2019 Women's World Cup: Group A Preview
The Women's World Cup is almost here, and it's time to get to know the teams in the field.
Let's start with Group A. Headlined by France, the hosts, the group also contains Norway, South Korea and Nigeria. Per FanDuel Sportsbook, the French are the runaway favorites to win the group.
Which teams, players and matchups should you focus on in Group A?
The hosts are the overwhelming favorites to win the group. At -470 odds, France own an implied probability of 82.5% to win Group A. No other side carries such heavy odds to win their group, with the United States, at -390, the second-biggest group favorite. FIFA's World Rankings, albeit not a perfect barometer, have the French slotted fourth while Norway, the group's second-best team by the odds, sits 12th and South Korea is 14th.
France comes into the tourney having won eight of its last night friendlies, with the lone loss being a 1-0 defeat to Germany, one of the other favorites in this World Cup. In that span, the French picked up impressive 3-1 wins over the US and Japan, two of the best teams in the world. The combined score over those nine matches is 30-4 in favor of France. They didn't allow more than a single goal in any match, notching five clean sheets, and scored at least two goals in every match aside from the loss to Germany -- a team they defeated 3-0 a year ago in the SheBelieves Cup.
The core of this French squad is made up of players from club side Lyon, winners of the Champions League for the fourth season in succession earlier this month. That is true defensively as Wendie Renard and Griedge Mbock, Lyon teammates, are a strong central pairing.
In the 2019 calendar year, Kadidiatou Diani has paced the French in goals with five, and she netted 13 goals in 19 starts this past season with PSG, her club side. Valérie Gauvin has totaled four goals for the national team in 2019 while Delphine Cascarino has two assists and two goals.
All in all, France is one of the best sides in the world, and when you add to it the boost of playing in their home nation, it's easy to see why they are the team to beat in Group A. Hosting adds a lot of pressure, but it can be a huge advantage, too. In the men's event last summer, we saw a pedestrian Russian side defeat Spain in the Round of 16 and fall in penalties in the quarters to a Croatia side that went to the final.
This is France's group to lose.
Team of Intrigue
While Norway is just two spots ahead of South Korea in the FIFA World Rankings, they are +6500 to win the tourney, compared to +10000 for South Korea. Admittedly, +6500 isn't good by any stretch, obviously, but oddsmakers have them as the second-best team in this group, giving the Norwegians +650 odds to take Group A.
They will be sans Ada Hegerberg, the women's Ballon d’Or winner from 2018 who is boycotting the tourney, which is a massive blow for the Norwegians.
Still, Norway won each of their final six matches in World Cup qualification, including a 2-1 victory over a Netherlands team -- who won the 2017 Euros -- in their final match to qualify for the World Cup. It was a nice rebound after Norway tanked out of the 2017 Euros, failing to score a single goal in the group stage.
But since the win over the Netherlands, things have gone south as they've been pretty bad in recent friendlies, losing four of five. Three of those losses were to Japan, Canada, and Sweden -- all powers so not a huge deal -- but their most recent friendly was a lackluster 1-0 defeat to a New Zealand side installed at +10000 to win it all this summer.
In 2019, Isabell Herlovsen is the lone Norway player with multiple goals in friendlies, scoring twice, while Guro Reiten has racked up two assists. Herlovsen, who is tasked with stepping into the shoes of Hegerberg, is the key player to watch for Norway. She netted the winner in the aforementioned match against the Netherlands, and if she has a good tourney, Norway may be able to surprise some people even without its best player.
Amandine Henry, France
Henry is France's new captain, and she has the ability to boss the game from midfield for Les Bleues. She netted one of the goals of the tourney four years ago, and her superb all-around game -- passing, work rate, control, dribbling, and tackling -- was on full display in France's 3-1 friendly win over the US.
Any team going up against France will have to figure out how to cope with Henry, the deep-lying disruptor and another member of this French side who stars for Lyon in club play.
Match In Focus
Norway vs. South Korea -- June 17th
Operating under the assumption France tops the group, this match may decide who finishes second.
As we laid out earlier, Norway has to play sans Hegerberg, its best player, but they've picked up some good results without her. They aren't exactly in the best form right now, though, losing four of their past five friendlies.
South Korea is in the same boat in terms of form, winning just twice in its last six matches across all competitions. It's a good attacking side -- 11 goals over their past five outings -- but one that can be weak in defense, giving up four goals to Australia in the Cup of Nations and three to Iceland in a recent friendly.
With these two set to tangle in the final round of group play, it should make for an intense, pressure-packed matchup.
What Lies Ahead
In the Round of 16, the Group A winners will take on a third-place team from Group C, D or E. Assuming France wins the group, they'd likely be big favorites in the Round of 16, and looming after that is a possible matchup with the Group F winner, likely to be the US, in the quarterfinals. A France-US quarterfinal showdown would have the potential to be the match of the tourney.
The Group A runner-up will see the Group C runner-up, and then in the quarters, they'd likely play the Group D winner, probably England or Japan.