Predictions: It’s Germany’s Show, But Look Out For France And, Yes, “Underdog” U.S.

With the World Cup fast approaching (so close you can almost touch it), we’re happy to announce that Ray Curren has rented a room in AWK’s summer timeshare. You might be familiar with Ray’s previous work for World Soccer Reader and Set Piece Analysts. He’ll be providing updates for us throughout the tournament. Here he gives his tournament predictions:

 

I guess it’s in vogue to say that the United States women’s soccer team is down these days. Everyone has caught up and passed them, the youth system needs to be changed, just as on the men’s side, we can’t develop players.

But a closer look at the 2011 World Cup sees an obvious favorite in Germany, who will have the crowd on their side, and may very well expose all of the negative things said about the U.S. above.

Other than that, folks, though, I’m not so sure anyone is better than the States.

You can say Brazil, they did trash the U.S. four years ago 4-0 in perhaps the darkest day for U.S. women’s soccer, and Marta is still around to torture opponents, but one person does not a squad make, and the rest of the team may not be quite as good.

Despite close scorelines, Japan really wasn’t much of a match for the U.S. in preliminary games. Australia is extremely young and banged up. Norway doesn’t have the technical skill to keep up. Canada certainly knows the U.S., but they’re on the other side of the bracket.

Also on the other side is the potential breakout team of this World Cup in France, meaning the U.S. can’t meet them until the semifinals. Unfortunately, if both teams win their group, Germany and the United States will meet in the semis, and that could be bad news for the U.S. Or it could mean a return to glory.

But they do have to get out of their group first.

Here are my quick predictions:

GROUP A

Quick Preview (in order of predicted finish):

Despite being heavy favorites, Germany didn’t exactly get an easy group to navigate, starting with an opener against Canada on Sunday. But it’s a machine Silvia Neid has put together. Not only have they won back-to-back World Cups, but this team is probably better than either of those, with veterans Inka Grings and Birgit Prinz pushing along youngsters like Alexandra Popp. They shouldn’t be stopped, at least in the group stage.

Until I did some actual research, I was skeptical about France. Of course, usually when I do research on teams, it turns out to be false anyway, but we’ll see. Most of us know about Sonia Bompastor, but Marie-Laure Delie (21 goals in 20 caps) and some others may be more well-known in a couple of weeks. With the already mentioned failings of others, it wouldn’t be a big surprise to see a France-Brazil semifinal, or France in the final?

Canada is on the upswing after the whole Carolina Morace fiasco was ironed out, and Canada did win the 2010 Gold Cup remember (after Mexico beat the U.S. in the semis). Christine Sinclair and youngster Jonelle Filigno will be worth watching, but I think the Canadians just got stuck in the wrong group.

Speaking of the wrong group, Nigeria is in big, big trouble here. They have some players that do play in Europe (mostly Sweden), and Ngozi Uche has apparently brought some organization on board, but an 8-0 throttling at the hands of Germany in a friendly doesn’t bode well. I’m mostly interested to see if Uche brings back the sweeper that was Nigeria’s signature in the last two World Cups. It should be noted that Nigeria only conceded four times in the 2007 World Cup, including a 1-0 loss to the U.S. in which Lori Chalupny (remember her?) scored seconds into the match, and the Americans never could build on it. It is hard to take Nigeria seriously when you see stuff like this, though.

Random fact:

Although Germany scored eight in a friendly against Nigeria, they’ll be hard pressed to score more than they did against Argentina in 2007 when they put 11 past Argentina in the tournament opener. Argentina gave up 18 in the tournament.

Player to watch:

Helen Ukaonu, Nigeria - It was Ukaonu’s sublime equalizer last summer that drew Nigeria level and eventually allowed them to upset the United States on penalties at the U-20 World Cup last summer. Perpetua Nkwocha, their best striker, and possibly the best name in the tournament, also needs to be watched.

Game to watch:

Canada vs. France, June 30 - This match should decide who goes through to the knockout stage, and France will likely enter as favorite, but Canada – as has been discussed - can be dangerous.

Likely end of the road:

Germany – Champions (over France)
France -  Finals (loss to Germany)
Canada – Group Stage
Nigeria – Group Stage

GROUP B

Quick Preview (in order of predicted finish):

Is it possible that England is playing too well coming into this tournament? Coming off wins over the United States and Sweden in friendlies, and stuck in – let’s face it – the easiest of the four groups, hopes are high for Kelly Smith and crew. But Hope Powell’s team is also prone to bad losses: a loss to Scotland in March, a loss to Italy to open Euro 2009 (they went on to the final). But if Fara Williams is healthy, she should be the difference.

Well, we need at least one off the radar pick, and I’m going with New Zealand to advance. They’re young enough not to know better, they have nothing to lose, they’re in a weak group, and they seem to match up well with Japan in the opener. Of course, then they’ll get Germany in the quarterfinals.

Watching Japan against the U.S. in friendlies, they could move the ball, but they’re just tiny, and that could be a big problem against New Zealand in their opener. Japan also hasn’t been out of the group stage since 1995 and I just sense that – without much scoring prowess – up top – this may not be their year, either.

Mexico beat the United States less than a year ago, and nearly escaped with a 0-0 draw just two weeks ago, they’ve got Maribel Dominguez (who is 32 now?), they’ve got a few very good college players, so I think they’ll be competitive. But I don’t see them getting over the hump this year. Four years from now in Canada?

Random fact:

Hope Powell has been in charge of the England women’s national team since 1998, longest among any manager in this World Cup. Of course, Kelly Smith has been with the squad since 1995, or the same year Mexican goalkeeper Ceci Santiago was born.

Player to watch:

Amber Hearn, New Zealand - Hearn is in good form and has 22 goals in 46 caps for her national team. She actually plays her club football for the Ottawa Fury in the W-League. Also quick shoutout to Alina Garciamendez of Stanford, who is playing for Mexico.

Game to watch:

Japan vs. New Zealand, June 27 - If New Zealand is going to advance, they’re going to have to get a result in this game, and that will probably mean getting a goal off a set piece of some kind. Hearn can do that for them.

Likely end of the road:

England – Quarterfinals (loss to France)
New Zealand -  Quarterfinals (loss to Germany)
Japan – Group Stage
Mexico – Group Stage

GROUP C

Quick Preview (in order of predicted finish):

Everyone wants the United States to have more possession, and in the long-term, that’s going to help them, but for the next few weeks, when you have Abby Wambach in what might be her last World Cup and no discernible creative midfielder, doesn’t it make sense to go a little more direct? I have no problem with it, in fact, I encourage it. Does that make me a bad person?

It’s sightly surprising to see Sweden all but discounted in this World Cup. Although (thanks to a draw against Nigeria), they didn’t escape the group stage in 2007, they had in every other World Cup before that. They played reasonably well against the U.S. in some friendlies, and should be able to get out of the group stage.

I was wondering what North Korea might have thought of the Los Angeles Galaxy getting fined for not correctly reporting injuries. Why? Because finding information about them anywhere is futile. They lost to Australia in the 2010 Asian Cup final on penalties, and will likely play a high-pressure game.

Colombia is a remarkable story on many levels, they were ranked 118th in the world just three years ago. It’s worth noting, though, that after playing a tough 2-1 game in the preliminary round of last fall’s South American Championship, Brazil thumped them 5-0 in the rematch. Also, we saw what happened to Argentina four years ago. But give them a little time, and who knows?

Random fact:

Three of these teams were in Group B in China 2007, and the U.S. actually had to come from behind in their opener to get a draw with North Korea. Abby Wambach had six goals in 2007, the only other players on the current roster with goals: Heather O’Reilly (2) and Shannon Boxx.

Player to watch:

Yoreli Rincon, Colombia – There’s a lot of pressure on the 18-year-old, but the world is ready to see her play. She’s headed to Indiana after the World Cup, which should also be interesting, but we can only hope Colombia is competitive enough to showcase Rincon, at least a little.

Game to watch:

United States vs. North Korea, June 28 - I mentioned how the U.S. struggled in its opener four years ago, they will want to send a message in this opener that they mean business. But North Korea is never easy to prepare for or easy to play.

Likely end of the road:

United States – Semifinal (loss to Germany)
Sweden -  Quarterfinals (loss to Brazil)
North Korea – Group Stage
Colombia – Group Stage

GROUP D

Quick Preview (in order of predicted finish):

I’m not as high on Brazil as some others are, but it’s hard not to see them winning this group. Marta is Marta, she’ll score goals, and she may very well be able to put the team on her back as the tournament advances. But I don’t think their defense is quite as good as it was four years ago, and eventually it will bite them.

Like Sweden, Norway has been a bit discounted heading into this World Cup, and they’re not making many apologies for still playing the Norwegian style. While they may be in trouble against Brazil, led by veteran Ingvild Stensland, the Norwegians, like the Swedes, seem to be masters at getting out of the group stage. The 1995 champs have never gone out in the Group Stage in any big tournament (World Cup or Euros) and probably won’t here.

Tom Sermanni is a very good coach, but I think Australia is a little too young and little too injured to make a big mark in Germany this year. Another team that seems to have a bright future, though, especially if they can keep Sermanni.

I like to root for countries like Equatorial Guinea, although it’s hard when you read about guys like this. Of course, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon will jointly host next year’s Cup of African Nations, which could be interesting. Unfortunately, they’ll likely be in over their heads here as well, but hopefully they’ll make things interesting. I have made it my mission to use the word Equatoguinean as much as possible in the next month, though.

Random fact:

Norway conceded only one goal on their way to the 1995 World Cup. In their 1-0 win over the U.S. in the semifinals, only 2,893 were in attendance in Sweden. Australia tied Norway in 2007 on a late Lisa De Vanna goal and advanced to the quarterfinals, where they actually game from two goals down to tie the game before losing 3-2.

Player to watch:

Genoveva Anonma, Equatorial Guinea - It can’t be a lot of fun to be repeatedly accused of being another gender, so it will be nice to see Africa’s best player shine in Germany. She plays her club football in Germany, so she should be used to the surroundings.

Game to watch:

Australia vs. Norway, July 6 - This should decide the second team to advance, and as I said, I think a more experienced Norway side has a little too much for the Aussies. But it should be a battle.

Likely end of the road:

Brazil – Semifinal (loss to France)
Norway -  Quarterfinals (loss to United States)
Australia – Group Stage
Equatorial Guinea – Group Stage

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