WC Countdown: Group E – Netherlands

We are now on the last team in the second to last group in the World Cup Countdown, and the tournament is only a few weeks away. Let’s take a look at the Netherlands!

The Netherlands, also called the Oranje Leeuwinnen (the Orange Lionesses), come into this tournament grasping onto one of the last straws, having had to qualify for the last spot. The Euro winners, who claimed the title on home soil in 2017, have only qualified for one World Cup before and that was Canada 2015, where they didn’t get further than the round of 16. But this time around they will come in with some confidence, having beaten several tough teams to get to that last sweet qualification spot, and surely the magic of their Euros win still linger over them. They played Northern Ireland twice, Republic of Ireland, Slovakia and Norway, winning every game but the one against the Scandinavians, which was enough to place them only second in the group, after Norway who qualified directly. This meant they had to qualify for that last spot, playing both Denmark and Switzerland over two legs, winning both games 4-1 on aggregate.

When looking at the Leeuwinnen squad, there is one star that shines very bright indeed. Lieke Martens, the midfielder/forward who is one of the best female footballers in the world, has been the one leading her team through the qualification process. With her dribbling skills and her intelligent plays, she contributes a lot on the field and not just in terms of goals. She was a vital cog in the team that won the 2017 Euros and she was voted The Best FIFA Women’s Player 2017. We also have an up and coming star that just doesn’t seem to be able to stop scoring. The young but already oh-so-mature Vivianne Miedema scored seven goals in the nine games she represented the Netherlands in on their qualification journey, and in England, where she represents Arsenal in the WSL (Women’s Super League), she was the top scorer of the season with 22 goals in 20 games. Talk about lethal!

Danielle Van De Donk, a teammate with Miedema in Arsenal, will also be an integral presence in the team, as she can contribute with vital goals as well as set her teammates up thanks to her creativity on the pitch. Shanice Van Der Sanden, Lineth Beerensteyn and Sherida Spitse are other important influences contributing with goals.

Defender Kika van Es spoke to FIFA about the importance of the Euros win and what an impact it’s had on the team in terms of expectations, and the perception of women’s football in the Netherlands.

“We want to be underdogs and we are telling everybody that because this is only our second World Cup.

“The World Cup is so different to the EUROs, being world champions will be very difficult, so we see ourselves as underdogs, which is better for us,” she said.

“Before the EUROs, nobody knew who we were, and then a month later it was crazy.

“Little kids can now dream of being a professional and it’s now easier to play football with other girls. We also showed parents that football is also for girls, not only for boys.

“For us, we think it’s good that we are playing in the north of France, so a lot of Dutch fans can come and support us. I think it is going to be a great World Cup and a great year,” she continued.

Sarina Wiegman
Head coach Wiegman, source

Head coach Sarina Wiegman is one of the reasons for the team’s huge success, and she’s had a massive impact on the team since she arrived in January 2017. With only a few months to go until the Euros kicking off on home soil and after having been an assistant coach and interim coach to the national side during several years, it was finally her time at the helm, and she did a fantastic job leading the team to victory at the Euros, raising the confidence and the attitude of the team and encouraging them to play a more attacking style of football, which took well amongst the group of players and they gave back to their coach by playing very attractive and winning football.

The team seems to have a strong and successful identity with the 4-3-3 formation, allowing their creativity to flood on the wings and build from a strong defensive foundation.

The Leuuwinnen has had a few games leading up to the tournament. They won against South Africa 2-1 back in January, they featured in the Algarve Cup where they lost against Spain and Poland, and drew 1-1 with China, winning on penalties. They’ve also played Mexico and Chile in two friendlies, winning 2-0 and 7-0, and are going up against Australia in a send-off match before the tournament begins in France, that game being played on the 1st of June, kick off 18:15.

That’s a wrap on our Orange Lionesses, who will go up against some tough competition in group E. How do you think that they will do? Let us know in the comment section!

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WC Countdown: Group E – Cameroon

After Canada in group E, our second team out is Cameroon.

The Indomitable Lionesses as they are called are returning to the world stage after their first World Cup endeavour back in 2015, where they beat Ecuador and Switzerland and lost to Japan in the group stages. They were allowed to advance to the last 16, where they were kicked out by China. This time around they’re up to similar tough opponents in their group, facing Canada, Netherlands and New Zealand.

Cameroon’s road to qualification in the Africa Women Cup of Nation was quite straightforward. They flew through the group stages, breezing by Mali and Algeria and drawing with Ghana before being halted on their way by Nigeria, who have stood in their way in the two previous Cup of Nation editions. The game ended 0-0 and had to go to penalties, where Nigeria won. Cameroon then had to go up against Mali again for the third place spot and the last qualification spot, which they claimed with a 4-2 victory.

Gabrielle Onguene is one of the big names in the team. She showed what she’s made of at the 2015 World Cup and with a great performance, she managed to help her team through to the last 16. The attacking midfielder has grown into a top name in African football and contributed two goals on their road to qualification. Christine Manie is another name to remember. She has been the one sending the team to the World Cup on both of the occasions that they’ve qualified, thanks to crucial goals scored in overtime, against the Ivory Coast back in 2014 and then again against Mali in 2018. She also contributed Cameroon’s only goal in their 1-1 draw with Ghana which, for a defender is pretty good.

Cameroon women's national team
The lionesses in a huddle. Source

Alain Djeumfa coaches the senior side, after taking over from Joseph Ndoko. Djeumfa, former fitness coach in the team, had to step in as manager in January 2019, after Ndoko had already led the team through the qualifying stages. It is not the first team that Djeumfa has coached, as he’s been with several top-flight clubs before, and on top of that, he’ll not be alone in France, as he’ll be assisted by the former Cameroon captain Bernadette Anong.

Djeumfa has not really had much time to implement his own playing style on the team just yet, and it does not get easier as the Cameroon football association, Fecafoot, have difficulties prioritising and setting up friendlies for the Lionesses to give them enough time to prepare ahead of the World Cup.

“The girls haven’t been consistent in their preparation. Training should’ve started a long time ago, not now. There should’ve been more friendlies. Look at Nigeria and South Africa, they have played several international matches and now both sides are in the Cyprus Cup. We have to do better.

“The Lionesses have a good coach in Alain Djeumfa but things aren’t made easy for him. The women’s league hasn’t started and it’s difficult for him to scout for players.

“We have to be pragmatic. I fear with such poor preparation we may have a poor output in France,” Victorine Fomum, former footballer turned analyst, said to BBC Sport.

After a winter and early spring without many signs of friendlies, the Lionesses managed to get to China and play the inaugural Wuhan International Tournament. The four teams in the tournament were China, who won, Cameroon, who finished runners up, Croatia and Russia. Cameroon ended up playing one game against Croatia, which they won, that in turn advanced them to the final against China, which was a 1-0 loss.

That’s a bit on Cameroon! Going into their second World Cup, they’ll be looking to better their results of ending up in the last 16. Can they make it? Let us know in the comment section below.

WC Countdown: Group E – Canada

Onto the second to last group and first up in group E is Canada.

Canada has worked their way onto the international stage and slowly but surely gained recognition as a tough team to beat. They lost out on the third place to the USA at the World Cup 2003 and made it to the quarter-finals of their first Olympic women’s football tournament in 2008. They’ve won bronze at the Olympics twice, in 2012 and 2016, and they hosted the World Cup back in 2015, getting kicked out in the quarter-final against England. Canada started off the 2018 CONCACAF Women’s Championship, the qualification tournament to the World Cup, by beating Jamaica 2-0. They then went on to beat Cuba 12-0, Costa Rica 3-1 and Panama 7-0, before coming up against the hosts and world champions USA, to whom they lost 0-2.

The biggest name in the Canadian team is without a doubt Cristine Sinclair, who has made a huge mark on the team and has ensured that she will always be remembered fondly by the Canadians. The current captain of the side is the top scorer for her country (of all time!), who also has the most assists and most caps of any Canadian player. The forward who is now 35 years old is still in her prime, scoring four goals in five games throughout the qualification tournament, and she scored a wonderful hattrick for her club in a 4-4 thriller just the other day. This will be the fifth World Cup that she takes part in. Other players that were on a good scoring streak during the qualification process were Adriana Leon, who scored a whopping six goals in the four games she took part in. 17-year-old Jordyn Huitema scored another four goals in three games, and Nichelle Prince contributed with three goals in four games. Stephanie Labbe is the experienced goalkeeper but 23-year-old Kailen Sheridan got some time between the sticks in the qualification process and is an exciting prospect.

Canada women's soccer team
Fans together with their soccer team. Source.

Kenneth Heiner-Møller is the head coach for the Canadian side and the Danish coach has been with the team since 2015 when he was the assistant coach, before becoming head coach in 2018. He led the Danish women’s national football team to the 2007 World Cup in China, where he and his players accused the Chinese team, whom they were going up against, of harassment as well as covert surveillance. The Swedish coaching team, Marika Domanski-Lyfors and Pia Sundhage, did not know anything about it and Heiner-Møller exonerated them but refused to shake hands after the game. With the Canadian team, he’s not had a lot of time to achieve things just yet, but he got them to the World Cup 2019.

Møller has chosen to go with a few different formations, not being afraid to rotate and continuously changing things up, which can be seen as a healthy sign for a developing squad. The main two formations that the Danish coach has chosen to play with are the 4-2-3-1 and 3-1-4-2, sometimes switching it up with a 4-3-3.

The Canadian side has played a few games during the spring, going to Portugal for the Algarve Cup where they came up against a few strong sides. They drew 0-0 with Iceland, they earned a hard-fought win over Scotland 1-0 and in the third place match between Canada and Sweden, the North American side came out the stronger one after winning on penalties.

That’s some information about Canada, one of the strong teams in group E. Do you believe they will make it out of their group? Let us know below in the comment section!

WC Countdown: Group D – Argentina

The next team out in group D is no other than Argentina.

It is a triumphant return to the international scene for the Argentinians, who last participated in the 2007 World Cup in China, 12 years ago, and which they’ve only participated in twice –  never managing to get out of the group stage. It has been a tough road to get to France for this team, and not solemnly from a qualification-route point of view. Only last month did the country finally decide to make the women’s league professional (by no means on the same level as the men’s, but still) after a lot of fighting, from the national team in general who went on a strike for equality  last year and were seen posing cupping their ears (‘is anyone listening?’), a photo which went viral at the Copa América and the issue finally got some recognition. Furthermore, players like Macarena Sánchez have played a huge role and they’ve used social media to draw attention to the fact that female football players in Argentina get very little to no help from their clubs or their national team whatsoever, whether that regards training clothes, food or treatment for injured players.

On their way to qualification, they played in the Copa América Femenina and they beat Bolivia, Ecuador, Venezuela and Colombia, but lost to Brazil twice and then to Chile, causing them to end up in third place. This, in turn, caused them to face a play-off in the CONCACAF-CONMEBOL and they had to play Panama over two legs, winning 4-0 and drawing 1-1, and qualifying them for the World Cup.

Estefania Banini is captain of the team and the midfielder is dangerous in front of the goal as well as from outside the area. The 28-year-old, who is an important cog in the Argentinian set-up, scored three goals in seven games at the Copa América. Another important cog is the forward Soledad Jaimes, who scored five goals in the seven Copa América games, and who has just signed for one of the biggest football clubs in women’s football. Florencia Bonsegundo and Mariana Larroquette are two other attacking options with a record of scoring goals. Another, more unbacked goalscorer is Eliana Stabile, who is a defender but scored two vital goals in the playoffs.

Belén Potassa two-time goalscorer
Belén Potassa scored twice for Argentina against CSN Lady Coyotes Soccer. Picture source.

The coach of the team is Carlos Borrello, who first took over the team back in 2003 and managed them until 2012, when he was replaced by Luis Nicosia, after having led the team to their first two World Cups as well as their only title, the 2006 Copa América win. But in 2017 he returned and got to guide his team to yet another World Cup qualification. The coach has tried out a few different formations, but one that seems pretty constant is the 4-2-3-1.

Argentina participated in the Cup of Nations back in March, that took place in Australia, but the team lost all three games against New Zealand, South Korea and Australia with big goal margins and failing to score a single goal.

“Coming here is our preparation (for World Cup) and our players are trying to experience top-level matches playing against good teams,” Borrello said.

“We have to look beyond the final result because we are trying to get experience for our players.

“We are far away from the best teams, we know that but it’s a long way and we know that, it’s just the beginning.”

That’s a roundup on the South American team, that has been placed in a very tough group – going up against Scotland, England and Japan. It remains to be seen whether this team can surprise everybody and turn this group on its head. Let us know what you think in the comments below!

WC Countdown: Group D – Scotland

The next team in group D are the arch-rivals of EnglandScotland! They share the same wee island, but that’s about it. Since the dawn of time, England and Scotland have fought it out, on and off the football pitch, and as faith would have it they landed in the same group at the World Cup, which will make for a very exciting first game in group D.

The Scottish women’s national team and head coach Shelley Kerr has a very different squad at hand to the injury-plagued one that featured at the Euros 2017, where Scotland made an early exit after losing 0-6 to England and 1-2 to Portugal, and a 1-0 win against Spain could not save them. Their road to the World Cup in France worked out better than the Euros, but the Scots left it to the last game to secure qualification and did not make it easy for themselves. They won seven out of their eight games, but four out of those seven involved them fighting their way back from a losing position, and only on the last matchday it was confirmed that they finished above Switzerland in the group and qualified. Scotland then went to Portugal to play in the Algarve Cup in March, where they lost 0-1 to Canada, but won against Iceland 4-1 and against Denmark 1-0, in their preparations for the World Cup.

Looking at this Scottish team, there is undeniable talent in the squad. Just take young Erin Cuthbert, the 20-year-old who can’t stop scoring, for club and country. In her eighth games for Scotland in the qualification, she scored four goals, and she shares the top-scorer spot in the team with Jane Ross. Kim Little is another big name, and the creative midfielder has long been lauded s one of the best, but this will be the first time she gets to take her Scotland to a major tournament, as she was out injured for the Euros. In each of the last three qualifiers, she contributed with a vital goal, helping her team get a step closer to France. Lee Alexander is another emerging star between the goalposts, and the goalkeeper has managed to establish herself as the number one choice of coach Kerr.

Scotland women national team
Scotland WNT. Photo: Anders Henrikson

Something that has further helped develop the talent in the team, and allow them to focus on the football, is the financial help from the Scottish government, who went in with £80,00 of funding, which has enabled the squad to be full-time from January leading all the way up to the tournament in June.

“This announcement gives our home-based players an opportunity to train more, but also to rest more,” Kerr said to BBC Scotland.

“Some of them have to juggle full-time or part-time employment, or full-time education, as well as training with their clubs four or five times a week, on top of a strength and conditioning program as well.

“It is a big ask for those players who are not in a professional environment, and we need to make sure we support them as best we can. It is a huge weight off my shoulders and I know it is the same for the players.”

Midfielder Joanne Love, 32, who plays for Glasgow City is one of Scotland’s part-time players, who faces the struggle of balancing her day job with the demands of football.

“Particularly at my age, it’s getting a bit harder,” she said. “Some days I’m out the house for 12 hours between training in the morning, going to work then training at night.

“Elite athletes will tell you that you can’t go at 100mph all the time. Hopefully, I’ll find that balance and be top of my game come the World Cup.”

Shifting the focus over to Michelle “Shelley” Kerr. The former defender, who herself represented Scotland as a player, has previously managed teams such as Hibs and Arsenal on the women’s side, before becoming the first female manager in the UK to manage a men’s side when she took over Stirling University. The team constantly finished in the top five and she led them to the British Universities Championship final in 2014-15. In April 2017 she was appointed manager of the Scottish national team and have since led them to a historic first World Cup final.

Kerr is one for switching up the formations, and she’s had success with different ones. Her go-to choice seems to be the 4-2-3-1 but she is not afraid to switch it up and has also tried the 4-5-1 and 4-4-2 amongst others.

Scotland has a few games coming up, such as their game against Chile on the 5th of April 18:00 (UK time), they’re then going up against Brazil on the 8th of April, before welcoming Jamaica to Glasgow and Hampden Park on the 28th of May. The games will all be available on BBC Alba.

That concludes a little bit of insight on the Scottish squad. A lot of the buzz around this team will of course circulate around the England game, but they will also have to take on Argentina and Japan, two other big footballing nations. Do you think that the Scots can do it? Let us know in the comment section!

WC Countdown: Group C – Australia

We’re already onto group C in this World Cup countdown, and it is time for Australia!

The Matildas (whose nickname comes from an old Australian folk song) has been on the international scene for quite some time, having participated in all but one of the previous World Cups (they missed out on the inagural edition in China 1991), and they have steadily improved during the years. However, they’ve never been able to make it past the quarter-finals (which is still the furthest that any male or female Australian team has reached), a curse that they are now looking to break. They qualified after they defeated Thailand in the semifinals of the AFC Women’s Asian Cup (Australia moved from the Oceania Football Confederation to the Asian Football Federation in 2006 because they were fed up with Fifa not allowing Oceania an automatic qualifying spot at the time, and so they (at least the men’s side) perceived it to be easier to qualify via the Asian route), but lost 0-1 to Japan in the final. They drew 0-0 against South Korea, won 8-0 against Vietnam and drew 1-1 with Japan in the group games, before going up against Thailand in the semi-finals.

Sam Kerr is one of the biggest names in the Australian squad. The 25 year old, who was shortlisted for The Best FIFA Women’s Player in 2018, finished off the previous NWSL (the American league) and W-league (the Australian league) as top scorer, and she is a force to be reckoned with, having set a new record after scoring in seven consecutive Matildas games in 2017/18. She was also named captain by new head coach Ante Milicic, a role that she was very humbled to receive.

“It’s a massive honor,” Kerr said. “Milicic speaks in such a passionate way, it’s quite uplifting … it had me quite emotional when he asked me.”

Sam Kerr
Sam Kerr. Picture source: thewomensgame on Wikimedia

Kerr will be taking over the role from former co-captains Lisa De Vanna and Clare Polkinghorne. De Vanna has represented the Matildas since 2004 and captained the team at their last World Cup appereance in 2015. The 34 year-old is another attacking option with a lot of pace and great dribbling skills. Alanna Kennedy is only 24 years old, but has already represented Australia for years, and is nowadays a cornerstone in their defense. At the 2018 Asian Cup she scored two goals, one of them being the vital stoppage time equalizer against Thailand in the semi-final, that saw the game go to penalties, where Australia won. Chloe Logarzo and Emily van Egmond are two other strong players who are contributing on the midfield.

There has been a lot of talk lately about the Matildas on the coaching front, after Alen Stajcic was fired as head coach of the team in January, only five months before the World Cup. Although the exact reasons behind firing Stajcic remain unclear (the FFA claim that thiss is because of confidentiality) it is being said that there was a toxic team culture in the squad, and that the situation was unsustainable. The decision has come with a lot of controversy, and many players have spoken out against the sacking of Stajcic.

In his place, Ante Milicic has been named the interim coach to take over the team (with interim meaning that he is only temporarily in charge until a new head coach is appointed). Milicic is a former Australia international player and was a Socceroos (nickname for the men’s team) assistant under Ange Postecoglou, however he has never coached a women’s team. Former Australia captain Melissa Barbieri spoke out about the newly appointed coach, saying “I think it is fantastic that Ante (Milicic) has put his hand up to coach the Matildas.”

“He goes into this job unaware of how much he will fall in love with women’s football.”

It is as of yet unclear what kind of formation that Milicic will want to play, but at the 2018 Asian Cup the team tended to play some different formations, including a 3-4-2-1.

Milicic will get a chance to feel out his potential tactics and formations rather quickly, as the Australian side are hosting the Cup of Nations, with their first kick off against New Zealand on February 28th, a game which they won 2-0. They will also play South Korea on the 3rd of March and Argentina on the 6th of March. Then they have a friendly against USA scheduled on the 5th of April.

That is a little bit on the first team in group C! Australia are quite the heavy favourites to go pretty far in this tournament – do yous agree? Fire up the comment section! Also, give us your take on the appointment of yet another male coach who has never set foot in the women’s game before? Opinions may differ and I try to let my own feelings stay out of these World Cup Countdown pieces as much as possible, but my feelings do not match those of Barbieri regarding yet another male coach getting the go-ahead to coach a women’s team, never having coached a women’s team before in his life (he should not have to ‘fall in love with women’s football’ AFTER already having been appointed). I will write an opinion piece on the problematic issue that is unfortunately all too recurring.

WC Countdown: Group B – South Africa

We are now onto the fourth and last team in group B, South Africa.

This will be the first year playing in the World Cup for the Banyana Banyana (which translates to ‘the girls’), they are only the sixth team from the African continent to qualify for the tournament, and it will be very exciting to see what they can do. South Africa played very well all through the qualification stage and was really unlucky not to win the Africa Cup of Nations, where they narrowly lost out to Nigeria on penalties in the final, a team that they had beaten 1-0 in the group stage of the Cup of Nations. That didn’t matter as they had already secured qualification to the tournament in France, but they are no strangers to losing out on the gold medal in the Cup of Nations, seeing as they’ve finished as runners up no less than five times since 1995.

The Banyana Banyana team are not short of hardworking stars in the team. The captain Janine van Wyk has shown up for the team in a record-breaking 161 appearances, having broken the caps record for an African woman with her 150th international appearance playing against Malawi at the COASA Women’s Championship in 2018, and is also the most capped South African player of either gender, with midfielder Mpumi Nyandeni and striker-turned-defender Noko Matlou now set to get their 150th caps for the team. The vice-captain Refiloe Jane looks like she will get her 100th cap when South Africa head to the Cyprus Cup next week, and young talent Thembi Kgatlana, the reigning African Women’s player of the year who scored five goals in her five appearances at the Cup of Nations, is only three games away from her 50th cap for the team, despite only being 23 years old.

Janine van Wyk and Thembi Kgatlana celebrates
Janine van Wyk and Thembi Kgatlana celebrates, made by The Matchday Lookbook

Banyana Banyana’s coach, Desiree Ellis, is somewhat of a big deal in women’s football, especially in South Africa where she could be considered a trailblazer. Ellis was first appointed as the caretaker coach of the team back in October 2016, before she took the job on a permanent basis in February 2018, and she’s been off to a great start, leading the team to their first women’s world cup final ever. She also holds the record as the first African player, of either gender, to have won the COSAFA Women’s Cup as a player (in 2002) as well as a coach (in 2017). Ellis likes to deploy a 4-2-3-1 formation, playing her captain in a centre back role and giving her attacker support through the wings as well as from the middle.

South Africa will participate in Cyprus Cup, that begins on the 27th of February, and they have been drawn in group B together with Finland, Czech Republic and Korea DPR. They also have a friendly booked against USA on the 12th of May, before the tournament kicks off in France.

That’s a bit of information on South Africa, and this wraps up the second group at the World Cup. How do you think South Africa will do against the likes of Germany, China and Spain in the group? Let us know in the comment section below!