This may seem like a rather big call but, in my mind, the women’s football can be a much better competition to watch because it can be more entertaining. This is mostly because it is an open-age tournament unlike the men’s which is restricted to players aged 23 and under, robbing the fans of the opportunity to see many of the big names in world football taking part in the competition. I’m not going to sit here and say that the overall skill level on display will be better than what the men produce but, much like watching the MLS or A-League and comparing it to the Bundesliga or Premier League, it could be a better spectacle in terms of entertainment and drama because of the way it plays out on the pitch.
Anyone doubting the ability of women’s football to produce drama needs to look back a mere 12 months to the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup and the quarter final between the USA and Brazil. The USA Women, down and out 2-1 in added time of the second half of extra time scored a miraculous goal through Abby Wambach to tie the game at 2-2 (see the video below) and send the match into a penalty shootout, which the USA won 5-3. Everyone got caught up in the knockout stages of that tournament which ended with a Japanese victory in the final over the USA on penalties and now many of the teams which fought hard are back again to try and go home with a gold medal in this 12-team tournament.
As the host nation, Great Britain entered their squad with the other six confederations providing two teams (except Oceania with one spot) to make up the teams. From Asia, Japan and North Korea qualified, Africa provided South Africa and Cameroon, USA and Canada are the CONCACAF entrants, the CONEMBOL qualifiers are Brazil and Columbia, Oceania’s lone representative is New Zealand and finally, the UEFA entrants are Sweden and France. These 12 teams are divided into three groups of 4 (labelled Groups E-F to follow on from the men’s tournament) with each team playing each other once and a three day break between games. Group E has in it Great Britain, New Zealand, Cameroon and Brazil, Group F is made up of Japan, Canada, Sweden and South Africa and the final group is made up of the USA, France, Columbia and North Korea.
The top two teams from each group qualify for the quarter finals as well as the two third-placed teams with the best records to make up the eight team knockout round. From there it is a straightforward win or go home scenario for the teams with the gold medal match taking place on August 9 at 7:45pm UK time in Wembley Stadium.
Who are the Gold Medal favourites?
Going off recent history, you would have to assume that only four teams are going to be a real chance of a gold medal, Japan will be a force to be reckoned with after their triumph last year, Brazil produces good footballers whether they are male, female or undecided, the USA are one of the top teams of the world and will be a well drilled unit and finally the Swedish team who finished third at the last World Cup will be a test for any team they face too. Starting from the top, the Brazilian side is lead by the world’s best player in Marta who has an astonishing goal scoring record for her country, finding the net 67 times in 68 appearances. Supporting Marta up front will likely be Cristiane who has featured for her country 74 times and netted 57 times. This Brazilian squad will win games through their superior firepower up front and that will make this a very tough squad to beat.
Last year Japan became the first Asian team to win a FIFA World Cup in Germany and now they will look to become the first Asian team to win an Olympic gold medal in football. They will be relying heavily on Homare Sawa who won the golden ball and golden boot at last year’s World Cup and at age 33, is the eldest member of the Japanese squad but far and away the most experienced as well with 179 total appearances and has scored more than double the amount of goals as the next highest scorer in the squad. With three other squad members who have over 100 national team caps the Japanese side will be able to use that experience to outsmart any opponent.
Made up primarily of locally based players, the Swedish squad were the surprise packets of the 2011 World Cup making the semi finals before beating France in the third place playoff. In the twilight of her career, defender Sara Thunebro has been known for steadily improving over the course of her career and if she is in top form this 5’5” defender could help Europe’s best hope for the gold medal. Working against Sweden is their tough group assignment being paired with Japan meaning they will, in all likelihood have to scrap their way to the gold medal match at Wembley if they fall short in the group.
Finally, the two time defending Olympic champion USA team coached by Pia Sundhage will be relying heavily on their staunch defense to get them through this tournament. Lead by 37 year old captain Christie Rampone the defense of the US will be very hard to break down as she is joined by Heather Mitts, Rachel Buehler and Amy LePeilbet in front of superstar goalie Hope Solo who has as many fans as detractors due to her outspoken personality. Leading the line up front will be another veteran in Abby Wambach who has a penchant for popping up to score at the right moment. In the last World Cup, Wambach was runner up for the Golden Boot and Ball and she will be looking to continue that form.
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