There are just four different countries that have ever won the Women’s World Cup. Germany (2003, 2007) and the United States (1991, 1999) both own two titles while Norway (1995) and Japan (2011) have each won once. With all due respect to Norway, which is not the same powerhouse it used to be, Germany, the U.S. and Japan are clearly the three top teams heading into the 2015 World Cup, which begins this weekend in Canada.
In the most recent FIFA rankings, Germany is No. 1, the U.S. is No. 2, France is No. 3 and Japan is No. 4. By virtue of the fact that Japan is the most recent champ, that team still has a little more cache than France, which has never finished higher than fourth (in 2011). Germany is in Group B, the U.S. is in Group C and Japan is in Group D, so the earliest that any of them could meet is in the round of 16.
Things were set up for a true dynasty last time around as Germany came in as the two-time defending champ and was hosting the event. The Germans went 3-0 in group play in 2011 but were upset by Japan in penalty kicks in the quarterfinals. In Canada, Norway is the one team that could challenge Germany in Group B.
After paying her dues for many years, head coach Jill Ellis gets her first shot at bringing another World Cup title back to the U.S. Ironically enough, she’ll meet her former boss Pia Sundhage (now Sweden’s head coach) in the second match of the tournament for the United States. Many Americans should be on hand in Canada to cheer on the squad, particularly if they progress to the semifinal that’s in Montreal. The Final is being held in Vancouver. In group play, the Sweden match on June 12 will be tough but the U.S. should be heavy favorites against Australia and Nigeria.
In 2011, Japan came out of nowhere to win the title as it had never finished even as high as fourth place. The greatest player they have ever produced – midfielder Homare Sawa (2011 World Player of the Year) – is back for her record sixth World Cup (she debuted at age 15!). She won the Golden Boot (leading scorer) and Golden Ball (tournament’s MVP) in 2011. At age 36, you’d have to think that this will be her last World Cup, so needless to say they’ll be motivated to send Sawa out on top yet again.