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Friday, June 24, 2011
History beckons for Germany women

Mark Lomas

Those football fans who worriedly expected to be starved of the sort of feast of summer football that 2010 served up will have been pleasantly surprised by the smorgasbord of tournaments hitting TV screens the world over at the moment. And just as the CONCACAF Gold Cup and European Under-21 Championship draw to a close, another major global competition is winding up for its quadrennial month in the sun: on Sunday, the FIFA Women's World Cup kicks off in Germany. While women's football still struggles to attract the sort of extensive and fanatical support reserved for its male counterpart, the World Cup provides a fantastic opportunity for the game to parade its value as a sporting spectacle. Hosts Germany have ruled the world of women's football in recent history - winning the last two editions of the World Cup - but USA, Brazil and the much-improved France all have the quality to challenge the era of Deutscher dominance. Questions over the quality of the women's game will be swiftly answered by observing the talents of superstars such as Marta and Birgit Prinz in action and entertainment is guaranteed in the next four weeks - the 2007 edition of the women's tournament produced an average of 3.4 goals per game, while the most recent men's finals saw just 2.2. Captivating encounters will be the order of the day, with no repeat of the sort of nullifying football that was all too prevalent in South Africa last summer. Below is ESPN Soccernet's comprehensive guide to the 2011 Women's World Cup.
Group A: Germany | Canada | Nigeria | France
Group A | Group B | Group C | Group D

Group A

GERMANY Coach: Silvia Neid
Captain: Birgit Prinz
Nickname: Die Nationalelf ('The National XI')
World Cup best: Winners (2003, 2007) The hosts go into the tournament as favourites to lift their third successive World Cup crown and they are expected to cause as much of a stir with their performances on the pitch as the recent appearance of five Under-20 players in German Playboy did off it. Brazil may have received most of the plaudits at the 2007 tournament for their attacking approach, but Germany also played their share of free-flowing football - notably in an incredible 11-0 group stage demolition of Argentina - and their ruthless 2-0 victory over the Brazil in the final handed them a deserved triumph in China. The world champions went on to lift a fifth straight European Championship in 2009 with a 6-2 final thrashing of England, and coach Silvia Neid has called on many of the same faces to lead the charge on home soil. The squad boast an astonishing 51 international honours between them and only four of the 21 players - Lena Goessling, Almuth Schult, Verena Faisst and Alexandra Popp - have never tasted success at a major tournament. Neid's squad is unquestionably the best equipped to win the trophy again. One to watch: Birgit Prinz. The Frankfurt striker boasts a remarkable return of 128 goals in 212 international games since her debut as a 16-year-old in 1994. Unsurprisingly, the seasoned veteran is Germany's all-time leading appearance maker and she is also the World Cup's record scorer, having netted 14 across four tournaments. This is expected to be her last tournament and she will be aiming to go out in a blaze of glory. Also watch out for young forward Alexandra Popp, who was Golden Boot and Golden Shoe winner at the 2010 Under-20 World Cup. Trivia: Nadine Angerer will be the most successful goalkeeper playing at this summer's finals. The 31-year-old has 14 winners' medals in her collection, including two world and four European championships. Prediction: Winners.
CANADA Coach: Carolina Morace
Captain: Christine Sinclair
Nickname: Big Red
World Cup best: Semi-finals (2003) With only one World Cup semi-final appearance - a dramatic 2-1 defeat to Sweden in 2003 - under their belt in five appearances, it's fair to say Canada have underachieved on the international stage. That was until highly-rated Italian coach Carolina Morace took the reins. Morace had a distinguished playing career, which included an international debut at 14 and appearances at seven major finals, and has breathed life into the Canada team since being named manager in 2009. The North Americans have been transformed into a side that favours neat, passing football ahead of the less attractive long-ball approach that characterised the previous regime and five wins out of five in last year's CONCACAF Gold Cup - the qualifying tournament for the World Cup - took Big Red to the finals in impressive style. Morace threatened to quit in February citing lack of support for the women's game in Canada, but after her players threatened to boycott, an agreement was reached for the Italian to stay until 2015 and her side could be dark horses in Germany. One to watch: Christine Sinclair. The prolific Western New York Flash forward has been named Canadian Player of the Year for the past six years in a row and has outscored more prestigious club strike partner Marta so far in this season's US Women's Professional Soccer (WPS) season - netting five goals in six games to the Brazilian's three in seven. An impressive 116 strikes in 159 matches for Canada exemplifies her international prowess and the forward was joint top scorer in qualifying, getting the winner in the 2010 Gold Cup final. Trivia: Coach Carolina Morace has the distinction of being the only woman to have taken charge of a men's professional team in her homeland, though her ill-fated spell with Serie C1 side Viterbese ended after just two matches. Prediction: Group stage exit.
NIGERIA Coach: Uche Eucharia
Captain: Precious Dede
Nickname: Super Falcons
World Cup best: Quarter-finals (1999) Nigeria may be the pre-eminent force in women's football in Africa, but they have flattered to deceive on the global stage. The first African Women's Championship took place in 1991 and the Super Falcons have won eight of the nine tournaments since then, only slipping up in 2008; in the World Cup, though, they have only made it out of the group stage once in five attempts - reaching the quarter-finals in 1999 before losing a classic encounter with Brazil 4-3 thanks to a golden goal from Sissi. But this time around, expectations have been raised thanks to the 'Falconets' reaching the final of last summer's Under-20 World Cup, where they lost 2-0 to Germany. Five players who started that match - Ebere Orji, Desire Orparanozie, Glory Iroka, Helen Ukaonu and Osainachi Ohale - are expected to be in Uche Eucharia's first XI and Nigeria will have one of the youngest and most exciting squads at the finals. Inexperience could be their biggest enemy this time around but the Super Falcons could be a force to be reckoned with in years to come. One to watch: Perpetua Nkwocha The midfield enforcer was their outstanding player in qualifying - not only bossing proceedings in the middle of the park but scoring 11 goals in five games as Nigeria romped to victory in the African Women's Championship, with her displays earning here the African Women Player of the Year for a third time. The 35-year-old is tremendously powerful, but it is her experience of European club football with Swedish side Sunnana SK that will perhaps be be vital alongside the exuberance of starlets such as 17-year-old Desire Oparanozie, who is also widely tipped to shine in Germany. Trivia: Nigeria will be one of seven teams to have competed in every Women's World Cup along with Brazil, Germany, Japan, Norway, Sweden and USA. Prediction: Group stage exit.
FRANCE Coach: Bruno Bini
Captain: Sandrine Soubeyrand
Nickname: Les Bleues ('The Blues')
World Cup best: Group stage (2003) One of the emerging international nations in women's football, the game has exploded in France in recent years, with Olympique Lyonnais leading the way in becoming the first French side to lift the UEFA Women's Champions League this year, defeating Germany's 1. FFC Turbine Potsdam in May. Lyon provide ten of Bruno Bini's 21-woman squad and he will be relying on the firepower of forwards Elodie Thomis, Eugenie Le Sommer and Sandrine Bretigny - who netted 60 goals between them for OL last season. Les Bleues may have only qualified for the World Cup once before - exiting at the first hurdle in 2003 - but they were utterly dominant in qualifying, winning all ten of their group games, scoring 50 goals and conceding none, before going on to beat Italy 3-2 in the play-off. Playing with the sort of attacking verve and fluency made famous by the men's team in the late '90s, Bini's side should break new ground in Germany and reaching the last eight should be the minimum aim of this talented group. One to watch: Wendie Renard. The Lyon centre-back offers composure on the ball that belies her 20 years and her 6ft 1in frame makes her a frightening prospect for opposition strikers. Imperious in the air and strong in the tackle, Renard will need to be on top form in what is undoubtedly the toughest group at the finals. She has represented Lyon with distinction for the past four years and showed that she can handle the big occasion when popping up with the opening goal in last months's Champions League final. Trivia: With a total of 12 players competing at the finals, Lyon will have more representatives in Germany than any other club side. Prediction: Semi-finals.

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