There’s one category of accomplishment – other than sheer crowd size and TV numbers – in which FIFA stands alone among the sports federations of the world.
What would that be? Oh, I don’t know – pant, pant – maybe the constant stream of high-profile international drama which causes bloggers (at least bloggers in charge of covering pretty much all of it) to use more hyphens and onomatopoeia than Emily -dash- Dickinson.
It feels like only yesterday when my job was to handicap the World Cup final in Russia, an easy job thanks to Les Bleus’ incredible speed at forward and in midfield. Thus followed a packed 2018-19 season of club matches and UEFA wars, but look out! As soon as the Premier League is finished wrapping up, why, there’s FIFA again to remind us who’s really the boss.
The World U20s have already begun, casting Team USA in a not-unfamiliar role as promising-but-shaky and unpredictable.
There’s another worldwide FIFA event beginning in France on June 7th, however. The defending champions from the United States who will patrol the pitch in Paris have been described in many ways, “shaky” not being one of them.
And the only “unpredictable” thing about the USWNT is never knowing how they’ll thrill us next.
The Women’s World Cup was a fantastic idea when it began in 1991, but the gala has grown beyond anything FIFA could have anticipated. Just the wars between Japan, England, the USA and China over the past several cycles have been worth the price of lifetime admission.
Bovada Sportsbook and other soccer betting sites are offering Group Stage futures odds on the 6 round-robin quartets vying for placement in the knock-out phase in France. As usual, the USWNT is a strong favorite to prevail over 3 early fixtures and win its group, in this case Group F.
But the Stars & Stripes are not the biggest favorite to waltz in the first 270+ minutes of action.
Who is? You’ll need to scroll to find out, since we’re jumping into a full preview of France ’19 with Group F and Old Glory.
2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup: Group Futures Odds and Team Previews
United States ((-1000) Odds-to-Win Group F at Bovada Sportsbook)
An overall favorite to defend gold, the United States has never finished a Women’s World Cup outside of the top 3 teams. A rivalry with Japan has decided the fate of the squad in the last 2 World Cups with the Japanese prevailing in 2011 and Team USA winning easily in ’15 following Hope Solo’s epic “Jedi Mind Trick” against Germany’s star forward in the semifinal.
"When that PK didn't go in, I said to myself, 'we're going to win the World Cup.'"
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) May 25, 2019
After suffering a daunting loss to Sweden in the 2016 Olympics, skipper Jill Ellis has scrapped the side’s traditional 4-2-3-1 formation to focus on attacking opponents without exposing the defense too often. She has experimented with a 4-4-2, 4-3-3, and other tactics to maximize the USWNT’s talent.
But I’m not sure Vegas handicappers are paying quite as much attention to the minutiae of World Cup strategizing as the simple star-power remaining on the American roster.
Alex Morgan seems like she’s been around forever, and maybe she has, but she’s still in her prime at age 29. The USWNT striker and co-captain was brilliant at the 2018 CONCACAF Women’s Championship with 7 goals scored, and has notched 4 more tallies in friendlies leading into the WWC.
Carli Lloyd is also still a force after nearly 300 matches with the national team, scoring a hat trick against Panama in 2018.
A pair of lesser-known names could prove just as effective on the attack over the next month. Crystal Dunn is a 26-year-old winger who has played exceptionally well with the NWSL club North Carolina Courage, with 12 goals in 25 appearances. Tobin Heath has overcome ankle surgery to shine in midfield over the last year, producing 7 goals and 6 assists while only appearing in 10 matches in 2018.
There are only 2 things that could derail the Americans from a strong showing in Group play – and only 1 of them is a matter of soccer tactics.
The squad will head to the World Cup still fighting for equal payment alongside the USWNT’s male (and often losing) counterparts. The roster is seeking legal action against the U.S. Soccer Federation, not only attempting to improve its wages but to play on safer surfaces more often.
But supporters of the women know that’s a battle which has been going on for years upon end. It might have been a distraction if the World Cup began the day that the lawsuit was filed, but Morgan and the USWNT are used to having it over their heads by now.
Of greater concern is how the backline and goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher will stand up when the going gets rough in Paris, having had lapses in friendlies despite the coach’s efforts to stabilize the squad’s defensive fortress vs counter-attacks.
A rematch with Olympic-nemesis Team Sweden looms on June 20th in the round-robin.
Peter Gerhardsson is managing his maiden Women’s World Cup for Tre-Kronor, and the Swedes go into Group F as decided underdogs despite owning Olympic bragging rights in the rivalry. If the USWNT backline is the Yanks’ only potential weakness, Sweden could help make up for it by bringing a dose of world-class defense to the opening matches.
The 9th-ranked FIFA squad is a stout defensive unit. Nilla Fischer is as rock-solid of a veteran as you’ll find patrolling the box for any distaff side, and is reaching close to 200 appearances with her national team. Caroline Seger is a savvy midfielder with a treasure trove of experience who will be appearing in her 4th World Cup in 2019.
Sweden struggles to mount the kind of offense that the United States is capable of, however, and will hope to engage Naeher in a keeper’s duel with the inestimable Hedvig Lindahl.
38th-ranked Chile will relish the opportunity of competing in the team’s first major international tournament.
I’m looking forward to watching Christiane Endler, the Paris-Saint Germain goalkeeper who is widely regarded as a superb penalty-kick blocker. Endler knows how to steal matches. That skill could come in handy if Las Chicas de Rojo decide to play for scoreless draws and penalty kicks, as FIFA underdogs often do.
Also keep an eye out for Yanara Aedo, a versatile player who scored 3 goals at the 2018 Copa América Femenina to lift Chile into the World Cup.
Thailand is ranked much higher on the FIFA totem pole than Chile. Nuengrutai Srathongvian – all 22 letters of him – has returned to coach after an absence. Suchawadee Nildhamrong has been a standout for the California Golden Bears. The nation sent a team to the World Cup in Canada in 2015.
So why is the side that has reached the event before garnering such a longer Group Stage betting line than the out-of-nowhere Chileans?
Probably because Thailand has been losing matches, falling to Nigeria and Italy in friendlies on the path to the World Cup.
- Group F Winner Pick: Sweden (1 betting unit)
France 2019: Group A Preview and Vegas Lines
France ((-1200) Odds-to-Win Group A)
Bookmakers don’t think France is necessarily a lock to defeat the USA in an elimination match, giving the French a (+350) line to lift the trophy at home against just 3-to-1 for the Americans. But France is one of the prohibitive favorites to win its round-robin group, making it important to find out if host-fever or good old common sense is driving the futures betting market.
Despite a roster stacked with talent from Ligue 1 and a dominant Lyon squad, the France National Women’s Team has underperformed in recent memory. The 2015 World Cup ended with a disappointing quarterfinal defeat to Germany, while exits in the same stage of a pair of Euro Cups have resulted in an extremely hungry squad.
Head coach Corinne Diacre has tweaked the roster to find the right chemistry. A 3-1 victory over the USWNT, ending a 28-game undefeated streak for the Americans, is a confidence booster. France has a stout defensive presence and a hard-working midfield unit but will have to overcome inconsistency from forwards to improve on a best-ever 4th-place finish in 2011.
Wendie Renard captains club-football powerhouse Lyon from the center-back position, and is often considered the best defender in women’s football. Renard’s pro teammate Eugénie Le Sommer is inching closer to becoming France’s all-time female goal scorer, making her a nice match with fellow midfield star Amandine Henry.
But Diacre has snubbed the top goal scorer in women’s Ligue 1, Marie-Antoinette Katoto. The head-scratching decision to not include Katoto is reportedly due to a spat that left players and coaches feeling uncomfortable.
In my opinion, however, the best coaches rarely let things get to a breaking point with a young superstar to begin with, and Diacre’s impetuous move could be knocked by French fans in the same way that Germany was harshly criticized for not welcoming Leroy Sané to the World Cup squad in Russia.
Norway looks to bounce back strong from a disappointing 2017 Euro Cup.
Isabell Herlovsen is the squad’s most lethal scoring threat, a striker who has notched over 50 goals in her stellar international career.
South Korea (+1400)
The 14th-ranked South Korea squad has made tremendous strides following a knock-out stage appearance in 2015. Head coach Yoon Deok-yeo almost always plays a striker up front, and the Koreans are not one of those “gritty, straight-ahead” national-team underdogs we’re so used to seeing.
Ji So-yun is incredibly gifted midfielder for Chelsea, in many ways the heart and soul of the team. Ji has recently become the country’s all-time leading distaff goal scorer. Meanwhile, Cho So-hyun of West Ham United is a versatile midfielder who could help the squad against favored France and Norway.
The Super Falcons continue to dominate Africa, taking home 9 out of 11 Women’s Africa Cup of Nations with a high-paced attack.
Asisat Oshoala is a lightning quick 24-year old who spent the latter half of the season with Barcelona. But she’s prone to lapses on the pitch, and the squad’s lack of world-class defending could be a liability in Group A.
- Group A Winner Pick: South Korea (1 betting unit)
FIFA Women’s World Cup: Group B Outlook
Germany ((-400) Odds-to-Win Group B
After winning back to back Women’s World Cups in 2003 and 2007, the German squad suffered a surprising quarterfinal defeat to Japan as host nation in 2011 before bouncing-back with a 4th-place finish in 2015.
In similar see-saw fashion, Germany won gold at the 2016 Olympics but lost in the quarterfinals of the 2017 Euro Cup. The team is still adjusting to new skipper Martina Voss-Tecklenburg who has only coached the team through 4 friendlies…but her players have responded and the final scores look like good news to me.
Voss-Tecklenburg has used her short time as manager to divvy-up different formations but will likely settle for a 4-2-3-1 approach. The roster appears fierce on the attack with an imposing defense.
Alexandra Popp is a leading contender to win Golden Boot at the tournament. The Wolfsburg star has tallied over 40 goals on the international stage. Team captain Dzsenifer Marozsán is a terrific midfielder who can make plays all over the pitch.
Almuth Schult is regarded as one of the top goalies in the world, but has battled measles in recent weeks and hasn’t played to her usual standards.
The Spanish squad hopes for a better performance in only its 2nd World Cup in team history. Head coach Jorge Vilda took over the squad after a tumultuous 2015 World Cup campaign.
Vilda can rely on Jennifer Hermoso, a striker who had a brilliant debut season for Atlético Madrid, scoring over 20 goals. Vicky Losada from Barcelona is also a talented offensive force who scored Spain’s first Women’s World Cup goal in 2015.
How the mighty have fallen. A 15th-ranked Team China looks to recapture the glory of the 1990s.
Wang Shuang of Paris Saint-Germain might make you think of the 1980s, but the forward is the overwhelming star of the team who has scored nearly 30 international goals in her career. She made her maiden appearance on the international stage for the U-17 squad at age 12.
Meanwhile, teammate Wang Shanshan can play forward, midfield, or defense, and led the 2018 Asian Games with 12 goals.
South Africa (+10000)
“Banyana Banyana” made a remarkable run to qualify for a maiden World Cup, but enters the tournament on a 9-match losing skid.
Watch for Thembi Kgatlana, Women’s Footballer of the Year in Africa, and 20-year-old midfielder Linda Mothalo formerly of the Houston Dash.
- Group B Winner Pick: Spain (2 betting units)
FIFA Women’s World Cup: Group C Futures Odds
Australia ((-105) Odds-to-Win Group C)
New skipper Ante Milicic has taken over the Matildas just as the team can look to find an improvement over multiple Q-final losses in previous Women’s World Cups.
6th-ranked Australia took the defending champ USWNT to the wire before falling short 5-3 in an April friendly. That’s a few goals allowed, but it’s impressive to score 3 on the Americans.
Milicic has bolstered the attack of the Matildas by utilizing a high pressing 4-2-4. The relentless system uses attacking midfielders to push for possession and dictate tempo, but it can leave defenders in a bad way…as Premier League gamblers know from betting on Southampton.
Sam Kerr is the team captain and will enter her 3rd World Cup after becoming the NWSL’s all-time leading goal scorer in 2018.
Lisa De Vanna will also be present in the flesh. She’s the side’s top goal scorer and a 34-year-old veteran presence. Not to commit the too-common sin of comparing women’s teams endlessly to men’s teams, but the Socceroos have been in the same boat recently with aging vets providing the scoring punch.
The Brazilian squad enters the 2019 World Cup in chaos after a disappointing exit in 2015. The controversial decision to rehire manager Vadão has resulted in an embarrassing 9-match losing streak.
It’s not as if there’s no material for the skipper to work with. Marta is one of the greatest goal scorers of her generation, earning FIFA World Player of the Year on 6 occasions.
Celebrated teammate Cristiane is also nearing 90 goals in her international career. She was a member of the Olympic silver-medal teams in 2004 and 2008 and played for the 2007 World Cup squad that finished runner-up.
But it takes a cohesive team effort to finish 1st, 2nd, or 3rd, and I can’t fathom why Brazil’s odds are so short in Group C.
An upstart Italian squad had a fantastic performance in qualifiers, losing only a single match en route to making the World Cup for the first time since 1999.
Barbara Bonansea is a star at Juventus, but her club teammate Cristiana Girelli is equally crucial to the recent success of the Italians, notching nearly 30 goals for the national squad since being called up in 2013.
Jamaica has made history by becoming the only Caribbean team to ever earn a spot in the World Cup, but the team is still locked in a fierce battle to raise funding to remain active. At least it appears as though they’ll make it to France, and there’s nothing like a FIFA World Cup to raise awareness.
Look for Khadija Shaw, a young Jamaican forward who has already scored more than 30 international goals.
- Group C Winner Pick: Italy (1 betting unit)
Group D in France: Betting Lines and Team Previews
England ((-200) Odds-to-Win Group D)
The English women’s team is coming off its best World Cup performance ever, finishing with bronze medals in 2015. The side was able to build some momentum in March by winning the SheBelieves Cup despite drawing into a match-up with the United States.
Head coach Phil Neville must deal with his team’s tendency to have slow starts. England has made a cottage industry of late game-breakers and comeback wins, but it would be nice to get out in front of marquee opponents for once.
Jodie Taylor could help. The 33-year-old striker had a fantastic showing at the 2017 European Championship, winning the Golden Boot with 5 goals for England. Ellen White She has scored nearly 30 international goals for Three Lionesses over the course of her career.
Nikita Parris and Beth Mead are prolific scorers who bring fresh legs to the forward line. England could be loaded with scoring punch.
But the squad has been beset by injuries at a bad time. Talented midfielder and Arsenal captain Jordan Nobbs went down with a torn ACL and is out for the tournament. Forward Fran Kirby has been battling a knee injury and pulled out of friendlies earlier in the year.
The 8th-ranked Japanese seek a 3rd-consecutive berth in the World Cup final.
Coach Asako Takakura’s team is riding high on confidence despite losses in friendlies to England and France and a recent draw with Germany.
Saki Kumagai is the team’s rock on the back line. She has made over 100 appearances in FIFA and AFC competition and led Japan to the 2018 Asian Cup. Fellow back Aya Sameshima has made a similar career of outstanding play for the national team and could combine to form a stubborn unit in Europe.
Scotland has made tremendous strides under Shelley Kerr and has earned a maiden trip to the FIFA Women’s World Cup. Expectations must be tempered, but 20-to-1 group odds indicate respect for the newcomers from analysts far and wide.
Lisa Evans of Arsenal can be anywhere on the pitch for the Scottish, showing the ability to play winger, forward, wing-back, and fullback. She has nearly 20 goals on the international stage since being called up in 2011.
One of the big challenges for newcomers to handicapping international women’s sports is to put completely out of your mind what we know about the national teams – the men’s national teams.
Heck, you’d probably never imagine Argentina being ranked 36th in any statistic that has to do with soccer matches, let alone an overall World ranking. There’s always that little culture-meter in the back of your mind. “Heck, it’s Argentina! Women who don’t play soccer with their husbands there wind up in marriage counseling!”
But the 36th-ranked Argentina National Women’s team will be seeking its maiden World Cup win in team history in June ’19.
Florencia Bonsegundo has the potential to help the squad climb the FIFA ladder…slowly but surely. She excelled in the 2014 and 2018 Copa América Femeninas, scoring 5 combined goals. She followed-up by scoring 5 goals in her debut season for Spanish club SC Huelva in 2018-19.
Sole Jaimes was a sensation at the same event in ’18 and earned a contract with Lyon.
- Group D Winner Pick: Japan (2 betting units)
Women’s World Cup Odds: Group E in France
Netherlands ((-145) Odds-to-Win Group E)
The 7th-ranked Dutch are another mystifyingly-short betting line to win a group, considering that the team has never really had that much success in the Women’s World Cup.
Bookmakers and bettors are likely counting on the Netherlands’ excellent record in Group Stage and Canada’s injury problems taking a toll on an otherwise-streaking underdog in Group E.
Netherlands won the 2017 European Championship but needed a playoff win over Switzerland just to qualify for France. The Dutch, however, can boast the Golden Boot winner from the WSL in Vivianne Miedema, who has tallied an awesome 57 goals in just 74 national-team appearances.
Miedema’s teammate at Arsenal, Daniëlle van de Donk, is a gifted midfielder who has produced almost 20 goals during her international career.
A teammate with a name like “van de Donk” also opens up the door to some truly Grade-A smack-talk on the pitch…or in the outback.
How important are friendly matches? Canada has been soaring in rankings and public perception thanks to a warm-up calendar of wins and glory. The team has yet to lose in 2019 and the backline has only allowed a single goal.
After advancing to the quarterfinal in the 2015 World Cup, a hungry Canadian team is looking to reach another level. Kenneth Heiner-Møller is a heralded new coach who has cemented the defense (obviously) while nurturing several quality strikers.
This tournament could be Christine Sinclair’s last shot to make worldwide headlines, but oh, what a doozy of a story her amazing soccer could spawn. The 35-year-old needs only 4 more goals to become the all-time leading international goal-scorer in women’s soccer history.
Key injuries will force the Canadian side to adjust entering the WWC. The team will be without midfielder Diana Matheson who is hampered by a toe injury.
Goalkeeper Erin McLeod has also been ruled out of the World Cup due to plantar fasciitis, which, while I have zero idea what it is, sounds like it would hurt.
As is the case for quite a few sides in France, Canada could wind up lamenting that this World Cup didn’t wait just another month to happen.
New Zealand (+550)
A game New Zealand squad hopes to finally advance past the Group Stage in its 4th-consecutive Women’s World Cup appearance. Head coach Tom Sermanni has preached team togetherness and chemistry leading into the World Cup, usually coach-speak for “I’m not making any real big moves here.”
Ria Percival is a key defender with loads of experience playing for the Football Ferns. Percival has played in every game for New Zealand in the 2011 and 2015 World Cups and the 2012 and 2016 Olympic Games.
I’m not sure why the lady Kiwis aren’t down closer to (+800) or (+900) on the board considering that Las Vegas ‘cappers are so tied into trends. This trend of New Zealand missing the knock-out stage could have something to do with the team’s best players hitting a “wall” against top competition after looking like up-and-comers on their own continent, a fate that often befalls the United States men.
Coming off the squad’s surprise Group Stage glory in 2015, it’s also surprising to see the Cameroonians at 100-to-1 odds to win Group E.
Ajara Nchout was electric with Norwegian club IL Sandviken this season, tallying 15 goals in 19 appearances. Nchout was a member of the 2012 Olympic and 2015 World Cup teams, so the attacking threat should have no fear of the moment.
Christine Manie, the team’s captain, is another attacker with over 60 appearances for the team. Her game-winning goal in the 2014 Africa Women’s Championship semi-final sent Cameroon to its maiden WWC.
- Group E Winner Pick: Cameroon (1 betting unit)