Sunday, September 09, 2007

Women's World Cup Previews: Group B

Nickname: Blågult (the blue-yellow)
Current world ranking: 3
Coach: Thomas Dennerby, who took over from Marika Domanski-Lyfors in 2005 after being named Sweden's coach of the year in 2004.
How they qualified: Won their UEFA qualifying group, with a 7-1-0 record.
Past record: Have qualified for every tournament and are perennial contenders. Their best showing was as runners-up to Germany in 2003, when they lost in extra time.
Other results: European runners-up in 2001; 4th place at the 2004 Olympics.
Why they could win: Dennerby has instilled a new tactical flexibility in the team, as well as bringing in some new blood, and it seems to have worked, as they racked up an impressive 32 goals in qualifying. But the team has been since hit by a string of injuries.
Key players: Strikers Hanna Ljungberg (no relation to Freddie) and Victoria Svensson led the line for Sweden in 2003, but with Ljungberg struggling with injuries, newcomer Lotta Schelin will have to step up and fill her boots.
Predicted finish: Quarter-finals

Nickname: USWNT (wow, just as boring as the men's side)
Current world ranking: 1
Coach: Greg Ryan, who took over from April Heinrichs in 2005 and has a virtually flawless record with the team since then.
How they qualified: Won the CONCACAF Gold Cup in November 2006.
Past record: Have won the world title twice, in 1991 and 1999, but were knocked out by eventual winners Germany in the semi-finals in 2003.
Other results: They've won just about everything you can win in women's football, including the Olympics (twice) and the Gold Cup (three times).
Why they could win: Let's face it, they probably will. The USA recently regained their #1 world ranking, and they'll be out to avenge the loss to Germany in the 1999 World Cup. They've brought up a new generation of players who are probably even better than the squad that won the title before.
Key players: Striker Abby Wambach has 77 goals in 96 games; she's tall and strong, sort of like a female version of Didier Drogba, except blonde and less inclined to falling over. She'll be teamed up front with veteran Kristine Lilly, appearing in her fifth World Cup.
Predicted finish: Winners (much as I hate to say it)

Nickname: Super Falcons
Current world ranking: 24
Coach: Effiom Ntiero, who took charge in 2006 after coaching the U19s at the world championship in 2002.
How they qualified: Won the African championship in November 2006.
Past record: Have qualified for all four previous tournaments; their best finish was reaching the quarter-finals in 1999.
Other results: Five-time African champions.
Why they could win: Nigeria has monopolized women's football in Africa, and they've got plenty of talent in the team. The core of the squad from 2003 has returned, plus some stars from the U20 team.
Key players: Young striker Cynthia Uwak, who has great pace and skill on the ball, and fellow centre-forward Perpetua Nkwocha, the 2006 CAF Women's Footballer of the Year.
Predicted finish: First-round elimination

Nickname: None that I could find, but the men's team are known as the Taeguk Warriors
Current world ranking: 5
Coach: Kim Kwang-Min, an experienced coach who took over in 2005.
How they qualified: Finished third at the Asian championship in July 2006, but earned the region's second spot at the World Cup because winners China had qualified automatically.
Past record: Qualified twice before, in 1999 and 2003, but failed to progress past the group stage both times.
Other results: Won the AFC title in 2001 and 2003. The U20 side also won the world championship last year.
Why they could win: The Koreans are well organized and work hard, with plenty of speed and stamina. But they've been going through a rebuilding phase recently, and I suspect that they're missing that spark they need to progress.
Key players: Striker Ri Kum Suk is the team's captain and best-known player. She won the golden boot in the 2003 AFC championship, with 15 goals, but her scoring record isn't quite so impressive at World Cup level.
Predicted finish: First-round elimination

Group Predictions
The USA should top the group easily, and I expect Nigeria to be at the bottom – although they're the best team in Africa, they usually disappoint at the World Cup. Second and third place, though, are a bit harder to predict. When I originally looked at the groups back in April, I picked Korea to go through, but now I might be leaning towards Sweden. Either way, the runners-up here will probably have to face the mighty Germany in the next round. Lucky them.

No comments: