The day has finally arrived and all focus (after the conclusion of the Champions League final) has now turned to Edmonton where Canada is set to take on China in their first match at the 2015 Women's World Cup. The tournament's final isn't until July, but Waking the Red staff give you an advanced look at the team's and players who could be appearing there.
Who Will Win Canada 2015?
Dave Rowaan: France
In the last World Cup we saw Japan go from that talented team that never really took the next step to becoming the World Cup champions. I think we will see something similar this time around just without the added element of a great human interest story that we had with Japan following the tsunami. The team that is finally going to get over the hump this time around is France.
This French team has as much talent than anyone else in the field and may just play the best looking soccer out there. They have a knack for passing the ball around the park and really controlling the flow of a game. If they can find consistent scoring from their attackers they could put teams away early and often in this event. Give this team a lead and you will have a hard time getting a sniff.
Who doesn't love a good underdog. The current 3rd place team (as per FIFA's undisputedly flawless ranking system) tends to stay away from podium finishes. France ended up 4th four years ago in Germany. They then proceeded to come in 4th at the 2012 summer Olympics. And without fail, in the 2013 European Championship, they of course placed... actually, they lost in the quarters, in heart-breaking fashion as Denmark defeated them in penalties. The thing is, France have looked strong ever since. In World Cup qualifying they steamrolled the competition. They have beaten many top-10 sides in friendlies over the past two years. And their 1-0 victory over Canada in April went exactly as expected.
France should easily emerge from their group, with only team England likely to provide any sort of competition. With France's recent back-and-forth competitive history against the Canadian ladies- eliminating the Reds with a 4-0 win in 2011 and then losing out in the bronze medal match to Canada in London, nothing would be more satisfying to Les Bleus than hoisting the big trophy on Canadian soil come July 5th.
Mitchell Tierney: Japan
It's a bit off the board, even though they are the defending champions and were runners up at the London 2012 Olympic Games, but Japan are my pick to win this tournament. The current world number four haven't been the best team going into the tournament, but they play a style that will be advantageous on the turf.
Relying on a possession based game that includes a number of short passes they will not be as affected by the fact that the surface preforms differently than grass. This was already shown against Canada earlier this year in BC when Japan took home two solid victories over the tournament's host nation.
The fact that teams have already said they won't play as aggressively on the turf also benefits a smaller Japanese team. Not having to worry about crazy sliding tackles and players dragging them to the ground as much will open space up for Japan that will help them thrive at this tournament.
Nobody had them winning four years ago, and few have them winning this time around either. But the Japanese team have been one surprise after another in the women's team and that won't stop this year.
James Grossi: Canada
Yes, it's a little improbable; but what the heck; be brash and confident. Home teams have a history of stepping up in big tournaments and this Canadian side has been working towards this goal for years; never mind, the impact that a pro-Canadian crowd can have on a match.
Christine Sinclair is one of the best in the world, and, as witnessed at Old Trafford, can put the team on her back. Kadeisha Buchanan is a formidable defender who will lead from the back, while the rest of the squad has plenty of talent and experience - Diana Matheson and Sophie Schmidt are personal favourites, that goal in Hamilton was wonderful - to see them through a final run; not to mention Jessie Fleming, who could prove to be a breakout talent if she finds her rhythm. John Herdman has this group drilled and focused; they may not be favourites, but they have a wonderful chance to restate their darling status in the eyes of a success-hungry nation.
Who Will be the Player of the Tournament?
Dave Rowaan: Ji So-Yun (South Korea)
Move over the same old names that dominate the FIFA World Player of the Year ballot time after time. There is about to be a new name among your ranks. While So-Yun will have to play out of her mind just to keep South Korea in this tournament long enough for her to prove she is the best player I think she is capable of getting the job done.
The Chelsea ladies star is just starting to tap in to all that potential she has and with him game starting to develop in to a more well rounded skill set this should be the stage that allows her to shine. She will be the engine that makes South Korea go and will also be relied on to do the bulk of their scoring. It is a lot of pressure but if she can get them out of the group stage that should give her enough exposure to show just how good she is.
Sven87: Lotta Schelin (Sweden)
Going with a pretty safe bet here- Schelin will have a fantastic tournament. The 31 year old Swedish captain and striker (who can also be slotted out on the wing) has been on fire as of late. Schelin has scored in each of Sweden's last three friendlies dating back to April 5th, including bagging a brace against Denmark.
Schelin has converted an absurd 129 goals in 120 matches with French club Olympique Lyonnais, propelling them to 9 consecutive titles in France's top tier. Schelin has also been known to use her height (5'10 and change) to her advantage- she's a serious threat whenever and wherever she is on the pitch, and opposing teams will need to develop entire strategies around stopping the Swedish goal-scoring machine.
Mitchell Tierney: Louisa Necib (France)
She's coming off of an injury and her fitness for this tournament is somewhat in question, but if she is healthy Necib is the best player on one of the best teams in the tournament. France will be a contender in this tournament, and Necib will be the team's engine as they try to capture their first ever FIFA Women's World Cup trophy.
Necib is an incredible playmaker and few in the women's game have similar vision, making her a major asset to the french team. Canadians will remember her as a Canada killer at the 2011 World Cup as she dominated their midfield as part of a group stage victory that effectively eliminated Canada.
France will go far in this tournament whether Necib is on her game or not, but she is one of the best players in the world and will be the difference between another also ran performance from France and winning the tournament.
James Grossi: Sydney Leroux (United States)
Not only is she in good form and playing for a potentially-dominant American side, but she will be the nexus for a whole range of discussions as a Canadian-American, or American-Canadian, who chose to represent the Evil Empire, rather than the country of her birth. From the grass-turf controversy, to claims of racism, to the general ill-will directed towards turncoats, she will be lightning rod for media attention and is sure to provide plenty of story-lines as the tournament plays out. On top of all that, as a player under the spotlight, she will be motivated to make a statement, both on and off the pitch.