Over the next four weeks, 32 nations will take part in the biggest football tournament to hit Australian shores since the 2000 Olympics, this time co-hosting with New Zealand.
As the commencement of the World Cup edges closer, The Inner Sanctum will be analysing and previewing all eight groups in what should be a fascinating month of football.
England is seen as the clear favourite to advance in Group D, but other teams within the group will have it all to do in order to avoid an early exit. Meanwhile, Group C is more wide open than the former with two teams inside the top 12.
Zambia and Haiti will be making their first-ever appearances in what will be considered as landmark moments for sport in their respective countries.
For the first time in eight years, Costa Rica will be making a World Cup appearance, when they rode the wave of momentum after the men’s heroic quarter-final performance at the 2014 Men’s World Cup.
Searching for their first win at the tournament, Costa Rica has been in terrible form, winning only one of their past 11 outings.
The encouraging aspect of their squad is their diversity in youth and experience, led by midfielder Raquel Rodríguez. The nation’s all-time leading goal scorer, Rodríguez will need to be firing on all cylinders if Las Ticas are any chance of making it out of the group stage.
Goalkeepers: Priscila Tapia (Saprissa FF), Daniela Solera (Sporting FC), Genesis Perez (University of Central Florida)
Defenders: Mariana Benavides (Saprissa FF), Maria Paula Elizondo (Saprissa FF), Valeria del Campo (Monterrey), Fabiola Villalobos (Alajuelense), Maria Paula Coto (Alajuelense), Gabriela Guillen (Alajuelense), Carol Sanchez (Sporting)
Midfielders: Katherine Alvarado (Saprissa FF), Mariela Campos (Saprissa FF), Gloriana Villalobos (Saprissa FF), Emilie Valenciano, Melissa Herrera (Bordeaux), Cristin Granados (Sporting FC), Alexandra Pinell (Alajuelense), Sheika Scott (Alajuelense), Raquel Rodriguez (Portland Thorns)
Forwards: Catalina Estrada (Saprissa FF), Sofia Varela (Santos Laguna), Maria Paula Salas (Monterrey)
Coach: Amelia Valverde
One to watch: Melissa Herrera (Age: 26 – Midfielder/Bordeaux)
Not a household name within the national side with 26 appearances over a nine-year span, this tournament could change that for a player who is in her prime. She is now ready to leave her mark on the World Cup after some solid form in the French top division.
Group Prediction: Third
World champions back in 2011, the Asian powerhouses will be looking to amend their disappointing campaign four years ago, bowing out in the round of 16.
Technical ability has been the recipe to success for both the men’s and women’s teams, something which the Japanese have enforced even in their youth academy sides.
Now ranked 11th in the world, Japan is slightly losing ground on the USA and the top European nations which are all benefiting from huge investment and expenditure increases.
Two wins in their past six games will mean that Japan will be relying on early form to progress. Players such as star midfielder Yui Hasegawa will need to bring their club form to the land of the rising sun.
Coach Futoshi Ikeda is the ideal man for the role, having previously coached the youth national teams and will no doubt have a strong understanding of some of the youngsters coming through.
Goalkeepers: Ayaka Yamashita (INAC Kobe Leonessa), Momoko Tanaka (Tokyo Verdy Beleza), Chika Hirao (Albirex Niigata)
Defenders: Risa Shimizu (West Ham), Moeka Minami (Roma), Saki Kumagai (Bayern Munich), Shiori Miyake (INAC Kobe Leonessa), Kiko Seike (Urawa Reds), Miyabi Moriya (INAC Kobe Leonessa), Rion Ishikawa (Urawa Reds)
Midfielders: Fuka Nagano (Liverpool), Hinata Miyazawa (MyNavi Sendai), Hikaru Naomoto (Urawa Reds), Jun Endo (Angel City), Yui Hasegawa (Manchester City), Hina Sugita (Portland Thorns), Honoka Hayashi (West Ham), Aoba Fujino (Tokyo Verdy Beleza), Hana Takahashi (Urawa Reds)
Forwards: Riko Ueki (Tokyo Verdy Beleza), Mina Tanaka (INAC Kobe Leonessa), Maika Hamano (Hammarby), Remina Chiba (JEF United)
Coach: Futoshi Ikeda
One to watch: Risa Shimizu (Age: 27 – Defender/West Ham United)
Another experienced Japanese player in the squad, Shimizu is known for her fiery defensive attributes both tackling and sticking with her opposition markswoman. With an impressive IQ and the discipline of a veteran, don’t be surprised to hear more about her name in the coming weeks.
Group Prediction: First
More Football News:
- Kealey Adamson finds new home with the Macarthur Bulls
- Socceroos return to CommBank Stadium ahead of clash with Lebanon
- Euro 2024 draw: Can Southgate end 58 years of English hurt in Germany?
- Reds’ English import signs two-year extension
- Gustavsson and the Matildas aiming to make amends against Canada
There is little doubt that the Spanish have bolstered their talent through the investment and growth in the women’s game, particularly highlighted by the dominance and rise of FC Barcelona.
However, controversy has embroiled La Roja since last year when a player revolt was aimed to fire current manager Jorge Vilda, after his coaching style and management affected “their emotional state and their health.”
Since being eliminated by England in the quarter-finals of the 2022 European Championship, Spain have won eight of their last nine. Scoring 32 goals over the course of that tournament highlighted their attractive football and firepower up forward.
The obvious standout from the squad is two-time Ballon d’Or winner Alexia Putellas, albeit returning recently from an ACL injury. Look for 30-year-old striker Esther González to bury some opportunities, scoring 21 goals in all competitions for Real Madrid last season.
Goalkeepers: Cata Coll (FC Barcelona), Misa Rodriguez (Real Madrid), Enith Salon (Valencia)
Defenders: Ivana Andres (Real Madrid), Ona Batlle (Manchester United), Olga Carmona (Real Madrid), Laia Codina (FC Barcelona), Rocio Galvez (Real Madrid), Oihane Hernandez (Athletic Club), Irene Paredes (FC Barcelona)
Midfielders: Teresa Abelleira (Real Madrid), Aitana Bonmati (FC Barcelona), Irene Guerrero (Levante UD), Jenni Hermoso (CF Pachuca), Maria Perez (FC Barcelona), Alexia Putellas (FC Barcelona), Claudia Zornoza (Real Madrid)
Forwards: Mariona Caldentey (FC Barcelona), Athenea del Castillo (Real Madrid), Esther Gonzalez (Real Madrid), Eva Navarro (Atletico Madrid), Salma Paralluelo FC (Barcelona), Alba Redondo (Levante UD)
Coach: Jorge Vilda
One to watch: Maria Perez (Age: 22 – Midfielder/FC Barcelona)
Standing at 5’2, Perez is a little Spanish magician who has huge upside to her game. Her vision and creativity will be a joy to watch throughout the tournament, in an attempt to win their maiden World Cup.
Group Prediction: Second
The African nation might be making their first World Cup appearance, but many will remember their showing at the previous Olympics where they conceded 15 goals.
Leaking goals remains a concern as the Zambians have conceded 16 in their last five outings. However, they also possess some weapons up front which can hurt any team in the group phase.
23-year-old captain Barbra Banda is a lethal finisher who is also known for her link-up play, already having scored 30 goals for her country. She is best known for becoming the first player to score back-to-back hat-tricks at the Olympics against the Netherlands and China.
Bruce Mwape has been in the dugout for five years and his expertise and experience will be key in trying to navigate his side to a miracle round of 16 berth.
Goalkeepers: Catherine Musonda (Tomiris-Turan), Eunice Sakala (Nkwazi Queens), Leticia Lungu (ZESCO Ndola Girls)
Defenders: Margaret Belemu (Shanghai Shengli), Lushomo Mweemba (Green Buffaloes), Esther Banda (BUSA), Agness Musesa (Green Buffaloes), Judith Soko (YASA), Vast Phiri (ZESCO Ndola Girls), Mary Mulenga (Red Arrows), Martha Tembo (BIIK Shymkent)
Midfielders: Evarine Katongo (ZISD), Mary Wilombe (Red Arrows), Susan Banda (Red Arrows), Avell Chitundu (ZESCO Ndola Girls), Ireen Lungu (BIIK Shymkent), Hellen Chanda (BIIK Shymkent)
Forwards: Xiomara Mapepa (Elite Ladies), Ochumba Oseke Lubandji (Red Arrows), Barbra Banda (Shanghai Shengli), Hellen Mubanga (Zaragoza CFF), Grace Chanda (Madrid CFF), Racheal Kundananji (Madrid CFF)
Coach: Bruce Mwape
One to watch: Barbra Banda (Age: 23 – Forward/Shanghai Shengli)
Simply put, Banda is the focal point of this Zambia team and without her, they probably wouldn’t find themselves in this position. A goalscoring machine, expect her to score a few goals throughout the group stage.
Group Prediction: Fourth
With their perfect World Cup attendance still intact, China has a respectable track record in the tournament, finishing fourth in the inaugural competition, before falling short in the 1999 final.
Much like their Asian counterparts Japan, the Chinese have been in a form slump, not beating a current World Cup side in their last eight matches.
Nonetheless, they are still blessed with some important pieces such as veteran midfielder Wang Shuang, appearing over 130 times for her nation and could potentially determine China’s hopes.
Goalkeepers: Zhu Yu (Wuhan Jiangham University), Xu Huan (Jiangsu), Pan Hongyan (Beijing)
Defenders: Wu Haiyan (Wuhan Jiangham University), Yao Wei (Wuhan Jiangham University), Wang Linlin (Shanghai Shengli), Gao Chen (Changchun Dazhong Zhuoyue), Chen Qiaozhu (Guangzhou), Li Mengwen (Paris Saint-Germain), Dou Jiaxing (Jiangsu), Lou Jiahui (Henan Jianye)
Midfielders: Zhang Rui (Wuhan Jiangham University), Yao Lingwei (Wuhan Jiangham University), Gu Yasha (Wuhan Jiangham University), Zhang Xin (Shanghai Shengli), Yang Lina (Shanghai Shengli), Wu Chengshu (Canberra United), Zhang Linyan (Wuhan Jiangham University), Shen Mengyu (Celtic)
Forwards: Wang Shuang (Racing Louisville), Wang Shanshan (Wuhan Jiangham University), Tang Jiali (Shanghai Shengli), Xiao Yuyi (Shanghai Shengli)
Coach: Shui Qingxia
One to watch: Li Mengwen (Age: 28 – Defender/Paris Saint-Germain)
Playing for one of the biggest clubs in world football, Mengwen is the only current Chinese member to be playing in Europe. China has a chance of progressing to the latter stages, but the fullback will need to work tirelessly down the right flank to provide that magic.
Group Prediction: Third
Experiencing their best run in a major tournament six years ago at the European Championships, Denmark has been inconsistent leading into the tournament.
The 2017 EURO runners-up will be relying on points against China and Haiti to progress through to the latter stages, but they are lacking the required depth to go all the way.
Sanne Troelsgaard Nielsen will be carrying the hopes of the nation, as her experience will be vital in helping the Danish to advance. Manager Lars Søndergaard will need to ensure that he manages his star player throughout the group stage to stand any chance of making their mark.
Goalkeepers: Lene Christensen (Rosenborg), Kathrine Larsen (Brøndby), Maja Bay Ostergaard (FC Thy-Thisted Q)
Defenders: Luna Gevitz (Montpellier HSC), Stine Ballisager Pedersen (Vålerenga), Rikke Sevecke (Everton), Simone Boye Sorensen (Hammarby), Sofie Svava (Real Madrid), Frederikke Thogersen (Inter Milan), Katrine Veje (Everton)
Midfielders: Josefine Hasbo (Harvard Crimson), Karen Holmgaard (Everton), Sofie Junge Pedersen (Juventus), Kathrine Moller Kühl (Arsenal), Emma Snerle (West Ham United), Nicoline Sorensen (Everton), Janni Thomsen (Vålerenga), Sanne Troelsgaard Nielsen (Reading)
Forwards: Signe Bruun (Lyon), Mille Gejl (North Carolina Courage), Pernille Harder (Bayern Munich), Rikke Marie Madsen (North Carolina Courage), Amalie Vangsgaard (Paris Saint-Germain)
Coach: Lars Søndergaard
One to watch: Signe Brunn (Age: 25 – Forward/Lyon)
A loan spell at Manchester United didn’t quite work how Brunn had hoped, but that shouldn’t diminish her quality. Scoring 18 goals in 32 appearances for the Danes, she is a real threat to the rest of the group.
Group Prediction: Second
The development and growth of the Women’s Super League has inevitably spearheaded the English national team to heights that seemed so far-fetched just a decade ago. It helped the Lionesses become champions of Europe last year and are considered one of the favourites to lift the World Cup trophy.
They will have to complete the feat without some key players involved in their triumphant Euro campaign, including all-time England scorer Ellen White who announced her retirement in August 2022.
Coach Sarina Wiegman will be counting on Lucy Bronze and Alessia Russo in particular to provide the spark going forward.
Goalkeepers: Mary Earps (Manchester United), Ellie Roebuck (Manchester City), Hannah Hampton (Aston Villa)
Defenders: Millie Bright (Chelsea), Lucy Bronze (FC Barcelona), Jess Carter (Chelsea), Niamh Charles (Chelsea), Esme Morgan (Manchester City), Alex Greenwood (Manchester City), Lotte Wubben-Moy (Arsenal)
Midfielders: Keira Walsh (FC Barcelona), Georgia Stanway (Bayern Munich), Ella Toone (Manchester United), Jordan Nobbs (Aston Villa), Laura Coombs (Manchester City), Katie Zelem (Manchester United)
Forwards: Alessia Russo (Manchester United), Rachel Daly (Aston Villa), Lauren Hemp (Manchester City), Chloe Kelly (Manchester City), Lauren James (Chelsea), Katie Robinson (Brighton), Bethany England (Tottenham Hotspur)
Coach: Sarina Wiegman
One to watch: Keira Walsh (Age: 26 – Midfielder/FC Barcelona)
Not the type of midfielder who will promise you many goals, Walsh is a crucial asset that offers everything else in the middle of the park. A genuine contender to win the Golden Ball as England’s chances of winning the World Cup remain large.
Group Prediction: First
For the first time in their history, Haiti will be represented at the World Cup and it makes for an incredible feel-good story, having to triumph over so much adversity.
The Caribbean nation finished ahead of Mexico in qualifying to reach the inter-confederation playoffs, where they managed to beat Senegal and Chile to advance.
Melchie Dumornay is the most notable figure in this Haiti side. The 19-year-old prodigy is signed with Lyon in January, where she has displayed her goal-scoring prowess, vision, creativity, and frightening pace. If Haiti is to get any result from this difficult group, she will need to be fit and firing.
This squad shouldn’t be taken lightly by any means, with most players in the squad playing in France.
Goalkeepers: Nahomie Ambroise (Little Haiti), Lara-Sofia Larco (Georgetown University), Kerly Theus (Miami City)
Defenders: Esthericove Joseph (Exafoot), Tabita Joseph (Brest), Kethna Louis (Montpellier), Ruthny Mathurin (Mississippi State), Betina Petit-Frere (Brest), Milan Pierre-Jerome (George Mason University), Chelsea Surpris (Grenoble), Jennifer Limage (Grenoble), Maudeline Moryl (Grenoble)
Midfielders: Melchie Dumornay (Lyon), Danielle Etienne (Fordham Rams), Noa Ganthier (Weston FC), Sherly Jeudy (Grenoble), Dayana Pierre-Louis (GPSO Issy)
Forwards: Roselord Borgella (Dijon), Roseline Eloissaint (Nantes), Darlina Joseph (Grenoble), Shwendesky Joseph (Zenit St Petersburg), Batcheba Louis (Fleury), Nerilla Mondesir (Montpellier)
Coach: Nicolas Delepine
One to watch: Tabita Joseph (Age: 19 – Defender/Brest)
An extremely raw talent, Tabita has a massive opportunity to make the most of this World Cup platform and excel in her career post-tournament. With nothing to lose for Haiti, the fullback could benefit most from being handed the necessary attacking freedom to excel.
Group Prediction: Fourth