Tag Archives: World Cup

2017 Confederations Cup Preview

confederations_cup

The 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup will take place in Russia one year before they are to host the World Cup.

With the World Cup just a year away, that means this year will have the FIFA Confederations Cup. Back in 2013, I did a focus on the Confederations Cup and why it’s an important tournament. This year’s Confederations Cup is important as well. Not just because the Cup is a growing tournament but also for the host country of Russia.

Russia is already a country controversial enough with the way they do politics. Hosting next year’s World Cup is also considered controversial as there’s question on how Russia won their bid and FIFA’s process in achieving the victories for both Russia for 2018 and Qatar for 2022. All I can say in this matter is I don’t have the research on that and things will have to sort themselves out over the year’s time leading up to the World Cup.

While the World Cup will be contested in twelve stadiums in Russia next year, this Confederations Cup will be contested in four stadiums. All four being ‘fresh’ stadiums which are either just now breaking ground or have broken ground only within the past five years:

  • Otkrytiye Arena, Moscow – This will be one of two stadiums in Moscow that will stage the World Cup. Located in the Tushino area of Moscow, this stadium is the home venue for Spartak Moscow. Completed in 2014, this stadium seats just over 45,000 people.
  • Krestovsky Stadium, Saint Petersburg – This 68,000-seat stadium may have just broken ground this year but it took ten years to complete. Problems from construction management to changing contractors to problems with its conditions have plagued the stadium and its construction but it will finally be ready for the Confederations Cup. Built on Krestovsky Island, the stadium is also the host venue for the football team FC Zenit.
  • Kazan Arena, Kazan – Completed in 2013, this 45,000-seat stadium has the largest outside screen in Europe. The stadium has hosted events like the 2013 World Student Games and the 2015 World Aquatics Championships. The stadium is also the home venue for Russian Premier League team Rubin Kazan.
  • Fisht Olympic Stadium, Sochi – Remember the $51 billion Sochi Winter Olympics? This is the host stadium which hosted the ceremonies and held the Olympic flame. Determined not to have it become a ‘white elephant,’ the stadium is now the home venue for Russian Professional Football League team FC Sochi. In addition, it will also host six World Cup games next year.

The tournament begins Saturday the 17th. There will be eight teams. Six are winners of their continent’s respective championship, Germany qualified as winner of the World Cup and Russia qualifies as host nation. Here’s how the teams stack up. FIFA rankings for June 2017 are the numbers in brackets:

GROUP A:

Russia Fixed-Russia (63): Russia is an enigma in football right now. The team has a lot of talent but constantly misses in delivering in major tournaments and qualifying events. Such examples include qualifying for three World Cups since the USSR dissolved and failing to qualify for the knockout round each time. Another example is the Euro tournament: semifinalists in 2008 but out in the Group Stage in 2012 and 2016. Trying coaches from other countries like Guus Huddink and Fabio Capello have delivered sub-par results.

Russia has yet to prove its current team since Euro 2016. The team consists of a Russian coach and all but one of the lineup for the Cup play for teams in the Russian Premier League. 2017 has not been the best to Russia as they lost 2-0 to the Ivory Coast and drew 3-3 against Belgium and 1-1 against Chile. They did however score a 3-0 win against Hungary. Remember that football is a box of surprises as Pele always says and Russia could end up surprising everyone here.

NZL-New Zealand (95): New Zealand can be either a very good team or a bad team. It qualified for the 2010 World Cup and drew in all of its games. However it hasn’t made much of an impact since. The current line-up of the all-blacks only features one player that plays for a team in a major European League (France’s Ligue 1). The Kiwis have been dominant against teams from Oceania but have struggled against teams from other continents such as a 1-1 draw against the US and losses to Belarus, Northern Ireland and Mexico. If they don’t go far here, they can always learn in time for next year.

Portugal Fixed-Portugal (8): Portugal is a team of surprises. The team went from lackluster group play in Euro 2016 to becoming Cup champions. Portugal has since maintained its reputation as one of the best teams in the world with excellent play in World Cup qualifying and continuing to win most of their games. However they have had some notable losses such as a 2-0 loss to Switzerland in September and a 3-2 loss to Sweden in March. Portugal can either be very on or very off here in Russia. The next two weeks will decide their fate.

Mexico-Mexico (17): Mexico has always been seen as the leader of the CONCACAF. They hope to take it even further by proving themselves among the best in the world. However it’s come at a struggle as they’ve ended their last six World Cups in the Round of 16. Mexico have had a lot of good wins in the last 12 months to teams like Ireland, Iceland and Costa Rica and even had a 1-1 draw against the US. However they’ve had a 2-1 loss to Croatia and a 7-0 loss to Chile at the Copa America. The World Cup may be one year away but now is a good chance for Mexico to prove itself on the world stage.

Prediction: This is a tough one but I predict the two qualifiers to the semis to be Mexico and Portugal, but don’t count out a possible surprise from Mother (?) Russia.

GROUP B:

Cameroon-Cameroon (32): Cameroon have been one of the most consistent African teams. However their play in the last two decades have been far from their glory days in the early 90’s. The team has worked hard to become better and more consistent since the embarrassment of the 2014 World Cup where they finished dead last. The current squad has many players from many leagues. The team hasn’t had the best chances at proving themselves since. In the past twelve months, they’ve either won or tied every game, but they’ve all been against African teams. The Confederations Cup is a chance for them to prove themselves and where they stand.

ChileChile (4): We can have a long discussion about the ‘sleeping giants’ in football waiting for their big moment to arrive. Chile would be one of them. They have been underestimated in the past and have even gone out in the Round Of 16 in the past two World Cups; and to Brazil both times. However Chile has seized the moment at both the 2015 and 2016 Copa Americas by winning their first-ever Copas. Chile now wants to prove its greatness on the world stage, but they have had an up-and-down period since Copa 2016. They’ve had wins against Uruguay, Colombia and Iceland, but they’ve also had losses to Romania and Argentina and even drew against Russia 1-1 just a week ago. Chile will have to seize the moment if they want to prove themselves further.

AustraliaAustralia (48): Since Australia was switched from the Oceania federation to the AFC after their Round of 16 surprise at World Cup 2006, bigger and better things were anticipated from them. Instead it’s been the opposite with losing in the Group Stage these past two World Cups. Australia hopes to put itself back as a powerhouse. However they’ve had a mixed bag of results in the past twelve months ranging from a 1-0 win against Greece to a 4-0 loss to Brazil. Anything can happen here in Russia and Australia could possibly find itself among the frontrunners.

Germany fixed-Germany (3): The current holders of the World Cup appear to be the heavy favorites to win here. They’ve maintained a consistency even with new members added to the national team ever since. However they’ve had their difficulties too. The semifinal loss at Euro 2016 showed they still have some elements of team unity and other glitches to work on. Since Euro, Germany have not had a loss. They’ve had wins against England and the Czechs but have also drawn 0-0 against Italy and 1-1 against Denmark. They have what it takes to win the Cup here. They just have to deliver.

Prediction: Long shots can pull surprises but I’m going to go with my best instincts and predict Germany and Chile to be this group’s two qualifiers.

And there’s my look at the confederations Cup and the competing teams. Winner to be decided on Sunday July 2nd. Possible more blogs to come, depending on how many hits I get with this.

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2015 FIFA WWC: Group Stage With One Game To Go

Womens CupToday is now a rest day at the FIFA Women’s World Cup. All 24 teams are now moving away from the stadiums they’ve played their first two group games and preparing for their final group game. Sixteen teams will move on after this game, eight will be heading home. Third-place teams still have a chance but it depends on how well they all stack up as only the best four of the six can go through. Here is a group-by-group breakdown of those who made it (with countries who are guaranteed to advance in bold), those who will be leaving soon and those who still have a chance:

Group A

Canada leads but without a doubt they lack the dazzle they’ve been known to have. A 1-0 win over China and a scoreless draw over New Zealand may assure them first place right now but they’re not impressing the home crowd. Canada could still likely qualify even if they lost to the Netherlands but I don’t think they’d want to do that. China was able to get itself in after its win against the Netherlands. Actually both China and the Netherlands are tied as they both won 1-0 and lost 1-0. Their play in the next game will decide their fates. New Zealand still has a chance of qualifying after that scoreless draw against Canada but they need nothing less than a win against China if they’re to do so. This group is anyone’s game right now.

Group B

Norway’s win over Thailand was not a surprise. Neither was Germany’s win over the Ivory Coast but the score was definitely a surprise. For the record, the 10-0 score is not the most lopsided victory at the FIFA WWC. That was achieved by Germany in 2007 in a Group Stage match against Argentina: 11-0. Germany and Norway drawing was a surprise. It’s not uncommon to see teams drawing after they feel they have a comfortable enough lead. Both Germany and Norway are likely to win their next games as neither Thailand nor the Ivory Coast seem like a challenge to either of them. Thailand could still have a chance if they draw against Germany but that’s unlikely. That would have to draw down how they’d rank against the third-place teams. Ivory Coast doesn’t appear too likely to qualify as they will play Norway next.

Group C

Japan is definitely progressing. Their two wins secured it for the defending Cup champions. They will highly likely come in first as their last match of group play will be Ecuador and it looks most likely to be a win. Both Switzerland and Cameroon have lost to Japan but they were able to profit off of play against Ecuador. Switzerland had it best with their 10-1 win on Friday. If they both tie in their final game, both will qualify because of goal differentials to their advantage. The win of course would decide the second place team in the group. Of course Ecuador is out. As I said in my group blogs, there are some countries that don’t have a chance of progressing or winning and this World Cup is their opportunity to learn and hopefully grow in the years to come.

Group D

As you probably read in my blog, I had a feeling this group would be the ‘Group Of Death’ and it has already delivered some surprises. The first being the 3-3 draw between Sweden and Nigeria. The second being the scoreless draw between the U.S. and Sweden. The U.S. will qualify no matter what happens against Nigeria. All three other groups’ fates will be decided in their final game. As of now, all three have a chance. Nigeria could get in if they beat the Americans. Australia could qualify upon a draw against Sweden but Sweden needs nothing less than a win to qualify.

Group E

Brazil is already guaranteed to finish top of their group with their two wins against South Korea and Spain. Even if they lose to Costa Rica, which highly won’t happen, they have enough game points to finish on top. Neither of the other teams have even a single win and that means second and third is anyone’s game. Costa Rica could still qualify if they tie Brazil though that may not be too likely but if they do, they would have to rely on the third-place team rankings to see if they made it. They have an advantage over teams that would have a win and two losses because of even goal differentials. South Korea and Spain both still have a chance but either team has to win if they want to qualify. A draw won’t cut it as there are at least four third-place teams with at least a win.

Group F

This is another group with surprises. At first I thought Colombia didn’t have a chance of qualifying but right now they’re the Group F team that’s assured of advancing. It was their 2-0 win over France that did it. That leaves favorites France having their fate decided in their game against Mexico. England however received an advantage after their 2-1 win over Mexico. That kept them in contention of qualifying with their match against Colombia to decide it. Both France and England can advance by simply drawing against their opponents but there’s no question they’d want to win with their reputations as women’s football leaders in Europe at stake. Mexico however needs nothing less than a win in order to advance. They’re lucky as their goal differential is actually quite small. Nevertheless it’s interesting to see that this group best demonstrates the progress of women’s football in countries of Europe and Latin America.

And there you go. That’s what’s needed in terms of advancing to the Round of 16 starting on Monday. I’m sure it will be crazy shifting your attention from one game to the other but don’t worry, the other will eventually get replayed.

Canada 2015 Shows How Far Women’s Football Has Come

The Women's World Cup only started 24 years ago.

The Women’s World Cup was contested for the first time only 24 years ago.

The 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup starts today. It will be a competition between 24 countries and broadcast to billions worldwide. An enormous event and a huge celebration of the sport but it was a long time coming.

ITS ROUGH BUT HOPEFUL START

Back in the early centuries when football was just invented and games were being played for leisure, women were welcomed participants. There was even the British Ladies Football Club founded in 1894 but was frowned upon by the predominantly male society and received no financial support. Men saw it as a threat to the ‘masculinity’ of the game. A stigma that surprisingly still exists today.

An English women's football team from 1920. Hard to believe the FA banned them for decades!

An English women’s football team from 1920. Hard to believe the FA banned them for decades!

Women’s football saw an increase during World War I and the men were off and fighting. However women’s football received a blow in 1921 when the Football Association (the FA), outlaws the play of women’s games on FA-associated pitches. Despite that, the English Ladies Football Association was formed after the ban was instituted.

It wasn’t just England that looked down upon women’s football. Many other countries would look down too. Once again the stigma of the ‘masculinity’ of the game. Even Brazil had a case where women’s football was growing up to 40 teams in the 1940’s until it too was banned. The ban wasn’t lifted until 1979.

WOMEN’S FOOTBALL  GAINS STRENGTH

You can’t keep the desire down. The FA’s ban on women was eventually dropped in 1971 shortly after the Women’s FA was founded in 1969. In North America while soccer was starting to grow in popularity around the beginning of the 1970’s, girls teams were organized along with boys teams. That may explain why the US and Canada do well. In the 1980’s, women’s national teams were formed like the U.S. team in 1985 and the Canadian team in Winnipeg on Canada Day 1986 (July 1st). Japan became the first country to have a female semi-professional league: the L-League founded in 1989 that still exists today.

A WORLD CUP AND OLYMPIC GOLD EMERGE

As women’s national teams were emerging, FIFA knew they had to do something to encourage the competition but were reluctant to give women their own World Cup. In fact FIFA organized the FIFA Women’s Invitational Tournament in Taiwan in 1988. It was actually a test to see how successful of a competition it would be. Contested over two weeks, it was a success and weeks later, FIFA approved implementing a Women’s World Cup competition.

The 1991 US women's World Cup team: the first ever Women's World Cup winners.

The 1991 US women’s World Cup team: the first ever Women’s World Cup winners.

The first FIFA Women’s World Cup was held in China back in 1991. FIFA was still reluctant to call it the World Cup so it was called the 1st FIFA World Championship for Women’s Football for the M&Ms Cup. Twelve countries competed in six venues across the country. Ticket sales were a success with a total of over 50,000–an average of almost 20,000 per match–and the U.S. won the Cup with their teammate Michelle Akers the highest scorer of the tournament with 10 goals.

The success of the 1995 tournament helped paved the way for further World Cup competitions and women’s football being added to the Olympic program starting in 1996. The 1995 World Cup in Sweden however was met with lackluster success as ticket sales were only above 112,000: a sign that women’s football had a long way to go in Europe. Things looked a lot more positive with women’s football contested at the Atlanta Olympics the following year. Despite having only eight teams playing for the gold, ticket sales totaled almost 700,000 including 76,489 for the final which the U.S. won.

Brandi Chastain's shirtless celebration from USA 1999. One of the most iconic images of the Women's World Cup.

Brandi Chastain’s shirtless celebration from USA 1999. One of the most iconic images of the Women’s World Cup.

It’s no wonder the U.S. hosted the next World Cup in 1999. The U.S. really did an intense job of marketing the event and it paid off. Ticket sales totaled over 1.2 million– more than double that of China 1991 and ten times that of Sweden 1995– and the Rose Bowl Stadium was sold out for both the third-place match and the final for the Cup with 90,185 each.

The Women’s World Cup would have continued success over the years. Even if none of the successive tournaments have broken the attendance record of USA 1999, they’ve still given impressive results such as the 1.156 million who saw games in China in 2007. The 845,000 tickets sold during Germany 2011 showed Europe’s increasing welcoming of women’s football even though the top male continents like Europe and South America still lag behind that of Asia and North America.

PRESENT AND FUTURE

Despite the increase of fanfare and support in women’s football, it’s still lagging behind in terms of parity with the men’s sport. It’s not like tennis, golf, athletics or swimming where female athletes are almost on par with the men. Nor is it like figure skating or gymnastics where the women actually steal the show from the men. There are many countries that still see football as a ‘men’s sport’ and the women are given lackluster attention. There was even a row last week when EA sports video games announced in their FIFA 16 game, women’s players would be included for the first time. There were a lot of sexist tweets on Twitter, overshadowing the 98% of tweets that were positive and welcoming of women’s inclusion in the game.

Nevertheless great strides have been made over the years. Since the 1990’s there have been women’s continental tournaments like the Women’s Euro and the Copa America Feminina. Professional leagues in Europe like the Bundesliga, Premier League and France’s Division 1 have included a women’s league and top men’s team have included women’s braches of their team. England even contests the FA Women’s Cup annually. Women’s football is still supported well with high school teams and NCAA college teams. The MLS has also included female branches of teams. In Brazil, Marta has become a beloved athlete of the country and has even received welcome from other male players like Pele and Neymar whom describes Marta as ‘craque’ (Portuguese for phenomenal).

FIFA also has a special section of their organization focusing on women’s football dedicated to improving the game and its availability to young girls and women around the globe. Every World Cup since 1995 there has been a symposium on women’s football and this year’s symposium is slated for Vancouver from July 3rd-5th. This year FIFA included campaigns such as the Live Your Goals social media campaign through the #LiveYourGoals hashtag. Another FIFA campaign is the ‘No Barriers’ campaign through video commercials. Its goal is to increase the global number of young girls and women playing football form 30 million to 45 million by the 2019 Women’s World Cup.

There’s no question man’s football has no further to go. It’s already universal and the most popular sport in the world. Women’s football is still growing but never before has the future of women’s football looked more ambitious and more promising.

WORKS CITED:

WIKIPEDIA: Women’s Association Football. Wikipedia.com. 2015. Wikimedia Foundation Inc.<Women’s Association Football>

Oxenham, Gwendolyn. “Pele With A Skirt: The Unequal Fortunes Of Brazil’s Soccer Stars” The Atlantic. 4 June 2015<Atlantic Article: Neymar and Marta>

My World Cup Experience: Trophy Tour

As you can tell, I’ve been excited about the Women’s World Cup coming. It was a long time in anticipation. This was actually the last weekend before the World Cup is to begin this Saturday in Edmonton. With it came the Trophy Tour concluding in Burnaby. I had the good fortune to visit that afternoon.

120The FIFA Women’s World Cup trophy tour was a tour that happened in twelve cities across Canada including the six cities that have the venues for the Cup. The purpose was to showcase the World Cup encased in glass. The tour also allowed for other things too like a chance to learn more about FIFA’s goals in women’s football and to learn more about the Cup and its 24 years. There were also games and giveaways as well as music and an appearance from the mascot Shueme. The final stop of the journey was Vancouver. The event took place at Burnaby’s Metrotown: the biggest shopping mall in all of Greater Vancouver. Sunday morning was my one free chance I had to go see it. I’m glad I did.

THERE’S ALWAYS A LINE-UP

A week or two ago, I saw something from the Coca-cola web page on the tour saying there tickets through Ticketmaster available. At that time, I instantly thought you needed a ticket to see the trophy. I agreed to a ticket. They came at no cost so I really lost nothing. I arrived at the area in Metrotown where the event was supposed to take place–the lower level where Toys ‘R Us and T&T Groceries are– and I saw the line up. Most didn’t have a ticket. It wasn’t really needed. It may have helped for some getting to see the Cup sooner but it wasn’t needed. For kids too impatient to wait in line, there was a foosball table in the outside area.

Meeting with mascot Shueme made the wait in line easier.

Meeting with mascot Shueme made the wait in line easier.

I actually forgot my ticket at home so I ended up waiting in line. I arrived at 10:55: five minutes before the event was to begin. I could see volunteers setting up. I could see Shueme in the waiting area. Then at 11am it all began. Music was playing and the line was actually moving faster than I thought. Shueme actually left the event area and was walking around the Metrotown concourse including around the outside foosball table. Yes, they had a foosball table out in case people got too bored waiting. Fortunately she came around where I was standing. I told the volunteer I hope to get a picture with her when she returns to inside. The volunteer actually offered to take the picture right there. It was great.

VIEWING THE CUP

Here I am with the Women's World Cup!

Here I am with the Women’s World Cup!

It wasn’t even half an hour of a line up when I finally had the chance to see the Cup. However just before I got in, I saw there was a separate line up for the virtual goalie. I’ll talk more about that later. The exhibit could only have so many people at once so they had to group people: those seeing the Cup, those in the Winners Tunnel who were next in line and those in the waiting area.

The waiting area was there to keep us entertained while we were one step closer to seeing the Cup. There was one section that looked like a dressing room but it had jerseys commemorating past Cup champions. As well as there were pads that had WWC trivia. There was also a DJ spinning music with the official ball, the conext15, on display. Then came the Winners Tunnel. This was the section for those about to see the Cup. In there, people waited for about five minutes. Nevertheless we were treated to a video with scenes from the previous World Cup and even clips from the qualifiers.

Then it finally came to our turn to see the Cup. It was encased in glass and there were already cameras set up so we can have a custom portrait for sharing. Just go to the website and key in the code. I think mine turned out well. Finally of course with Coca-Cola hosting the event, people were treated to a free Coke in a commemorative aluminum bottle. I have mine as a keepsake.

A FUTURE CARNIVAL GAME?

That's the virtual goalie, controlled by motion sensors that make the split-second decision of which angle to block the shot.

That’s the virtual goalie, controlled by motion sensors that make the split-second decision of which angle to block the shot.

Not everything was about the Cup. Some wanted to try their luck at the Ultimate Goalie. How does it work? First it involves the participant doing a penalty kick into a net smaller than usual. Secondly the goalie is placed right in the middle of the goal post. Successful penalty kicks win a free commemorative shirt. The thing about this goalie is that it’s on a semicircle of 180. What controls the goalie are motion-sensor cameras that are able to detect how fast the ball is going and what direction it’s headed. The computers are programmed to position the goalie at the right angle to stop the shot. This was very smart and very fast. I remember seeing a couple of shots taken that were very fast and she was able to stop it. I took a shot at it and she even stopped mine. Fortunately for me, there were two people that said I delivered a good shot. I’m not over the hill yet! As for the goalie, I would not be surprised if I see that as a carnival game anytime soon. Good luck in trying to win!

I GOT A TICKET!

For a long time I was hoping to get a ticket. For the last few days I was hoping to get a ticket for a certain Round of 16 game. However I wondered if it would be too expensive. Not just because of the price but the ticket processing fee and tax added on. I wanted a second class ticket for that event but thought maybe it’s better I got third class. Glad I waited because just as I was in line to see the Cup, I heard that tickets were 30% off that day. By the time I was done seeing the Cup, I was ready to order my ticket. Yes, there was a bit of a line up for buying it and very often it was a case of families buying tickets together because of discounts for groups. Sometimes it took a family ten minutes or longer to have their order finalized.

Finally it was my turn and I knew what I wanted as I was eyeballing that seat on Ticketmaster the past few days. Knowing what I wanted and where only made me wait five minutes. There was a bit of card trouble at first but I finally got it: a second-class Round of 16 ticket that was originally billed at $75 I bought for just under $62. It was worth it! Now I just have to wait to see if Canada’s playing as one team slated to play is the first-place team of Group A. I’ll be shocked if it’s not Canada!

And there you go: my visit to the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup Trophy Tour. It was fun and a bit tiring but it was worth it in the end.

GROUP RECAP

Okay, for those of you just hitting my blog for the first time, below are links to my predictions for each group in the Group Stage:

2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup: Group F Focus

Okay. I just have one last group to go. But before I head into it, I’ll give you the links to my other Group reviews for those that missed:

And now here is my last group review for the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup:

GROUP F:

France fixed-France (3): France is one team loaded with talent and prowess but still looking for their first big break in a major international competition. The highest ‘Les Bleues’ have ever finished at a World Cup or an Olympics is fourth and they’ve never made it past the quarterfinal of a Women’s Euro.

No doubt they come to this World Cup with something to prove and the hopes of finally proving it here and now. France has been very impressive in their play these past two months. They’ve only lost to the United States. This could be their year.

England fixed-England (6): England is one of those countries that has constantly seen football as a man’s game leaving the women getting the short end of the stick. That was made evident in the 2003 movie Bend It Like Beckham. Things have gotten better as many Premier League teams have their own women’s teams like Everton, Aston Villa, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool to name a few. They even have their own league, the WSL. Heck, even Prince William gave the national team a royal send-off before they left for Canada. However as they improve, so does women’s football as a whole and they struggle to show their greatness. They’ve only gotten as far as the quarterfinals in the World Cup. The ‘Three Lionesses’ did however make the finals of the 2009 Women’s Euro.

Play for the national team has been a struggle in recent years. They failed to advance past the group stage of the 2013 Women’s Euro. They also suffered a blow knowing that there won’t be a Great Britain team for the 2016 Olympics remembering the difficulties getting Great Britain teams were for London 2012. So it’s no wonder they’ll be looking for Canada for glory. They did however win the Cyprus Cup back in March where they beat Canada in the final as well as Finland and Australia. The last eighteen months have also been consistent for England as they’ve won most of their matches, losing only to France, Germany and the U.S. Their reputation can increase after this World Cup which will be a plus because at last year’s World Cup, the men failed to advance past the group stage for the first time since 1958. Trust the girls to give England that well-needed upper.

Colombia

-Colombia (28): Colombia is an emerging nation in women’s football. They competed in their first World Cup in 2011 and they’ve finished second in the last two Copa America Femininas. They even have a berth in the 2016 Olympics upon their second-place finish at last year’s Copa and with winners Brazil automatically competing as host nation.

However ‘Las Cafetaras’ are still relatively inexperienced in terms of international play. The only UEFA team they’ve ever won against is Wales and they’ve never won against Mexico. They have some good talent that even plays in American and European leagues but they still have along ways to go to contend for bigger things. Nevertheless it’s all uphill from here. It would be interesting to see how far they go over time.

Mexico-Mexico (25): Mexico is one team on the move in women’s football. They’ve competed in two previous World Cups and one Olympics. They’ve been runner-up at the CONCACAF Cup twice and medalists at the Pan Am Games three out of four times.

‘El Tricolor’ have a talented line-up with no less than twelve players playing for American or European leagues. This is the team that is most likely to pull an upset as they have drawn against England in their last meeting. Their qualifying chances are very good. They could also progress well but they have a mixed record from the past twelve months. They’ve won against Italy, Czech Republic and Colombia but lost to Canada, U.S., Costa Rica and South Korea. Nevertheless whatever happens in Canada, El Tricolor have a bright future.

MY PREDICTION:

I feel France will take the top spot in this group. I feel England will most likely be second but Mexico could surprise. Mexico will definitely be third at the least.

STADIUM SPOTLIGHT

-VANCOUVER: BC Place StadiumBC Place

Year Opened: 1983

World Cup Capacity: 54,500

World Cup Groups Hosting: C,D,

Additional World Cup Matches Contested: Round of 16, Quarterfinals, Final

The stadium was built with the intention of being a highlight during Expo 86.It consisted of a unique air-supported dome until 2010. Highlights of its use have primarily been CFL games and concerts. Noteworthy use in the past include Vancouver Canadians baseball games, the Pope’s visit in 1984, and ceremonies venue for the 2010 Winter Olympics and Winter Paralympics.

Vancouver however has a special liking to the sport of football. BC Place’s first ever event in June of 1983 was actually a soccer match starring the Vancouver Whitecaps who were then part of the NASL. The Whitecaps have had a loyal following over four decades and whatever name changes over the years and their transfer to the MLS five years ago were met with open arms. The Whitecaps have since gone on to be the fifth-most attended team of the MLS. It’s no wonder with this kind of football support Vancouver was easily chosen as a venue for the 2015 Women’s World Cup. One noteworthy item: all the tickets for the final at BC Place are sold out.

And there you have it. My last Women’s World Cup group review. More WWC blogs to come like my experience at the Trophy Tour, tournament analyses and my own experience at a Round of 16 game (Yes, I have a ticket!). The Cup all beings in Edmonton on Saturday the 6th!

2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup: Group E Focus

I’m sure that when some of you hear me talk about a controversy about this World Cup, it’s about the recent bombshell about the arrests of FIFA members. It’s not. I’m going to save that for another blog just like I’m saving the topic of women’s football for a separate blog. In this blog, here’s my review of Group E with another stadium focus and another issue focus:

GROUP E:

Spain Fixed-Spain (14): This will be Spain’s first Women’s World Cup. Spain’s women are relatively inexperienced to  major competition. They’ve never played in an Olympics before either. Nevertheless ‘La Roja’ do have some accolades like a third-place finish at the 1997 Women’s Euro and a quarterfinals finish at the last one in 2013. They’ve also had an impressive play record in the past two years with only a single loss to Norway in 2013 and wins against Italy, the Czech Republic and Belgium. Spain may just be a future power in women’s football.

Brazil-Brazil (7): When women’s football started making a name for itself in the 1990’s, it was North America and Asia that were the leaders. Countries from South America and most European countries still thought of football as strictly a man’s game and had lackluster women’s teams to show for it. Since then the continents have been taking women’s football more seriously. If there’s one country that has shown the most progress, it’s Brazil.

The Brazilian men without a doubt have the biggest legacy of any football country. The Brazilian women have really made strides to become one of the best in the world these last 15 years. They were finalists at the 2007 World Cup and achieved 3rd place in 1999. They also have two Olympic silver medals and have won the Copa America Feminina all but once. They even produced a player that can be called ‘The Female Pele,’ Marta, with five FIFA Women’s World Player Of The Year awards.

Even though Brazil has become one of the best in the last couple of decades, they still have some noticeable ‘weak spots.’ For starters, they’ve never won against England or France. Secondly, they lost to Germany twice this year. Nevertheless Brazil has been impressive these past twelve months. They’ve ties the U.S. and they’ve had wins against China, Sweden and Switzerland. Canada will be both another proving point for Brazil and a learning experience for Rio 2016.

Costa Rica-Costa Rica (37): Another of the two debut teams of this Group E. True, Costa Rica have never played in a world Cup or an Olympics before but they are a team whose cred is growing slowly but surely. They’ve been impressive during the CONCACAF Women’s Gold Cup with three semi-final finishes and were finalists at the last one in 2014.Despite their lack of experience on the world stage, they do have a promising team with four players playing for either American professional teams or American colleges.

I know I’ve talked a lot about countries here to learn. We shouldn’t forget women’s football is still growing, especially in continents where play has been denied a lot in the past. We should keep in mind Costa Rica is the first Central American country to qualify for the Women’s World Cup. Like the other ‘learning’ teams, Costa Rica really has nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Korea-South Korea (18): South Korea’s men are the tops of Asian countries in football. South Korea’s women have long been relegated to second-fiddle to China and Japan but they’re seeking to improve over the years. They’ve never qualified for an Olympics and they’ve made only one previous World Cup appearance back in 2003. However they have some accolades of their own like four semi-final finishes at the AFC Asian Cup and bronze medals at the last two Asian Games.

Their play has been 50/50 this year as they beat Russia and tied Belgium but lost to Canada and Scotland. 2015 should help boost the team for a brighter future.

MY PREDICTION: I predict Brazil to win Group E with South Korea coming in second. Third-place was a tough prediction. I predict Spain, based on their experience. Mind you anything can happen.

STADIUM SPOTLIGHT

-EDMONTON: Commonwealth StadiumEskimos

Year Opened: 1978

World Cup Capacity: 56,302

World Cup Groups Hosting: A,C,D

Additional World Cup Matches Contested: Round of 16, Quarterfinal, Semifinal, Third-Place

The Stadium was opened in 1978 in time for the Commonwealth Games Edmonton hosted. Since then it has served as the venue for the Edmonton Eskimos football team and occasionally the FC Edmonton soccer team. The Stadium is the biggest of the six hosting matches for the FIFA World Cup which explains why Canada’s first two Group Stage matches will be held here. The stadium has undergone two renovations: the first in 2001 in time for the World Athletic Championships which included a new scoreboard, an enlarged concourse and a new track. The second in 2008 which experienced a reconfiguration and a turf replacement. Outside of their main sports teams, the stadium has hosted many concerts and has also hosted many soccer friendlies for both Canada’s men’s and women’s teams.

THE TURF ISSUE

The World Cup may be building in excitement but hard to believe a year ago there was a controversy brewing with threats of boycotts. The reason was because all six stadiums will be using some form of artificial turf. why does it matter? Many believe artificial turf makes players more prone to injuries. 50 players protested the use of turf on the basis of gender discrimination. Seems odd to me to think that getting them to play on turf is a form of discrimination. Keep in mind it’s FIFA regulation that the men’s World Cup matches all be contested on grass.

There was even a lawsuit claiming FIFA would never have the men play on ‘unsafe’ artificial turf and is a violation of the Canadian Human Rights Charter. The suit filed in October 2014 in Ontario even pointed how FIFA demanded stadiums in the United States to replace the artificial turf with grass even if it meant extra millions in expenses. The lawsuit had supporters like Tom Hanks, Kobe Bryant and U.S. men’s team goalkeeper Tim Howard. FIFA’s head of women’s competitions Tatjana Haenni made it firm: “We play on artificial turf and there’s no Plan B.” The lawsuit was eventually dropped in January of this year. All the stadiums have kept the turfs they had.

Despite its firm stance, FIFA has not hesitated to discuss the issue. In fact FIFA.com did an interview with Professor Eric Harrison. Harrison, who was assigned by FIFA to inspect the pitches of the six stadiums between September 29th to October 8th of last year, was given a Q&A about his findings, the various football turfs and even injury rick. He gave his answers on why Canadians stadiums have artificial turf (Canada’s extreme weather conditions), the various turfs classified by FIFA and if there’s any difference int he frequency of injury (Harrison claims there’s no real difference). For the complete interview, click here.

And there you go. My focus on Group E and bonuses. That only means one last group to review. Coming Sunday.

WORKS CITED:

FIFA.com Staff. “Harrison: Football Turf is Integral to Canada 2015” FIFA.com. 23 October 2014<http://www.fifa.com/womensworldcup/news/y=2014/m=10/news=harrison-football-turf-is-integral-to-canada-2015-2461003.html>

WIKIPEDIA: 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup. Wikipedia.com. 2015. Wikimedia Foundation Inc.<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2015_FIFA_Women%27s_World_Cup>

2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup: Group D Focus

You’re probably wondering how do the berths at this World Cup get decided? Firstly, the number per continent is decided by FIFA. Often the continents with more berths have better prowess in women’s football. You’ll notice as North America and Asia have a bigger presence than at the men’s World Cup. So here’s the continental breakdown of the 24 berths at this year’s World Cup:

  • Host Nation – 1
  • North and Central America, Caribbean countries under CONCACAF- 3
  • Europe or UEFA-Allied countries – 8
  • Africa or CAF-allied countries – 3
  • Asia or AFC-allied countries – 5
  • South America or CONMEBOL-allied countries – 2
  • Oceania countries under the OFC – 1
  • CONCACAF/CONMEBOL playoff – 1

That’s how FIFA sets the Women’s World Cup for an even distribution among the continents. Now that it’s all explained, here’s the latest group in review. Funny thing is that it’s already being called a ‘group of death’ because of how all four teams have significant cred to themselves. Heck, what do three teams in the FIFA Top 10 tell you about this group? Without further ado, here’s my review, along with another stadium focus and a bonus where you can have a ball:

GROUP D:

USA-United States (2): There’s no doubting the legacy the United States have in women’s football. While the men struggle to make it past the Round of 16, the   U.S. excel like no other country having won two World Cups–they’ve never finished worse than third at a Women’s World Cup– and Olympic gold in four of the five Games women’s soccer has been contested. They’ve churned out legends of their sport in the past like Kristine Lilly, Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy and Brandi Chastain and they continue to churn out current greats like Christie Rampone, Abby Wambach, Megan Rapinoe and Hope Solo.

The U.S. may excel like no other country but they’re not invincible. 1999 is the last year the women have won a World Cup. Even play this past year has shown their imperfections as they’ve lost to Brazil and France and tied against China and Canada. They’re not even guaranteed to finish top of their group as they lost to Sweden in their last meeting with them March of last year. Remember that they lost to Sweden in the Group Stage of Germany 2011. Even though Coach Jillian Ellis is hoping to lead them to their first World Cup in sixteen years, she will acknowledge this will be a tough group. If they’re all together here in Canada, they can do it. They do have what it takes.

Australia-Australia (10): You know how the men are called the ‘Socceroos?’ The women are called the ‘Matildas!’ Australia’s women have competed in all but the first World Cup. They had very good success under the OFC as they competed in two Olympics and even earned a 5th place finish in 2004. Switching from the OFC to the AFC have helped them in terms of World Cup play as they were able to qualify for the quarterfinals for the first time back in 2007 and win the Asian Cup in 2010.

Australia is looking for its first big breakthrough on the world stage. However it will have to come with a fight. They’ve been playing very well against Asian teams but have struggled against teams from outside the AFC such as a 3-0 loss to England back in March. Their group chances also look questionable as they’ve lost their most recent meetings against Sweden and the U.S. and they’ve never played Nigeria before. Whatever the situation, this World Cup could be either new glory for Australia or another learning experience for the future.

Sweden Fixed-Sweden (5): If there’s one team that can prevent the U.S. from finishing atop Group D, it’s Sweden. They beat the U.S. in their last meeting. They also have a reputation of their own to match. Sure, their best Olympic finish is fourth and sure, Germany has hoarded all but one of the Women’s Euros. However they have finished in the Top 3 at three World Cups including third in 2011 and they’ve had many second and third place finishes at the Women’s Euro.

They’ve had a good play record since the least World Cup but it has been imperfect. This year they’ve had wins against Germany, China and Norway but they’ve also had losses to Germany, Brazil and Switzerland. Whatever the situation, Canada will be another proving point for them. They could just emerge the winners if they play right each time.

Nigeria-Nigeria (33): Nigeria is one of only seven teams that have competed at ever Women’s World Cup. Clinching the African berth is a cinch for them. Just as the men have possibly the most illustrious success among African football teams, the women are consistently tops of Africa too. They’ve won the CAF Women’s Championship all but twice. They’ve even made the quarterfinals of both a World Cup and an Olympic Games once before.

However Nigeria has the difficulty of being in the toughest group. Yes, they have a good reputation but this is a tight group and they know they will have to be very tough against the U.S. and Sweden because they’ve beaten Nigeria very often in the past. One advantage is that they’ve never played Australia so that game can be a proving point for them. Whatever happens in Canada, I’m sure it will be a benefit to the Nigerian team either as a plus to their reputation or as an opportunity to learn more.

MY PREDICTION: This is the hardest group to decide all the places. First and second will be a toughie. I’ll take a risk and predict Sweden to finish first and the U.S. to finish second. I expect third to go to Nigeria. Predicting third was a toughie too.

STADIUM SPOTLIGHT:

-OTTAWA: Lansdowne StadiumOttawa

Year Opened: 2014

World Cup Capacity: 40,000

World Cup Groups Hosting: B,E,F

Additional World Cup Matches Contested: Round of 16, quarterfinals

Talk about name changes. The stadium was first named Frank Clair Stadium, then chanced to TD Place Stadium and will be known as Lansdowne Stadium due to FIFA’s orders.

The actual playing field dates back to the 1870’s. The first event stands were added in 1908. Lansdowne Park has gone through numerous ramps and revamps over time. It had played host to Ottawa’s CFL teams and college football teams as well as many concerts. However it wasn’t until September 2007 when the lower-south side was showing cracks in the concrete that it was clear a new stadium was needed. Unfortunately it could not be done until there were plans to return a CFL team to Ottawa; Ottawa lost their CFL team in 2005. An agreement was reached in 2008 to have a new CFL team for Ottawa once a new stadium was created. The ‘Design Lansdowne’ program was launched to construct a new stadium over Lansdowne Park. By July 2014, the stadium was completed and Ottawa was ready to welcome their new CFL team, the RedBlacks, in July. The new stadium is also home to Ottawa’s NASL team Ottawa Fury.

BALL FOR THE WORLD CUP: CONEXT15conext15

We see it every men’s World Cup. Adidas doesn’t just simply launch a ball specific to the World Cup for the sake of a nice design. It does so with the hopes of adding a new technological innovation to the football. You don’t hear of the football for the Women’s World Cup adding an innovation to the football. However it will be the case for the Conext15.

The Conext15 features a new design inspired by the three elements of nature: earth, wind and fire. The flowing green, red and blue design will reflect the perfect balance of the three natural forces. It will include many elements from the Brazuca, the ball from the 2014 World Cup, but will have an innovation of its own: designed for never-before-seen power, swerve and control. Its structural innovation is a unique symmetry of six identical panels alongside a different surface structure that provides improved grip, touch, stability and aerodynamics on the pitch. Guaranteed to be more player-friendly than the Jabulani of 2010, that’s for sure.

And there you go. My review of Group D and many more WWC bonuses. Just ten days to go and two more groups to review.

WORK CITED:

Byrne, Bryan. “Official WWC Match Ball Released – Adidias Conext15” Soccer Cleats 101. 5 December 2014<http://www.soccercleats101.com/2014/12/05/official-wwc-match-ball-released-adidas-conext15/>

2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup: Group C Focus

I think Group C will be the hardest group to make predictions for. Why? Because none of the teams have ever played each other in the past. I think the fact that Japan is the only country here who’s played in a past World Cup may have a lot to do with it. For these predictions, I had to rely on stats involving past achievements and recent play results. So without further ado, here are my Group C predictions along with my latest stadium focus and a bonus feature:

GROUP C:

Japan-Japan (4): What can I say? Japan have been at every Women’s World Cup since it began in 1991. Japan are also defending Cup champions. The win of the Cup was definitely an upper for Japan since the only other World Cup they were able to make it past the Group Stage was back in 1995. They’ve also won the Olympic silver medal in 2012 and their first ever AFC Asian Cup in 2014. Much of it has to do with the football boom in Japan over the past 25 years. Before that, Japan didn’t have much interest. Over time the sport has boomed thanks to the big success of the J-League for men and the L-League for women.

Their chances of winning again here are quite good. I cannot see any other team in Group C that could rob them of a 1st place finish. It’s questionable once they move into the knockout rounds. They have had a lot of good wins in this past year but they’ve also endured losses to France, Denmark and North Korea. Canada’s the stage for another chapter for the team.

Switzerland-Switzerland (19): This is not only Swizerland’s first ever World Cup. This is their first ever major international tournament. They’ve never qualified for an Olympic Games or even a Women’s Euro in the past. No doubt they’re looking to this World Cup to make a name for themselves. Already they’ve shown signs of coming of age. Last May they had their biggest win ever: against Malta 11-0. Although I don’t think they’ll win, I feel they’ll fare well. Switzerland has some players who play for women’s teams of the Bundesliga and that will be an advantage here.

Cameroon-Cameroon (53): This may be Cameroon’s first ever World Cup but they’ve already been developing a reputation for themselves. They competed at the 2012 London Olympics and they’ve been runners-up three times at the CAF Women’s Championship including last year. However women’s soccer in all of Africa is still growing and learning. Nevertheless I feel Cameroon will fare well due to their past experience and the fact some of their players are playing in European leagues, especially France. Cameroon have a lot to learn and a lot of talent to deliver.

Ecuador-Ecuador (48): Ecuador was lucky to host the 2014 Copa America Feminina. It sure helped them as they finished third thanks to a 3-2 win over Argentina in the final Copa America game and winning the playoff against Trinidad and Tobago thanks to a last-minute goal. Ecuador, like most of South America, have just started to accept women’s football in recent years. Like Cameroon and Switzerland, this World Cup will be a learning experience for Ecuador no matter how they finish.

MY PREDICTION: Without a doubt, Japan will win the group. The rest of the spots will be harder to predict. I will predict Switzerland for second and Cameroon for third. I chose Cameroon because they have more international experience including an Olympic appearance.

STADIUM SPOTLIGHT:

-MONTREAL: Olympic Stadiummontreal

Year Opened: 1976

World Cup Capacity: 61,004

World Cup Groups Hosting: E,A,F

Additional World Cup Matches Contested: Round of 16, Quarterfinal, Semi-final

Us Canadians are very familiar with Montreal’s Olympic Stadium. The whole stadium–roof, tower and all– was to be completed by the 1976 summer Olympics. However construction problems and budget problems caused its delay leaving the Olympics with a stadium but no tower or roof. The Olympic left Montreal with such a debt the roof and tower didn’t get completed until 1987.

Since then, things have had easier moments in the early decades. After the Olympics, the Stadium became the main home of the CFL football team Montreal Allouettes and the MLB baseball team Montreal Expos. However ever since the Expos moved to Washington, D.C. in 2004 and since the Allouettes moved to a new stadium and use this one part-time, they’ve lacked a full-time tenant. The venue still does host the CFL’s Grey Cup and host bigger games for the Montreal Impact of the MLS. The venue hosted the visit of Pope John Paul II when he came in 1984 and has hosted many large concerts.

BONUS – MEET THE MASCOT: SHUEME

Shuéme, a Great White Owl, is the mascot for the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup.

Shuéme, a Great White Owl, is the mascot for the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup.

Shuéme (pronounced shwe-MAY) was first unveiled on June 17, 2014 at the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa introduced by Laureen Harper, wife of Prime Minister Stephen Harper. She would also make an appearance in Brazil last year during the men’s World Cup where she was greeted warmly by Brazil mascot Fuleco and Brazilian football player Marta. She has made many appearances since including the World Cup Group Draw in Ottawa back in December and has toured the country promoting the World Cup event.

Shueme was warmly greeted by Fuleco in Brazil during the Men's World Cup last year.

Shueme was warmly greeted by Fuleco in Brazil during the Men’s World Cup last year.

Shuéme is a great white owl: a bird common to Canada. In fact the name Shuéme is based off the French word for owl: ‘chouette.’ Her name pays tribute to the bilingualism, multiculturalism and inclusiveness of Canada. She was inspired by the strength and the elegance of the game. Her colors inspire peace and fair play while her hair exudes self-confidence and pride. Her contours denote her ability to grace under pressure and her wings and tail provide precise control and agility needed to play the game well. No doubt Shuéme will make appearances at all the games in Canada and make a good impression at the World Cup.

And there you go. My review of Group C. I’m already at the halfway point. Just three more groups to go.

WORK CITED:

VanCity Buzz Staff. “Meet Shuéme, the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2015 Canada Mascot” VANCITY BUZZ. 16 July 2014<http://www.vancitybuzz.com/2014/07/meet-shueme-fifa-womens-world-cup-2015-canada-mascot/>

2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup: Group B Focus

Oh man. If I would have known that yesterday as Woman’s Football Day, I would’ve posted this blog yesterday. Well the start of the Women’s World Cup is getting closer and closer. With it the excitement is building. I just walked into a local grocery store and I saw a display of soft drink cases saluting Team Canada. So upon the building excitement, here’s my look at Group B:

GROUP B:

Germany fixed-Germany (1): Germany is like a lot of European countries that’s just slowly starting to accept women’s football. Actually Germany’s more welcoming than most and with good reason. As you know, Germany’s men, The Mannschaft, are on top of the world right now. Germany’s women, the Nationalelf (National Eleven), have a legacy of their own too. They’ve won two World Cups in the past and have won all Women’s Euros except the inaugural in 1993. They’ve even won FIFA’s Women’s Player of the Year these past two years: Nadine Kessler in 2014 and Nadine Angerer in 2013. However they have some imperfections of their own. One is that they’ve only won three Olympic bronzes. The second is that they hosted the last World Cup and were ousted in the quarterfinals on penalty kicks. Penalty kicks? The German men are penalty kick aces with a near-flawless record! That loss also meant they missed qualifying for the Olympics for the first time ever.

However the team really wants to have this World Cup as the one where they can rebound, if not win. The team consists of many members of female teams of the Bundesliga. Yes, the Bundesliga is one of many football leagues that includes female teams: 12 in total. The team looks like they have a very good chance to come out on top. Norway may be its closest threat to take #1 from them. As for winning the Cup, their chances look good too but they’re not perfect. These past twelve months they’ve had wins against Sweden, China, Brazil and England. However they’ve also had losses to Sweden and France. Canada’s the proving point. They have what it takes to win again but they have some weak spots. They will have to rise to the occasion.

Ivory Coast-Ivory Coast (67): The Ivory Coast is another one of the eight newbies at this World Cup. The men have already made a name for themselves with three world Cup appearances and churning out big names like Didier Drogba and Yaya Toure. The women hope to follow in their footsteps. They’ve already won a bronze at last year’s CAF Women’s Championships. However it will be hard for me to predict how well they’ll do in the Group Stage since they’ve never played any of the other three countries before. Whatever happens will be a big learning experience for the team.

Norway-Norway (11): Norway is another country that could easily be dismissed as a ‘blast from the past’ in women’s football. Winners of the 1995 World Cup and having won the only Olympic gold not won by the U.S.: back in 2000. They were definitely top when women’s football was starting to emerge but they’ve faded since. Failing to qualify for the 2004 and 2012 Olympics and being ousted in the Group Stage at the last World Cup. However they have shown signs of making a comeback. They were finalists at the last Women’s Euro back in 2013. Here in the Group Stage, Germany looks to be the only team that can beat them and even they have the ability to surprise Germany. Canada is the stage where they seek to redeem their reputation.

Thailand-Thailand (29): Thailand is one country which has never landed a men’s team at the World Cup but has landed a women’s team. And for the first time this year. It’s hard for me to predict how well Thailand will do in the Group Stage. The only team they’ve played before was Norway and that was all the way back in 1988. However Thailand has been impressive in their play over the past year. Sure they’ve mostly played Asian teams but they’ve delivered some very impressive wins even though they’ve also lost to China, South Korea and the Netherlands. Like the Ivory Coast, Thailand will also have a learning experience here as this will be their first World Cup.

MY PREDICTION: Without a doubt, Germany will come out on top in this group. Norway will definitely be second. Third will be a hard guess as both Ivory Coast and Thailand lack international experience. I’ll go with Thailand because of their impressive play in friendlies these past few months.

STADIUM SPOTLIGHT:

Moncton Stadium-MONCTON: Moncton Stadium

Year Opened: 2010

World Cup Capacity: 20,000

World Cup Groups Hosting: B,E,F

Additional World Cup Matches Contested: Round of 16

Of all the six stadiums that are hosting this year’s World Cup, this is the only one that is not a host site for a CFL team. Moncton was included as a host city for one of two possible reasons: either to include participation of a maritime city in the Cup or because Toronto couldn’t be a host city as they’re busy preparing for the Pan American Games later this summer. Whatever the situation, it’s good to have Moncton. This stadium was originally planned to have 28,000 seats in hopes of attracting a CFL team. Instead it was reduced for 10,000 for the current needs of a local football team. It has hosted the World Junior Athletics Championships and three CFL Touchdown Atlantic Games where expansion to 20,000 proved to be successful.

And there’s my focus on Group B. Group C is next and it’s coming hopefully Tuesday.

2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup: Intro and Group A Focus

Canada will host the sixth edition of the FIFA Women's World Cup.

Canada will host the sixth edition of the FIFA Women’s World Cup.

The FIFA Women’s World Cup is coming and Canada is to be the host nation. This is to be an exciting time for both the country and the sport of women’s football.

This marks the first time Canada has ever hosted a World Cup. Canada has hosted past soccer tournaments for FIFA like the 1987 U-16 World Championships, 2002 U-19 Women’s World Championships, 2007 Men’s U-20 World Cup and last year’s U-20 Women’s World Cup. It’s up to the challenge. And a new challenge for the Women’s World Cup as this year the number of competing teams have been expanded from 16 to 24.

Throughout the next two weeks, I will be doing an analysis of each first round group and even making judgments on who I think will come out on top, come second and even come third. I don’t think I’ll predict the wildcard advancers as that will be too tricky. I’ll just limit to a third-place prediction. The number in brackets below is the FIFA Women’s Ranking for May 2015.

GROUP A:

Canada

Christine Sinclair will captain possibly Canada's greatest women's soccer team ever. They already have an Olympic bronze to their feats.

Christine Sinclair will captain possibly Canada’s greatest women’s soccer team ever. They already have an Olympic bronze to their feats.

-Canada (8): The Women’s World Cup is where Canada can show off its football prowess. Our men have only qualified for a single World Cup all the way back in 1986 which leaves us cheering for whoever during the World Cup; most of the time the country of our ethnic background. As for our women, the only World Cup they didn’t qualify for was the inaugural one back in 1991. Canadian women have an impressive resume of their own such as two CONCACAF Championships and an Olympic bronze medal from 2012. In fact their bronze was Canada’s favorite memory of those Olympics. Even I remember the excitement I felt and even referred to them as ‘our girls.’ Naturally so since soccer is probably the team sport in Canada with the most female participation. Even more than hockey. In fact this World Cup should make Canada proud as it is one nation that has one of the best instances female participation in soccer. Heck, our female stars like Christine Sinclair and Melissa Tancredi are bigger household names than our male stars!

However it’s not to say the women are looking for their own World Cup glory. This may be our sixth World Cup but Canada has only advanced past the Group Stage once back in 2003 where they finished fourth. In fact Canada lost all three of their Group Stage matches at the last World Cup back in 2011. Things changed after Canada recruited English coach John Herdman after he finished coaching New Zealand. After that, he helped guide Canada to gold at the Pan American Games and the bronze in London.

Canada’s chances to qualify to the knockout rounds are not only great but they also have good chances to come out on top. They beat China in their last game. They’ve won against New Zealand in six of their ten meetings and won against the Netherlands in ten of their eleven meetings. They also look good to win their Round of 16 match but things look to get tougher around the quarterfinals. Nevertheless this World Cup is anyone’s game. Women’s football has progressed to the point that there are now many equals at the top rather than one to rule them all. Canada could just provide the surprise.

China-China, People’s Republic of (16): Is it too soon in women’s football to call China a ‘blast from the past?’ It’s easy to dismiss it as one. The ‘Steel Roses’ have an Olympic silver medal from its first Olympic contest in 1996 and were runners-up to the Cup in 1999 where they lost to the US on penalty kicks. China hosted the World Cup twice during the very first in 1991 and in 2007. However they had a recent setback when they did not qualify for either the 2011 World Cup or the 2012 Olympics. Even their dominance of the AFC Asian Cup in the 90’s have faded and even finished out of the medals for the first time back in 2010. Nevertheless China are determined to comeback. They had good moments such as beating many top Asian teams last year and even winning against Argentina 6-0. However Argentina was their last win back in December of 2014. Right now it’s safe to say China’s in comeback mode but it will take a lot of effort for them to come back. A lot has changed in women’s football since their glory days of the 90’s.

NZL-New Zealand (17): How ironic is it that John Herdman’s team from the last World Cup is pitted against Canada in the Group Stage? This will be the fourth World Cup for the ‘Football Ferns’ however they have yet to establish themselves. They have not made it past the Group Stage in their three appearances. They haven’t even won a World Cup game yet. They did make it to the quarterfinals at the London Olympics showing improvement already. This World Cup looks to be one where the women want to show how much they’ve improved. They may have had recent losses to the bigger countries like the U.S., Japan, France and Norway but they have tied Brazil and Spain and even won against Denmark. This World Cup is another proving point for them. Also with the potential of three teams from each group advancing, chances look better than ever.

Netherlands Fixed-Netherlands (12): The Netherlands is one of eight teams competing in their very first World Cup here in Canada. The women, whom like the men are also called ‘Oranje,’ do not have a legacy but they have developed a reputation in recent years. In 2009, they qualified for their first-ever Women’s Euro and finished third. Even though they still lack the experience of the other three teams in Group A, they should look at this as a learning experience. It’s even possible the Netherlands will be a top challenger in the future. They could even cement their name here. They have never won against Canada and have more losses than wins against China and New Zealand but they have won their most recent meetings with both teams. Netherlands could pull an upset.

NOTE: This Women’s World Cup will act as a meet for European teams to earn berths for the 2016 Summer Olympics. The top three European teams here qualify for Rio.

MY GROUP PLAY PREDICTIONS:

This looks to be Canada’s best World Cup. The team looks in good shape, especially with Christine Sinclair as captain. I strongly believe they’ll come out on top. It’s harder to predict second or third. It can go to any of the other three. For this group, I predict China to be second and the Netherlands to be third.

STADIUM SPOTLIGHT:

Okay, just like I did with the men’s World Cup from last year, I will again do a Stadium Spotlight.  One good thing about this World Cup is you remember how during last year’s men’s World Cup the groups were ‘scrambled’ across stadiums during the group play? The women’s are more organized as the teams of all six groups will be allocated in the same stadium during their first two games. It’s only the third game for all teams where they’ll go to a different stadium. The other good thing about this World Cup is that no new stadiums were required to be built. Whatever new stadiums build or renovated were done so for the sake of its current purposes. Only two stadiums are less than five years old. And the first of the two will be focused in this blog:

WINNIPEG: Winnipeg StadiumWpg Stadium

Year Opened: 2013

World Cup Capacity: 40,000

World Cup Groups Hosting: A,B,C,D

This stadium was actually opened just two years ago. It was needed because the 50+ year old Winnipeg Stadium was long past its prime. Actually it was to be opened in 2012 but construction delays pushed opening to the following year. The stadium, which is actually anmes as the Investors Group Field, is home to the Canadian Football team Winnipeg Blue Bombers and will actually host the Grey Cup in November this year. The new stadium was also the stage for concerts by Taylor Swift, Paul McCartney, Beyonce and Jay-Z and have One Direction coming in July. They even held their first soccer match in May 2014: a women’s match of Canada vs. the U.S.

And there’s my first preview of the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup. Five more preview blogs to go before it all begins Saturday June 6th in Edmonton’s Commonwealth Stadium.