The opening match of any 2019 Women’s World Cup arrives with as much anticipation as any single, non-elimination contest in sports. Hosts France will kick off the eighth edition of the Women’s World Cup on June 7 against South Korea. It will be a fantastic litmus test for the historically underachieving French side that will be trying not to follow in the footsteps of Germany and Canada, both of whom crashed out in the quarterfinals after playing tentative soccer on home soil in 2011 and 2015, respectively.
South Korea has been to one prior World Cup four years ago, where they were put out of the tournament by France, 3-0 in the Round of 16. The other teams in Group A are Norway and Nigeria, meaning there will be no clear pushovers in the Koreans’ efforts to advance to the knockout phase again. But even at that, the most intrigue surrounding this match is that it will signal the start of the World Cup.
There are other games which offer immediate excitement and anticipation. Circle your calendar for these six group-stage meetings.
England v Scotland, June 9 (Group D)
Scotland will make their Women’s World Cup debut with a bang against England in the Group D opener June 9 in Nice. Whether you want on-field or off-field buildup, this one is for you.
England are tipped by some to win the World Cup and with Japan lurking on match day 3, the Lionesses will be under the gun to deliver against Scotland. And remember that unlike some confederations who sprout up with quick tournaments to decide their World Cup participants, you can’t qualify out of Europe by accident. Scotland is there following a 2018 that saw them rally from 2-0 down in the last quarter-hour to win at Poland and later defeat Switzerland to qualify. Just last month they frustrated the United States for most of a 90-minute friendly without Kim Little, who is expected back for the World Cup.
Off the field, England is preparing to exit the European Union four years after Scottish voters narrowly shot down a proposal to break away from the United Kingdom.
Netherlands v Canada, June 20 (Group E)
Netherlands, at their best, play a beautiful brand of attacking soccer that won over the world at the Euros two summers ago. Canada like to muck it up and have done so to the tune of consecutive Olympic bronze medals. This is the final match of Group E, meaning both sides will likely know about what they need to go through. They did the same dance in 2015, with Canada getting the draw they needed to assure advancement. The Netherlands equalized that one late.
EXTRA: Why the Dutch must adapt to contend at the World Cup
New Zealand — also in the 2015 group — and Cameroon are the other Group E teams. Will Canada and Netherlands be good enough to beat those two outright and render this something of a dead match? Or will there be real drama to this match? Either way, the clash in styles should make for a fun 90 minutes between teams whose ceilings and disaster projections are quite vast.
Germany v Spain, June 12 (Group B)
The Germans are always going to be considered contenders until they prove that they aren’t. But the Olympic champions must feel like that gold-medal podium at the Maracana was a long, long time ago.
In more than two years since, they have been through two coaches and a dodgy run of form. Steffi Jones, the handpicked successor to Silvia Neid, was at the World Cup Draw as an assistant in the selection of teams after being sacked. Instead, the 2003 and 2007 champions will go to the World Cup with another new coach — Martina Voss-Tecklenburg — and loads of question marks.
Spain ended 2018 on a 15-match unbeaten run (13-0-2) that included a year-ending 0-0 draw against Germany. They opened the year beating France and later won the Cyprus Cup without conceding a goal. They may not be ready to change the guard among the upper echelon of European teams, but if Spain are ready to make a statement to the world, this would be a good time to make it.
France v Norway, June 12 (Group A)
Sure, Euro-v-Euro matches can be a bore at these things, but this one should be fun and important. South Korea and Nigeria definitely make this group four-deep. France will be favored to win the group but Norway overcame the Netherlands and some tense moments to win their qualifying group and avoid a playoff.
The wild card in this match, and this group, is Ada Hegerberg. The recently-crowned Ballon d’Or winner has been away from Norway’s national team out of protest to the treatment of women in the game. If the federation can coax her back, Norway could shoot to the favorite role in the group and contender status in the tournament.
MORE: The complex story of Ada Hegerberg, a star comfortable taking a stand
Australia v Brazil, June 13 (Group C)
Sweden v United States, June 20 (Group F)
I’m lumping these together because they have a similar feel to them. Both jump off the page but both are head-to-heads the WoSo populous is quite familiar with.
Australia will go to France with full belief they can go deep in the tournament, while Brazil have won their last five World Cup groups and gone the last three group stages without conceding a goal. This will be the third straight global tournament these two teams have met. The 2016 Olympic quarterfinal was an epic, scoreless draw from which Brazil prevailed on penalties. A year earlier, Australia registered their first ever global knockout win at the expense of Brazil.
U.S.-Sweden needs no introduction. It will be the fifth straight group stage that includes this match-up. Since the last one, Sweden knocked the U.S. out of the Olympics on penalty kicks in the quarterfinals.
EXTRA: Jill Ellis says the USWNT aren’t ‘defending’ its World Cup title — they’re attacking it
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