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Sunday, June 16, 2019

Six sleeper teams that could challenge for Women’s World Cup

Lieke Martens

The FIFA Women’s World Cup is underway in France, and if you ask most experts, there are only a handful of potential winners. The United States, France, Germany, and England are regarded as the four best teams in the tournament and a cut above the rest of their rivals.

However, sports isn’t played on paper, and there is definitely room for a surprise or two in this year’s tournament. Here are six teams outside of that big four bracket that have the potential to make a run deep into the World Cup and potentially upset a favorite or two in the process.


Brazil’s team is still anchored by Marta, an icon of the women’s game and a six-time FIFA Women’s Player of the Year. That top-level experience is mixed with a younger, more inexperienced group that may prove a stumbling block when the Brazilians, as expected, get deeper into the tournament. This is likely Marta’s final World Cup, and that may well weigh on the minds of her teammates, whether it adds pressure or inspiration. They lack the firepower of some rivals, but they have enough talent to get deep into the tournament, and perhaps they can pull a surprise.


Remarkably, Christine Sinclair remains an elite player even at the age of 36 and is still the focal point of a Canadian attack that has revolved around her for roughly two decades. A fixture in the later stages of the World Cup, they’ve never actually finished in the top three, and this may be Sinclair’s last chance. The Canadians are a sturdy outfit, and the draw has worked out for them, as they can avoid all of the big four teams until the semifinals by topping their group. That alone could put them in contention for their best-ever finish, whether that’s third place or even more.


It may seem odd for a team that has played in two consecutive World Cup Finals — and a winner in 2011 — to be considered a sleeper pick, but this is a different Japan team. It’s a much younger, less experienced outfit than those two squads were, and they’ll be thrown a tough game early by sharing a group with a legitimate contender in England. They’ll be tested heavily assuming they get out of the group, but if this young group can grow up quickly, a surprise is not out of the realm of possibility.


The Dutch surprised many by claiming a European championship in 2017, proving that they are very much ready for primetime. A relentless attacking team led by star forward Lieke Martens, they’ll be looking to carry that into the World Cup, with this being just the second time the county has qualified for the tournament. That means they lack top-level experience, and their defense isn’t as stout as their attack is exciting. They may have to outscore people to go deep into the tournament, but they’re capable of doing so.


Norway’s tournament has and will continue to be overshadowed by the absence of Ada Hegerberg, one of the best players in the world who has refused to play for the national team since 2017 in protest of gender inequality within the Norwegian federation. As such, the team is good, but not as good as it could be. Norway still scores a lot of goals even without Hegerberg, and they’re solid in all respects, which could lead to a deep run in the tournament just as they are.


It was Sweden that eliminated the U.S. on penalties during the 2016 Summer Olympics, but things have not gone as well for them since that moment. Experienced and tested, the Swedes also play an ultra-conservative style that essentially dares opposing attackers to breach their defenses. It’s risky in its own way, but they’re good at it, and if they get out of the group as expected, anything can happen in a knockout round or a penalty shootout. They’re not the most talented, but in an international tournament where time for tactical nuance is often limited, there’s something to be said for a simple, defensive, grind-it-out approach.

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