The eyes of millions around the World are about to turn towards Canada with the country set to stage the biggest ever Women's World Cup. The event is expected to be the largest ever in not just the number of teams but also in the number of fans in attendance and potentially in the number of viewers. It is going to be huge.
For fans planning to tune in the expanded field of 24 teams means that there will be plenty of new countries taking part in the competition this year. For the casual fan of Women's Soccer that means a lot of unknown sides to try and figure out while all of the perennial favourites will also be on display.
It is an event that many expect to be dominated by the countries that have made the top 10 of the FIFA rankings their home for many years. Germany, Japan, and the United States are considered to be the favourites by most observers but the likes of Sweden and France are not far behind them and could easily make a deep run in this competition if a few bounces go their way.
Add in the likes of England, Brazil, Australia, the Netherlands, and even Canada and you have a couple of long shot contenders who could cause an upset if they are at their very best. There really are 10 teams in this field who will be hoping to make some noise should they manage to reach the quarterfinal stage.
Many of us will be familiar with the favourites but countries like Thailand, Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Ecuador, Nigeria, Costa Rica, and Colombia are relative unknowns for anyone other than the most attentive observers of of women's soccer. It is these nations who are set to benefit from the expanded field and could just be what make this event memorable if one or two of them defy the odds and cause a few upsets.
Group A is home to Canada, China, the Netherlands, and New Zealand and should be one of the tighter groups in the competition. Canada would like to think of themselves as the favourites in this group but the gap between first and fourth is not a very big one on paper. In this group we have four countries that are ranked between 8th and 17th in the World and it really should be that close in the group.
While Canada will have the boost that comes from being the host nation they have not looked consistently good in the buildup to this event. Since their bronze medal performance at the 2012 Olympics it has becomes clear that Canada is on the outside of that elite group and would need a fair bit of luck to reach the semifinals or beyond.
They should still be able to get out of this group though as they are the strongest team by a slight margin. The play of Christine Sinclair and Sophie Schmidt will have a lot to say about how well Canada does in this group as they will need to find some scoring.
The Netherlands are probably the most interesting team in this group and could well prove to have enough quality to wind up with the top spot in group A. They do not have the best ranked and only qualified through a playoff but do not let that fool you as they have looked very good in recent months as they claimed some impressive results in preparation for this event. If Vivianne Miedema can continue to defy her young age and perform on the biggest stage the Dutch will be a tough team for anyone to deal with.
Add in China and New Zealand who both have the ability to play very organized defence and you should have a tight group. These two are both capable of pulling off an upset in a tight game so it would be foolish to write off either of them from claiming a good enough record to make it out of this group.
If Group A is shaping up to be a tight battle between all four teams that same is not expected over in Group B. This group has a very clear favourite in Germany who are expected to claim top spot with relative ease. The Germans plan on making another deep run in this event and that should start with dominating this group. Celia Sasic and Alexandra Popp should give this team more than enough fire power to rack up a nice goal difference and some comfortable wins.
Their companions from UEFA, Norway, will be expected to claim the second spot in this group under the guidance of Even Pellerud. He led this team to a European Championship final and even had they keep things close against Germany so a group stage exit would be seen as a major failure for Norway this time around. An organized defensive unit and the scoring abilities of Solveig Gulbrandsen, Ada Hegerberg and Isabell Herlovsen should be more than enough to get Norway out of the group.
The Ivory Coast and Thailand will probably play the part of also-rans in this group as both nations are making their first appearance in the Women's World Cup. If either of them can manage to keep their goal difference respectable against Germany and Norway they could sneak out of the group with a win against the other nation.
In Group C we find another one of the event's likely powerhouses as Japan are expected to have a fairly easy time with their group stage opponents. Japan will be looking to defend their title from 2011 and they certainly have the quality to do that with Aya Miyama leading a squad that is well stocked with both skill and experience. With the rest of the field in this group making their World Cup debuts that experience should prove to be quite valuable for Japan as they will likely coast through this group.
The good news is that at least one of Group C's three debutants will be moving on to the knockout stages. Switzerland are one of the nations on the rise in Europe and they are expected to finish ahead of the other new comers in this group. The Swiss made qualifying for this event look easy and they did it by scoring a lot of goals. Lara Dickenmann, Ana-Maria Crnogorčević, Romna Bachmann, and Fabienne Humm all hit the back of the net eight or more times in qualifying and should be expected to cause problems for defenders in this event as well. They may not be poised for a deep run but this is a team that should be fun to watch in the early stages.
Cameroon come to this event having gained some valuable experience at the 2012 Olympics as they prepare for their World Cup debut. They finished last in London but that experience could be valuable for a team looking to at least claim on of the best third place spots and advance to the knockout stages. To do that they will have to keep things close against the top two teams and then claim all three points against Ecuador. It is quite possible that Cameroon will be up to that task.
Ecuador were the final team to claim their place in this World Cup and could very well be one of the first teams heading home. They are a team with very little experience on the international stage and a lot of youth. That youthful inexperience starts from the very top as their head coach, Vanessa Arauz, will become the youngest ever coach at a Women's World Cup at just 26.
Group D should be another interesting one to watch with plenty of quality from top to bottom and all four teams having the quality to reach the knockout stages. The United States remain the favourites to win this group despite having their issues in the buildup to this event. With Alex Morgan, Abby Wambach, Sydney Leroux, and Christen Press they have the attacking power to score plenty of goals. The question for the USWNT is not whether they can make it out of this group but if they are serious contenders for the later stages of the event.
Sweden are the one team in this group that could potentially knock off the Americans for the top spot. They have proven to be one of the top teams in the World in recent years and will be looking to prove that under the coaching of Pia Sundhage they are not far behind the likes of Germany and Japan. With Lotta Schelin leading the way they have more than enough quality to make a run towards winning their first Women's World Cup.
While the US and Sweden are rightly the favourites to top this group they are not the only teams in Group D that have the quality to make a bit of noise in the knockout stages of this event. Australia were quarterfinalist in the last two events and will be looking to improve on that this time around. The bulk of their roster gained some valuable experience in 2011 and should be back ready to perform on this stage. With players like Caitlin Foord and Katrina Gorry they have just enough attacking power to make some noise in this event.
Add in the top team from Africa, Nigeria, and you have another very strong group. Nigeria are regulars at the World Cup having been the dominate nation in Africa for quite some time. Despite making it to every Women's World Cup the Super Falcons have only made it to the knockout stages once and will just be hoping to improve on that record this time around.
One of the most exciting young players in this event should be Asisat Oshoala who really turned some heads with her performances in the U-20 World Cup. She could give this Nigeria team enough attacking power to grind out the results they need to make it past the group stage for the second time but it certainly won't be easy with such a tough group standing in their way.
One of the best players in the World is expected to grab the bulk of the headlines in Group E as Marta is expected to lead Brazil to a top place finish in this group. When this Brazilian team is clicking they are one of the most impressive teams to watch in women's soccer with their passing and movement reminding spectators of what their men's team can be like.
They also have a lot more quality in their team than just the 5-time World Player of the Year and Marta will get plenty of support from Cristiane who is often the one who provides the finishing touches to Brazil's buildup play. The attack certainly will not be the issue for this Brazil team but if they are going to make a deep run they will have to show that they can play enough defence to ensure they do not squander all of that attacking potential.
Behind Brazil this group gets quite tricky to try and predict. South Korea are one of the rising countries in Asia, Spain are a strong team making their World Cup debut, and Costa Rica were the surprise package coming out of CONCACAF to claim their first World Cup appearance.
South Korea will look to play very strong defensively in their typical 4-4-2 and then count on getting just enough quality up front from Ji So-yun and Park Eun Sun to grab the results that they need. If those two are scoring goals this team could make a run for the second spot in this group but that will be no small task for the attacking pair.
Spain will like their chances of making the knockout stages in their World Cup debut. They also have one of the top players in the World as Vero Boquete should be a dominant force in the middle of the park. Like Brazil they have plenty of attacking flair bit just as many question marks about their defending. If they can keep it tight at the back they should be able to score just enough goals to finish ahead of South Korea for that second spot.
While Costa Rica are probably the weakest team in this group it would be foolish to look past them based on the performance that they put in at the CONCACAF Championships. They are well organized at the back and rely on a group of exciting young attackers to cause problems for their opponents. It is an approach that helped them finish second in CONCACAF and could cause headaches for their World Cup opponents.
The field is rounded out by Group F which should be a battle between a pair of strong UEFA nations. Both England and France will have their eyes on the top spot in this group while Mexico and Colombia will likely just be hoping to do enough to get out of the group stages.
The attacking quality of France should be what proves to be the difference in this group. They seem to have that extra gear that makes them one of the best teams in the World when they are really clicking. If Louisa Necib and Gaetane Thiney are anywhere near their best they should give France enough quality in the attack to come out on top of this group. The French team have spent the buildup to this event by testing themselves against the best teams in the World and it showed that while they are not consistently the best team in the World they can hold their own against anyone on their day.
England should be in good shape to come out of this group in second place but they find themselves in a similar place to Canada. They have a top 10 ranking and plenty of talented players but no one is really talking about them as a contender to make a serious run in this competition. The problem for England is that they just lack those players that can take over a close game and put them over the top. If they can get a win against Mexico it should be enough to see them through to the knockout stages where they could play spoiler but this group will not be easy for them.
Mexico come to this event with a fairly young squad that will likely be looking to gain experience in this event. They have enough quality to test England and Colombia which means a place as one of the best third place teams is not out of the question for them but will require an improved performance than what they have shown in the buildup to this event as they struggled to get results against countries other than Canada.
Colombia round out the group and are another team that might just have enough quality to grab the three points and not terrible goal difference that should be needed to claim a knockout place as a third place finisher. To do that they will have to get a result against Mexico or England which will not be easy but Yoreli Rincon could give them that added boost of quality in the middle of the park as the 21-year-old is certainly one of the players to watch in this group.
On the whole this is a tournament with several teams that will be dreaming of lifting the World Cup at the end of things while most others will just be looking to make it to the knockout stage and gain some valuable experience. So each group that seems highly predictable their is another that should be tightly contested.
What it all means is that Canada 2015 is shaping up to be a very exciting event for fans. The expanded field has diluted some of the talent but has also cleared the way from some exciting new talent to be on display. With so many countries making their World Cup debuts we could soon be discovering the next top talent in women's soccer.