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Banyana Banyana set to make debut, with the usual suspe...

South Africa

Women's World Cup

Banyana Banyana set to make debut, with the usual suspects gunning for glory once more

A general view of the pitch inside State Ocean Stadium where Spain will face South Africa in a preliminary round match at the FIFA Women's World Cup 2019 in Le Havre, France, 07 June 2019. EPA-EFE/PETER POWELL

The FIFA Women’s World Cup kicks off on Friday, 7 June in France and a winner is crowned in the final on 7 July. Carli Lloyd and the United States will look to defend their title from 2015, but they’ll have to fend off challenges from the host nation and a number of other powerhouses. Also, Banyana Banyana make their World Cup debut.

The eighth edition of the FIFA Women’s World Cup commences in a few hours, when hosts France go head to head with South Korea in Paris. A number of teams will be looking to scoop up the gold medal when the tournament ends on 7 July 2019.

Banyana Banyana players welcome home Des Ellis, head coach of South Africa women’s team arrives at Cape Town International Airport after winning the 2018 CAF Women’s Coach of the Year on 10 January 2019 © Ryan Wilkisky/BackpagePix

United States

The expectations are sky high for the US, and with good reason. The USWNT dominated during the 2015 World Cup and cruised to the title, aided by a ridiculous 15-minute hat trick from Carli Lloyd in the final (itself capped off by one of the most incredible goals you will ever see).

The defending champs are the clear favourites to lift the trophy this time around in France, but their roster will look a little different. Lloyd is 36 now, and she won’t play the same role she did in 2016. Still, Alex Morgan and Tobin Heath will lead a devastating USA attack that will cause major problems for any backline, and watch out for reigning NWSL MVP Lindsey Horan, who will be making her World Cup debut. There’s talent everywhere you look.

United States women’s national soccer team players (L-R) Carli Lloyd, Megan Rapinoe, and Alex Morgan attend the media day leading up to the upcoming 2019 FIFA Women World Cup soccer tournament in New York, New York, USA, 24 May 2019. The 2019 FIFA Women World Cup begins in June in France. EPA/JUSTIN LANE

Still, there are question marks. Longtime goalkeeper Hope Solo is gone, so the pressure will be on Alyssa Naeher to fill the massive void she leaves behind. But with so many prolific goal-scorers, you get the sense that Naeher could afford to let in a few and still be okay.

The Americans did crash out of the 2016 Olympics in the quarterfinals, so it’s not like they’re unstoppable. It’ll just probably take a perfect performance from another contending team to knock them out.

Germany

The Germans come into the tournament ranked second in the world, and unbeaten so far in 2019. They could potentially be a major challenge to the USWNT despite, like their male counterparts, having a forgettable 2018. However, they do know how to win. Until 2017, they had won every edition of the European Championship dating back from 1995. winning every edition since 1995 until they came unstuck in 2017.

The two-time champions will be looking to improve on their World Cup performances, having failed to reach the final in the last two editions. They will also hope to equal their 2016 Olympics achievement, where they clinched gold.

Undoubtedly, they will be aiming to finish top of their group, which sees them grouped with new kids on the block — South Africa, as well as China and Spain.

Germany’s captain, Dzsenifer Marozsan, led her team to the Olympic gold in Rio 2016, and fresh from helping Olympique Lyonnais win the Uefa Women’s Champions League this season, she will be hoping to lead her country to a record-equalling third World Cup. Also look out for sniper, Alexandra Popp, who has 46 goals in 96 appearances for the national team.

France

Les Blues are ranked fourth in the world and will no doubt get a home-field boost every time they step on the pitch. They’ll be looking to make history after the French men won the title in Russia last summer, as no nation has ever held both titles simultaneously.

France will be favoured to come out of Group A but have never advanced past the semifinals in a World Cup. They’ll need a mammoth performance from Eugénie Le Sommer, who’s helped Olympique Lyonnais win four straight Champions League titles.

Perhaps most importantly, they’ve had a lot of success against the US lately, even beating them in January. Should those two sides meet in the knockout round, Les Blues would have a lot of confidence in front of their home fans.

Japan

This is not the same team that won the 2011 World Cup and made the 2015 final, but there’s no reason to count them out. Experience matters, especially in the knockout stages, and Japan has more of that than any other side.

Yamashita (R) of Japan in action during the Women’s soccer international friendly match between Spain and Japan in Le Touquet, France, 02 June 2019. EPA/SEBASTIEN COURDJI

Though there are lots of new players, 2011 hero Saki Kumagai — who nailed the final penalty in the shootout of the 2011 final — is back and will captain the team. She scored against the US as part of a 2-2 draw in the SheBelieves Cup and could be a breakout star in her first World Cup.

Japan is now ranked seventh in the world, so they aren’t expected to compete for the title at the same level as the other contenders. But it’d be a mistake to count them out.

Brazil

The Brazilians are arguably the best team to never win a World Cup. This especially as they’ve appeared in every single edition of the tournament. They will be looking to top their best performance in the tournament to date, in which they finished runners-up to Germany in 2007.

Brazil’s Formiga Mota (R) in action against Scotland’s Leanne Crichton (L) during the International women soccer friendly match between Brazil and Scotland at Pinatar Arena stadium in Murcia, southern Spain, 08 April 2019. EPA/Marcial Guillen

Marta, the six-time FIFA World Player of the Year, who is regarded by many as the best female footballer of all time, will spearhead the Brazilian charge for ultimate glory. She will also look to add to her record of 15 goals at World Cups, as well as the 110 she has scored for the national team in the process. Formiga, another veteran in Brazilian set-up, will become the oldest player to appear at a World Cup at the ripe age of 41. The Paris Saint-Germain midfielder will be looking to sign out impressively in what should be her final World Cup

Their bid to fend off the ghost of World Cups past will be not be made easy as they find themselves in a challenging group comprising of tournament dark horses, Australia, as well as Italy. This especially as their form coming off winning the 2018 Copa America has been rather poor, with just one victory in 11 games (9 of those being losses).

England

The Three Lionesses finished third in 2015 and are another key contender this time around. They’re ranked a fitting third in the world coming into the tournament, behind only the USA and Germany and will be expected to do some damage in the knockout round.

England is coming off a win in the SheBelieves Cup, so they won’t lack in confidence no matter what. Beth Mead scored twice in the tournament but England employs a balanced attack behind captain Steph Houghton.

If they advance, you’ll be sure to hear about it because their supporters across the world will declare that “It’s coming home!” as they did for nearly the entire World Cup last year until the Three Lions fell in the semifinals. Just a heads up.

South Africa

Banyana Banyana make their first-ever appearance at a World Cup. Desiree Ellis was captain of the first Banyana side to be assembled‚ and now she leads the team as coach. Ellis has spoken extensively the team in the lead up to the tournament. It has been a long journey for the team reaching this level, and when they kick the ball for the first time in their first game versus Spain on the 8 June 2019, they will no doubt feel a sense of achievement.

Banyana players during the South Africa Training on the 11 of May 2019 at Levis Stadium , USA Pic Sydney Mahlangu/ BackpagePix

They find themselves in a very tough group though, with tournament favourites Germany, alongside the ever improving Spain and a resilient China. Competitive as they are, they will probably be realistic about their chances of making it out the group, which are quite slim. They also come into the tournament in poor form, having not won a game since November last year, with losses against Finland, North Korea and most recently, a thumping 7-2 defeat to Norway.

Captain and veteran defender Janine van Wyk will lead her troops out with pride at the tournament. The defender, who is the most capped player in South African international football wears her heart on her sleeve will leave everything she has on the pitch during the tournament. Reigning African Women’s Player of the Year, Thembi Kgatlana, will be key for any hope of success for South Africa. DM

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