By Terry Jacoby, FUEL Soccer Contributor
We’re just days away from the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup, when we’ll begin the group stage in France. We’ll have plenty of coverage and time to discuss more things we’re looking forward to, but for now here are just some of the things we can’t wait to see.
Last chance to watch Marta in the World Cup?
Marta, a six-time FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year and arguably the most prominent historical name in women’s soccer, has lost little of her ability at the top level. At 33 years old, is France 2019 the Brazilian superstar’s final World Cup?
Anyone who thinks this will be Marta’s swansong may have to reassess. “As I can’t predict tomorrow, I can’t say if it will be my last World Cup,” Marta told FIFA.com last year. “I try to live each day and each moment. I need to work hard every day so I can be there very well. Only time will tell if it will be my last World Cup.”
One thing is certain, Marta will be a headline attraction at France 2019. She has 15 goals in 17 World Cup outings making her the tournament’s highest-ever goal scorer – a record that is set to stand for some time. Should she make it all the way to a sixth World Cup in 2023, Marta will equal a mark set by compatriot Formiga and Japan’s Homare Sawa. Marta currently plays for the Orlando Pride in the NWSL.
Oh Canada’s Christine Sinclair
Canada played England in a friendly in April as both teams prepared for the upcoming World Cup. Canada’s Christine Sinclair scored the game’s only goal to lead Canada to a 1-0 win that not only moved Sinclair that much closer to history but also gave Canada a huge boost of confidence heading to France. Sinclair, the gifted Canadian captain, pounced on a rebound after Nichelle Prince’s shot hit the crossbar and knocked it in from close range for the 81st-minute winner. The goal was the 35-year-old’s 180th of her career moving her just four goals back of retired American Abby Wambach’s world record of 184. “It’s just an honour to be chasing Abby down,” said Sinclair, who scored her first goal for Canada on March 14, 2000, in her second senior appearance. The win also was a measure of revenge for the Canadian women, who were knocked out of the 2015 World Cup by England in a 2-1 quarterfinal loss in Vancouver. The teams had not met since. England was ranked third in the world and Canada No. 5 at the time of the match.
Home pitch advantage?
If France were to win the World Cup on its home turf it would be only the second time the hosts have won in the eight-year history of the event. In fact, the host team has only reached the finals once – the U.S. defeated China on penalty kicks in the famous game at the Rose Bowl before 90,185 fans in 1999. In 2003, the U.S. hosted again but failed to reach the final with Germany defeating Sweden 2-1. France is currently ranked fourth in the world, behind only the U.S., Germany and England. Despite not having a team in the championship game, the last two World Cups have drawn well. The final in 2011 drew 48,817 in Frankfurt, Germany and the 2015 final in Vancouver drew 53,341. After not qualifying for the first three World Cups, France finished ninth in 2003. They didn’t qualify in 2007 but finished fourth in 2011 and fifth in 2015.
Brazil’s depth and firepower
Brazil qualified for the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup – one of the seven nations that have qualified for every Women’s World Cup – by winning the 2018 Copa America Femenina in Chile. The title was Brazil’s seventh, making it by far the most successful women’s soccer nation in South America. Brazil qualified for the Women’s World Cup by finishing in first place in the final stage, winning seven matches in a row and scoring 31 goals along the way while conceding just two. They won its four opening-round games by a 22-1 margin. Despite having Marta and other big names such as Formiga, Andressinha, Thais and Cristiane, Brazil’s leading scorer was Beatriz, who scored six goals in the tournament. Fourteen of Brazil’s 19 outfield squad members at the Copa America Femenina 2018 found the net during the competition. Cristiane, who is playing in China, had four goals, as did Monica, who plays for the Orlando Pride. Andressinha and Debinha had three goals each. Marta tallied just once.
Finals Threepeat – The Rubber Match?
Japan won the Women’s World Cup in 2011 in Frankfurt, Germany, defeating the U.S. on penalty kicks after the two teams played to a 2-2 draw in the final. Four years later in Vancouver, the U.S. scored a decisive 5-2 win over Japan in the finals settling the score on the pitch and not on penalty kicks. It’s back across the pond for 2019 and a rematch between Japan and the U.S. would be an exciting finish in France. Japan will again be led by veteran players Rumi Utsugi of Reign FC and Saki Kumagai of two-time reigning UEFA Champions League winners Olympique Lyon. But like the U.S., Japan, which has had great success at U-17 and U-20 Women’s World Cups in recent years, is getting younger. “We’ve got a lot more young players in the squad now and obviously the coach is different as well,” Utsugi told FIFA.com. “So, everything feels new. I think, for upcoming tournaments, one of our strengths will be that we all have a shared perspective. That said, you can see individuality from different players, which is quite exciting and motivating. From a personal standpoint, I feel that I need to step up.”
What (and who) to watch – on TV
Twenty-two of the 52 World Cup games will air on Fox’s flagship broadcast network, the most women’s World Cup games on over-the-air TV in American history. Twenty-seven will air on Fox Sports 1, and three will air on Fox Sports 2.
If the U.S. national team wins its group and makes the final, all of their games except one — the Round of 16 contest — are slated to be broadcast on Fox’s network. Other notable group-stage games on over-the-air Fox include England-Scotland on June 9, Germany-Spain and France-Norway on June 12, Australia-Brazil on June 13, and Netherlands-Canada on June 20. In the knockout rounds, Fox will air two rounds of 16 games, two quarterfinals, one semifinal, the third-place game and the final. Fox Sports 1 will carry the other contests.
Philadelphia Union play-by-play announcer JP Dellacamera, the most decorated of all American soccer broadcasters, will be Fox’s lead voice of U.S. women’s national team games. He’ll be joined by former U.S. national team midfielder Aly Wagner, his broadcast partner for the past few years.
Chile’s World Cup double feature
Chile will be one of four first-timers at the FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019 after securing a historic qualification at the Copa America 2018. Three exceptional features of last year’s tournament combined to bring about that feat: Chile had home advantage; three World Cup berths were on offer; and it coincided with the coming of age of a golden generation of players. The road to France was not without its obstacles for Chile, with opening draws against Paraguay and Colombia putting their qualification hopes in jeopardy. However, a late goal led to a 1-0 win over Uruguay (1-0) and an easy 5-0 win got the soccer ball rolling in the right direction. Chile lost to Brazil and tied Colombia which meant it came down to their final game against Argentina, who La Roja crushed 4-0 to secure one of the automatic qualifying berths for France. Two players to watch on coach Jose Letelier’s side are Karen Araya and Francisca Lara. Araya plays central midfield, with ‘Pancha’ either deployed as a wide midfielder or just behind the front two.
The two stars were starters in all seven of Chile’s qualifying games. “We’re the cogs that link defence and attack, which is why our playing together and knowing each other so well is a plus for the team,” Araya told FIFA.com.
Coach Jill Ellis
Allie Long made her U.S. WNT debut on May 8, 2015 against Canada in Winnipeg, coming on as a substitute and playing the final 23 minutes in Jill Ellis’ first official game as head coach. The U.S. head to France as the No. 1 ranked team in the world and favorites to win their fourth World Cup in eight tries. The dynamic between coach and player at this level is much different than it is in college and, according to Long, is built on respect and honesty. “She has always had a special place in my life going back before she was coach of the National Team,” Long says. “I think we have a good relationship. It’s honest and it’s professional. It’s a lot different than when you are in college. We may have a history together but at this level she is coaching the best team in the world and everything is professional and honest.”
There may be no crying in baseball but there certainly are plenty of emotions when you are playing for your country. Playing in the World Cup in another country against the top players in the world and wearing the red, white and blue is a special feeling whether you’ve been there or not. “I will never forget that very first game when I heard the National Anthem for the first time and realizing where I was,” says Allie Long. “For that moment it really hits you that you are playing for your country.” Lindsey Horan, who has been playing with the U.S. National Team since attending the U.S. U-14 National Identification Camp in 2008, says putting on that USA jersey never gets old. “It’s the most amazing feeling,” she says. “No one should ever take it for granted because it’s such a special thing and we all work really hard to have that opportunity.”
Ali Krieger hopes to be one of the bubble players making the trip to France. But either way she knows all about winning not only soccer games, but World Cups. Krieger was on the 2015 team that won it all in Vancouver and believes there is little substitute for confidence and being. “We had a tough group in the beginning which not only helped us prepare but gave us a lot of confidence,” Krieger said. “We were well prepared for the tough games and had the little details down by the time we faced the real good teams. We had such great confidence in ourselves that we could win the whole thing.”