Sportswriter Yashas Mudumbai previews the biggest FIFA Women’s World Cup yet.
The countdown to the opening day of the Women’s World Cup on June 7 is reaching fever pitch and, thanks to coverage unlike ever seen before, it looks to be the biggest and best ever.
Here is everything you need to know in anticipation to the tournament in France.
The 24 teams that qualified for the World Cup have been divided into six groups of four. The top two teams from each group will qualify for the last-16, along with the four best third-placed teams joining them.
Group AEmbed from Getty Images
Group A sees the hosts take on South Korea, Norway and Nigeria. France will hope they can rekindle their showing in the SheBelieves Cup of 2017, where they were victorious, and they have shown great form recently by losing just one match since March 1 2018.
They will hope to use the home support to their advantage instead of crumbling under the pressure.
Out of South Korea, Norway and Nigeria, Norway will be the most favoured to join France in the knockout stage because of their pedigree in previous tournaments, including winning the World Cup in 1995.
They also won the 2019 invitational Algarve Cup back in March.
But Nigeria won the Africa Cup of Nations in 2018 and South Korea were runners up in the 2019 Cup of Nations, so this group is sure to be keenly contested.Embed from Getty Images
7 June 2019 20:00 – France v South Korea
8 June 2019 20:00 – Norway v Nigeria
12 June 2019 14:00 – Nigeria v South Korea
12 June 2019 20:00 – France v Norway
17 June 2019 20:00 – Nigeria v France
17 June 2019 20:00 – South Korea v Norway
Group BEmbed from Getty Images
This group features a giant of the world game with huge pedigree in the form of Germany.
Since winning two consecutive World Cups in 2003 and 2007, Germany have not reached the final in the last two editions.
They won the gold medal at the Olympics in Rio in 2016 but again underperformed at the European Championships two years ago, falling at the quarter final stage after winning six consecutive championships.
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Despite seeming to lose their competitive edge, they have been unbeaten for more than a year and will expect nothing less than topping the group.
South Africa will be taking part in the World Cup for the first time in their history while Spain will be participating in only their second after the 2015 World Cup.
For that reason, the quarter finalists from four years ago in China may be the best bets to join the Germans in the knockout stages directly.
8 June 2019 14:00 – Germany v China
8 June 2019 17:00 – Spain v South Africa
12 June 2019 17:00 – Germany v Spain
13 June 2019 20:00 – South Africa v China
17 June 2019 17:00 – China v Spain
17 June 2019 17:00 – South Africa v Germany
Group CEmbed from Getty Images
This may be one of the most closely contested groups in the World Cup in terms of who comes top of the group.
Jamaica have qualified for the tournament for the first time ever, while Italy will take part in the World Cup again after 20 years so they have no quantifiable expectations other than to simply enjoy the experience.
The women from Brazil have always had the skill and talent to win the tournament, but shockingly, they have not won a single match since 29 July 2018.
They lost all three of their matches at the SheBelieves Cup and there are serious question marks over how they will perform in June.
Meanwhile, Australia have been in much better form than their Brazilian counterparts and despite losing their last match before the World Cup to the USA, they will be very confident they can top the group.Embed from Getty Images
9 June 2019 12:00 – Australia v Italy
9 June 2019 14:30 – Brazil v Jamaica
13 June 2019 17:00 – Australia v Brazil
14 June 2019 17:00 – Jamaica v Italy
18 June 2019 20:00 – Jamaica v Australia
18 June 2019 20:00 – Italy v Brazil
Group DEmbed from Getty Images
This is the group everyone in this nation will have their eyes fixed on. England’s fantastic performance in the SheBelieves Cup, in which they beat fellow group members Japan 3-0, must give them immense motivation to improve on their semi-final appearance from four years ago.
But Japan have the records in their favour, with them winning in 2011 and reaching the final in 2015.
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Whether a different Japan will show up in the tournament compared to the one England faced in Florida is still to be seen but they remain a formidable test for Phil Neville’s team.
Scotland have made their first World Cup finals ever and Argentina have again qualified after 12 years, but England and Japan will be expected to be the two teams who reach the last-16 directly.Embed from Getty Images
9 June 2019 17:00 – England v Scotland
10 June 2019 17:00 – Argentina v Japan
14 June 2019 14:00 – Japan v Scotland
14 June 2019 20:00 – England v Argentina
19 June 2019 20:00 – Japan v England
19 June 2019 20:00 – Scotland v Argentina
Group EEmbed from Getty Images
This group has a clear favourite in the form of Canada and, after they beat England away from home this month, the 2015 World Cup hosts have continued their unbeaten run in 2019.
Canada have had two standout World Cups in their history. They made the semi-finals in 2003 and made the quarter-finals at home four years ago but, with their current form, they will believe they deserve to do better in France this time around.
Both Cameroon and the Netherlands made the last-16 in Canada and will in all likelihood battle it out for the second automatic qualification spot because New Zealand have not got past the group stage in the four World Cup tournaments they have participated in.
But let’s also not forget the talent the Dutch have in their ranks after they won the European Championships in 2017.Embed from Getty Images
10 June 2019 20:00 – Canada v Cameroon
11 June 2019 14:00 – New Zealand v Netherlands
15 June 2019 14:00 – Netherlands v Cameroon
15 June 2019 20:00 – Canada v New Zealand
20 June 2019 17:00 – Cameroon v New Zealand
20 June 2019 17:00 – Netherlands v Canada
Group FEmbed from Getty Images
The defending champions lead the final group of the World Cup and the USA have recovered nicely from opening the year with a 3-1 defeat to France in Le Havre.
The two draws they had against England and Japan in the SheBelieves Cup will cast some doubts in the three-time winners of the World Cup but in this group, anything less than gaining top spot will be a real surprise.
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Sweden, like the USA, have had three World Cups in their history in which they have performed very admirably, getting two third-place finishes and a runner-up position in 2003.
They will be the favourites to qualify for the last-16 from the group as Chile are playing their first tournament at this level and Thailand will be playing their second.Embed from Getty Images
11 June 2019 17:00 – Chile v Sweden
11 June 2019 20:00 – USA v Thailand
16 June 2019 14:00 – Sweden v Thailand
16 June 2019 17:00 – USA v Chile
20 June 2019 20:00 – Sweden v USA
20 June 2019 20:00 – Thailand v Chile
Knock-out round datesEmbed from Getty Images
The last-16 stage will take place between June 22 and 25, while the quarter-finals will be held during June 27 and 29.
The last four will take place on July 2 and 3 before a third-place playoff match on Saturday July 6.
The final of the World Cup will be held at the Stade de Lyon a day later to conclude a month of what will most definitely be a festival of football.
VenuesEmbed from Getty Images
Nine stadiums across the north and south of France will host games during the tournament.
The Parc des Princes in Paris, Parc Olympique in Lyon and the Allianz Riviera in Nice were stadiums that held games during the men’s European Championship in 2016 and will do so for the Women’s World Cup this time around.
The opening encounter between France and South Korea will take place in the 48,583 capacity Parc des Princes, while the 59,186 capacity Parc Olympique will hold the semi-finals and final of the tournament.
Parc Olympique, Lyon – 59,186Embed from Getty Images
Parc des Princes, Paris – 48,583Embed from Getty Images
Allianz Riviera, Nice – 35,624Embed from Getty Images
Stade de la Mosson, Montpellier – 32,900Embed from Getty Images
Roazhon Park, Rennes – 29,164Embed from Getty Images
Stade Océane, Le Havre – 25,178Embed from Getty Images
Stade du Hainaut, Valenciennes – 25,172Embed from Getty Images
Stade Auguste-Delaune, Reims – 21,127Embed from Getty Images
Stade des Alpes, Grenoble – 20,068Embed from Getty Images
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