Women's World Cup: Profiles of Groups D, E and F

Peter BERLIN
AFP

Paris (AFP) - The United States have dominated women's football for two decades, and although the team arrives in France at war with their national federation, there is little doubt they are favourites.

The draw has handed the Americans a favourable group and the format gives strong teams time to find their feet.

The first round, with six four-team groups, will eliminate just eight teams.

The top two finishers in each group will advance along with four best third-place teams.

In the second part of our group-by-group analysis AFP looks at the contenders in groups D, E and F.

Group D

England (No. 3), Argentina (No. 37), Scotland (No. 20), Japan (No. 7)

England were semifinalists in Canada four years ago and in the Euros in 2017. That tournament was followed by the removal of coach Mark Sampson for "inappropriate and unacceptable" conduct but his successor, Phil Neville has maintained the momentum.

Despite winning 59 caps for England, Neville never played in a World Cup but he is confident his squad can do well and exploit the goodwill at home.

"We have nothing to fear," Neville said. "The crowd and media are behind us, we are going into a major tournament as the best-prepared team."

Japan followed an unexpected victory in 2011 with Olympic silver in 2014 and a runners-up spot in the 2015 World Cup, when they eliminated England in the semis.

A golden generation may have been replaced by a host of players promoted from the under-23s with an eye on the Tokyo Olympic tournament next year, but past results suggest the Japanese are over-achievers.

The Scots have qualified for the first time.

"You can't just go to a World Cup and say you're just there to enjoy it," coach Shelley Kerr told the BBC. "Our priority is getting out of the group stage."

The 37-year-old midfielder Mariela Coronel, who played in 2003 but missed Argentina's disastrous 2007 appearance, can set a record for the longest gap between World Cups.

Key match: England v Scotland. England may want revenge against Japan but Scotland are their oldest footballing enemy and the match on the Riviera is guaranteed a big TV audience in the UK.

Group E

Canada (No. 5), New Zealand (No. 19), Cameroon (No. 46), Netherlands (No. 8)

Canada have been to the last six World Cups without ever making the last four.

Christine Sinclair has 282 caps, more than the entire Jamaican squad. She also has 180 international goals, second only to former US star Abby Wambach, and the 35-year-old Sinclair is Canada's penalty taker.

Cameroon are another team looking to a 35-year-old goalscorer, Madeleine Ngono, who scored the goal that earned them a place in the second round on their debut in 2015.

The Dutch also made their debut in 2015 and also reached the round of 16, which lit the orange touchpaper. In 2017, the Dutch won the Euros. Star striker Vivianne Miedema was named this season's players' player of the year in England after leading Arsenal to the league title.

New Zealand have played in the last four World Cups without winning a game. But the Football Ferns are in the world top 20 and should be eyeing a second-round spot.

Their recent history is dominated by a bullying scandal and harassment scandal that provoked a player revolt to force a reluctant national federation to investigate coach Andreas Heraf.

"As horrible as that situation was, that's a silver lining we can take from it," said midfielder Sarah Gregorious. "It really highlighted that you can't get away with that any more."

Key match: Netherlands v Canada. An early test for two teams who could be title dark horse.

Group F

United States (No. 1), Sweden (No. 9), Thailand (No. 34), Chile (No. 39)

For the US anything other than victory is a failure.

"When you step into a team, when I took over, that was ranked number one in the world you realise that there is zero margin for error," coach Jill Ellis said when she announced her squad.

Ellis said victory was what matters.

"And if we win in the 80th minute, I'm good with that."

The US are the only team to be able to draw all their players from their domestic league and their strength in depth is terrifying.

This is the fifth straight World Cup that Sweden have been drawn in the same group as the USA. The Swedes also eliminated the US on penalties in the quarterfinals at the Rio Olympics.

On their World Cup debut four years ago, Thailand lost heavily twice but did beat Ivory Coast. One victory could see them into the second round.

Chile's woman to watch, though you will have to look hard, is 1.48m (4ft 10ins) forward Javiera Grez, the shortest player in the tournament.

Key match: USA v Sweden In what looks a comfortable group this match has an edge of revenge for the loss in Rio that ended USA's run of three consecutive Olympic gold.

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