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FIFA Women's World Cup 2019: Group D Preview



The Women's World Cup will take place in France, for the first time, this summer. The tournament kicks off on 7 June until 7 July. There will be more coverage than ever before on what is set to be the biggest World Cup yet. Here is CloudSports Football's Group D preview.


Group D

England, Scotland, Argentina, Japan


England

The Lionesses finished third at the last World Cup, their best performance in the tournament. Phil Neville's side have significantly improved in the last four years, winning the SheBelieves Cup in March for the first time, and will be confident that they can win the tournament this summer.


One to watch

Beth Mead has been sensational for club and country this season and is well on her way to establishing herself as a starter for England. Cutting in from the right flank, Mead unleashes unstoppable shots which often catch keepers off-guard. The Arsenal forward will be raring to go after being such an integral part of the Gunners' Women's Super League title win.


Manager

A no-nonsense defender for Manchester United and England, questions were asked when Phil Neville was appointed England Women's manager, having had no previous experience in women's football, but he has since gone on to prove that he is the man for the job.


This will be Neville's first-ever World Cup and he has assembled a talented squad who are fully capable of living up to the weight of expectation that has been placed on their shoulders as one of the tournament's favourites.


Performance at 2015 World Cup: Third


Goalkeeping analysis - Mouhamad Rachini (@ThatArabKeeper)


At 34 years of age, England number one Karen Bardsley is one of the oldest goalkeepers going to the 2019 World Cup. That doesn’t mean she’s dried up on quality, though. Bardsley is still arguably one of the top goalkeepers in Europe. The American-born Englishwoman has been the Three Lionesses’ undisputed number one since 2011, playing regularly at various World Cups, European Championships, and Olympic tournaments. Her initial stint was rough—she conceded questionable goals at both the 2011 World Cup and the 2013 European Championship—but she’s since developed into a reliable staple of English women’s football.


Quite literally, the biggest advantage Bardsley has over her competitors—including fellow England goalkeepers Carly Telford and Mary Earps—is her height. With a height of 5 ft 11 inches, Bardsley is one of the tallest starting goalkeepers heading to the World Cup. Considering that the average women’s goalkeeper stands somewhere between 5 ft 7 inches and 5 ft 10 inches, Bardsley’s height advantage, while slight, is still significant enough to give her an edge in the air.

With this World Cup likely to be her last, I expect her to build on her previous performances with one final swansong.

Photo: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Scotland

This is Scotland's first appearance at the World Cup finals and their first match is against arch-rivals England. While the last meeting between the two sides at the UEFA Women's Euro 2017 ended 6-0 to England, Scotland had an injury-depleted squad that was not reflective of their usual level. Shelly Kerr's side are not just going to France to make up the numbers and will be determined to make it out of the group stages.


One to watch

Kim Little is going to appear in her first major tournament for Scotland after missing the UEFA Women's Euro 2017 through injury. Having been one of the best players in the world for over a decade and fresh from captaining Arsenal to their first WSL title in seven years, this is her time to shine on the biggest stage of all.


Manager

Former Scotland captain Shelly Kerr has been at the helm since June 2017 and has helped her side qualify for the Women's Euros and the World Cup, the first time in their history that they have qualified for those major tournaments. The team's first target is to reach the last 16. Due to the fact they can now call upon key players who were injured two years ago, they are much better prepared to get out of the group stages they were at the Women's Euro in 2017.


Performance at 2015 World Cup: Did Not Qualify (DNQ)


Goalkeeping analysis - Mouhamad Rachini (@ThatArabKeeper)


In goal, Lee Alexander will probably start for Scotland. Although 33-year-old Shannon Lynn is the more experienced of the two goalkeepers (30 caps vs. Alexander’s 16), Alexander assumed starting duties following the 2017 Euros and was one of the reasons Scotland topped their qualifying group. Alexander is quick on her feet; her footwork and her agility are her strongest qualities. This has helped her pull off some quality diving saves, as well as rush shooters and defuse attacks.


Backing Alexander up will be Shannon Lynn, who plays her club football in Sweden, and Jenna Fifa, who represents Hibernian at the club level. As mentioned earlier, Lynn is the more experienced of the goalkeeping trio—she made her international debut in 2010. Fife only made her international debut in January 2018, appearing as a substitute against Norway. However, she was briefly involved with Scotland’s U-17 and U-19 teams.

Photo: Press Association

Argentina

For the first time since 2007, Argentina will take part in the World Cup. They have not gone further than the group stages in their two previous appearances at the tournament. After finishing third in the 2018 Copa America Femenina, Argentina had to play Panama in an intercontinental play-off, which they won 5-1, to reach their first World Cup for 12 years.


One to watch

Estefania Banini is an experienced member of the squad who has won the Copa Libertadores Femenina title with Chilean club Colo-Colo in 2012. The Argentina captain is a skilful right-footed midfielder with a powerful shot from outside the area, useful for catching teams unawares.


Manager

Carlos Borrello has led Argentina to both of their previous World Cup appearances and their only title to date, 2006 Copa America Femenina. He returned as manager in 2017 and will now be hoping to make it third time lucky as Argentina look to make it out of the group stages.


Performance at 2015 World Cup: DNQ


Goalkeeping analysis - Mouhamad Rachini (@ThatArabKeeper)


While most of Argentina's players are (relatively) new to the competitive scene, goalkeeper Vanina Correa comes with previous World Cup experience. Out of the 23 players called up to Albicelestes’ World Cup squad, only Correa has been a part of their two previous World Cup appearances. In 2003, she was included as one of Argentina’s reserve goalkeepers. In 2007, she started Argentina’s opening match; an 11-0 defeat to the eventual champions Germany. That would be her only appearance at the tournament, and she’s been forced to live with the guilt of that match for 12 consecutive years.


Now, Correa is back in a World Cup again, this time as a 35-year-old seeking redemption. It’s unlikely she’ll concede that many goals in a single match again, although she still won’t have any high expectations. Argentina aren’t known for keeping clean sheets—they conceded 33 goals in two previous World Cups. They also conceded 14 goals in last year’s Copa América Femenina, including seven in the tournament’s final two games. With strong competition in England and Japan, I expect Argentina to be Group D’s punching bag. In that case, Correa will be the group’s busiest starting goalkeeper.


Photo: Buenos Aires Times

Japan


Japan have qualified for every World Cup, winning the tournament in 2011 against Sweden. They reached the final at the last World Cup where they were beaten by the USA. Japan are a force to reckoned with and should not have too much difficulty getting out of Group D.


One to watch


Mana Iwabuchi will be competing at her third World Cup. She was part of the squad that won the tournament in 2011 and finished second in 2015. Iwabuchi exploded onto the world stage in 2008, aged just 15, at the inaugural FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup where she was voted player of the tournament. She is a veteran in the squad and has long been earmarked as the player to lead Japan for years to come.


Manager


Taking over from Norio Sasaki in 2016 was no mean feat for Asako Takakura. She became the first woman to take the senior role, having previously had success with Japan's national youth teams, particularly winning the 2014 FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup. Takakura won the AFC Women's Asian Cup with her Japenese side in 2018, since becoming senior coach.


Performance at 2015 World Cup: Runners-up


Goalkeeping analysis - Mouhamad Rachini (@ThatArabKeeper)


For the first time since 2007, Japan will go into a Women’s World Cup without Ayumi Kaihori guarding the sticks. Kaihori retired following the 2015 Women’s World Cup final; a final in which she conceded five goals. This opened the door for Ayaka Yamashita.


Yamashita made her international debut in the 2015 East Asian Cup, just a few months following Kaihori’s retirement. She was only 19-years-old at the time, but she impressed thanks to her quick reflexes and maturity. Yamashita has since grown into Japan’s number one role—she started four of the Nadeshiko’s five matches during their successful 2018 Asian Cup campaign.


Despite the availability of Sakiko Ikeda and Chika Hirao, I fully expect Yamashita to be Japan’s World Cup starter. She’s played regularly since making her international debut four years ago, and she made 14 appearances in 2018 alone. Yamashita’s performance in the 2018 Asian Cup final—which included a penalty stop on Elise Kellond-Knight—was one of the tournament’s top goalkeeper performances. Yamashita isn’t a perfect goalkeeper—she often struggles with high attempts—but she’s showed in the past that she’s more than capable of replicating Ayumi Kaihori’s World Cup performances.


Photo: EPA

Group D Prediction

1. England

2. Japan

3. Scotland

4. Argentina


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