It was June 30th, 2015, an otherwise ordinary summer’s day, when USWNT keeper Hope Solo performed a Jedi mind-trick in a FIFA Women’s World Cup Semifinal in Montreal.
Germany had been granted a penalty kick in the 59th minute of a scoreless deadlock. Given a short, uncontested shot against a goalkeeper guarding a net 8 yards wide and 8 feet high, the average striker converts penalty kicks almost 75% of the time in FIFA competition.
Célia Šašić walked across the pitch to the front of the U.S. goal. She was not an average striker. The then-27 year-old had already scored a pair of penalty-kick goals in the World Cup and 6 overall goals in the event.
Solo had been embroiled in a domestic violence scandal, and had tested the faith of teammates in public and private. But on the fateful day in Quebec, she was nothing less than All-World.
Prior to the penalty kick, Solo began stalking around the pitch, barking at officials and pointing out opposing players who could interfere with her line of vision. At one point she left the goal-mouth entirely (“I wanted her to see how big the net looked without me in it,” Solo would write later. “Then for her to see how small it looked after that.”) Though the odds of a save were maybe 1-in-10, the keeper’s body English conveyed a pithy message to the 51,000-plus in attendance, millions watching on television, and of course, most importantly, Célia Šašić:
Ain’t no thang.
Šašić nervously sprinted to the ball and jerked it wide-left, clutching her head in disbelief. Solo’s family would later joke that she had used “The Force” to keep the ball out of the net.
Soon, American star Carli Lloyd converted a penalty attempt of her own, and the USWNT upset the Germans 2-0 before claiming another World Cup title in a 5-2 romp over Japan.
No one who had followed the amazing journey of the United States Women’s National Team expected anything less but the magic they saw on the pitch that week. But promoters had to be surprised when seeing the TV ratings. The US-Japan final drew a fantastic 15.2 rating in the United States, making it the highest-rated soccer match in American history.
More Americans viewed the 2015 Women’s World Cup than the 2015 NBA Finals. Of course, they had every reason to be enthusiastic about their side’s accomplishments. The USWNT has won 2 WWC tournaments in a row and will be gunning for a trifecta in France this summer…in front of a local audience that recently cheered Les Bleus to a gold medal in Russia.
Women’s World Cup: Consensus Odds and a Schedule (and Little Else)
I try to be the most understanding guy in the world when it comes to sports betting sites skipping over competitions entirely or posting scant odds at the last minute. The casino industry is a big business, and its executives and odds-managers have the prerogative to offer or rescind any gambling market at any time. I know a lot about sportsbooks, but there’s still a lot I don’t know. Who can judge?
But it’s kind of inexplicable that there aren’t more futures odds already posted for an event as popular as the Women’s World Cup. The teams are already 100% qualified and scheduled for group play. There’s no kind of traditional explanation for missing odds that would make sense.
People can already wager on potential Men’s World Cup winners in 2022 – for a highly-controversial tournament to be held in the Middle East. It’s much harder for soccer gamblers to find futures markets on the distaff side despite France ’19 approaching quickly on the calendar.
Futures betting for the WWC will be available at almost every sportsbook soon, but as usual we’ll just begin by working with what we have. The consensus London odds are available, and we can get a pretty fair picture of where the top contending nations will rank in the pecking order:
France is an interesting 3.5-to-1 team, considering that the host nation did not make it past the quarterfinals in Canada 4 years ago. There’s also an obvious gap between the top 3 potential picks and Japan-and-company at 9-to-1 or longer lines.
Let’s take a quick look at where each of the favorites stand personnel and momentum-wise as training begins in earnest for the kickoff in Europe on June 7th.
United States ((+250) Odds-to-Win 2019 Women’s World Cup)
Nothing lasts forever. The cast of characters Yankee viewers are used to cheering-on in FIFA competition are starting to age more dramatically, and the new faces could be crucial in finding the mark (or not) for the USWNT in their epic quest for a 3-peat.
Supporters can expect Lloyd’s role to be diminished, for instance, while youngsters like Mallory Pugh and Julie Ertz (sister of NFL tight end Zach Ertz) take commanding roles at forward and in midfield respectively. The inimitable Alex Morgan is still fresh-legged at 29 years old, while Megan Rapinoe remains a fiery veteran leader who can excel in midfield or on the wing. Morgan scored 18 goals for the United States in international battles in 2018, while Rapinoe posted a terrific 12 assists for the year.
Skipper Jill Ellis enters the World Cup under scrutiny after some poor outings in lesser international competitions. She’ll be working with a brand new World Cup goalkeeper in Alyssa Naeher.
Naeher did not allow a single international goal in the latter half of 2018 following a 4-1 Tournament of Nations win over Brazil last summer.
Home-field advantage is important in any sport. Or make that “home turf” or “home pitch” advantage, but the momentum-boost of an adoring throng is the same in any lingo.
France’s biggest source of optimism for the 2019 WWC isn’t the fact that the “Lady Bleus” are hosting the tournament, but that the squad beat the USWNT 3-1 in a friendly in January.
Almost all of the women on the squad play on distaff versions of celebrated French club organizations. Gaëtane Thiney is a forward-striker from Paris Football Club, while vice-captain Eugénie Le Sommer has scored more than 70 goals in 153 caps for Lyon. 20-year-old Marie-Antoinette Katoto, already the winner of the 2019 Women’s World Cup All-Name Award, scored the winner against the Yanks.
Germany has suffered more disappointments in major tournaments than any other team at the top of the list of 2019 Women’s World Cup contenders. The Germans not only lost painfully in the 2015 tournament (in the bronze medal game as well as the semis) but lost in the quarterfinals of Euro 2017.
Lea Schiller is poised to emerge as one of the young stars of this tournament, having scored 6 goals during the qualification cycle. As for Šašić, she’s already retired at age 30. 27-year-old striker Alexandra Popp will be called-upon to lead the squad’s attack in France alongside captain Dzsenifer Marozsán.
Japan embodies consistency and high-level performance at the Women’s World Cup. The Japan Women’s National Team won the WWC in 2011, finished with silver medals in Canada, and recently won an Asian Cup…something that the (men’s) Japan National Team was unable to do in UAE this year.
So why the relatively-long odds? The Japanese side is in Group D, where it will be in competition with England for the top spot. The squads met in the semifinal in 2015, with Japan winning one of the most dramatic matches in recent Women’s World Cup history.
Moreover Group D has the best average world ranking of any group in the tournament, making it a difficult road for everyone involved.
As with UEFA Champions League futures, bookmakers are looking at schedules as much as they’re looking at talent.
There is a shortage of dominant strikers and attackers on the current Japanese squad. Recent call-up Mana Iwabuchi has the best goals-to-caps ratio (20 goals in 61 appearances) of anyone who has played more than 50 matches with the team.
The Lady Orange are perhaps the team which has ascended the most from the 2015 Women’s World Cup to now. Netherlands won the 2017 European championship in dominant fashion, and snagged the final spot out of Europe for this tournament by beating Switzerland in the playoff round.
Support for the Netherlands in France could be a huge factor as the squad tends to travel well. The first leg of the playoff clash with Switzerland saw a record for attendance in the European women’s playoffs. But young attacker Vivianne Miedema could score goals in a stadium full of boo-birds (or whistlers, since we’re dealing with Europe) having scored 50+ goals in just 66 national team appearances.
England suffered perhaps the most heartbreaking loss in recent World Cup history in 2015. Tied at 1-1 with time running out in the match with Japan, England defender Laura Bassett knocked a ball toward her own goal which bounced in off the crossbar.
Bassett still anchors a stingy defense for the English. Perhaps long-suffering British supporters are tired of losing in the late rounds in international tournaments, but it beats losing in the early rounds…and it’s unlikely that will happen to the U.K. at the WWC.
Much like the United States, Spain has been embroiled in controversy over the women’s team not being allocated nearly as many resources as the men’s side. But Spain still looks like a threat in 2019 in an astounding turnaround.
Skipper Jorge Vilda deserves a lot of the credit for the squad’s recent success, as does talented defender Irene Paredes. The standout plays her club football for Paris Saint-Germain, so she has ample experience playing and winning in France.
Brazil is synonymous with football success, but the South American giants are in danger of falling out of the list of contenders to win a WWC. A lot of that has to do with the further aging of superstar forward Marta, for whom this may be the last World Cup in a historic career.
Marta has 110 international goals as a member of the Brazilian national team. Without Brazil building up suitable fresh feet to replace her scoring touch, however, the France tournament could be the last stand for Brazil as a top women’s team for the foreseeable future.
2019 Women’s World Cup: Prediction and Early Lean
There are many intriguing picks among the 9-to-1 and longer-odds qualifiers. Japan, for instance, could turn into a splendid pick with an excellent chance to reach the final in Paris. I’m not “tripping” over the Lady Samurai Blue’s group draw, because to win a World Cup you have to play better than everybody.
But the Yankee women have a whole lot going for them…as usual.
Morgan is still one of the best footballers in the world of either gender. The latest goalkeeper looks absolutely amazing, and the backline deserves equal credit for the long shut-out streaks that the team is capable of. Rapinoe isn’t too old to rock and roll.
Plus, the USWNT has proven over time that high-pressure circumstances help the squad play even better instead of the nerves having any kind of adverse effect. That’s a tremendous competitive weapon when going for yet another unprecedented feat in 2019.
Forget the whispers about the skipper. Team USA is deeper and better-trained than any other national women’s outfit you want to mention. The Yanks should be the prohibitive favorites instead of a (+250) wager…which offers the best value on the futures board.