The Americans still boast a roster of some of the world’s best players, however, but perhaps none more so than Abby Wambach. Capped 157 times by her nation, the forward from US Women’s Professional Soccer side magicJack (the company sponsor name of her club in Florida) is an aerial nightmare for the opposition’s defenders, not only with her size and strength and distribution but also with her uncanny accuracy when attempting a header on goal. While obvious mention of top defender and team captain Christie Rampone will be made, along with attention being paid to anything keeper Hope Solo says while in Germany, Wambach’s form up top will likely be the driving force behind the Americans’ chances to take back the World Cup from the hosts.
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