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2016 Olympic Preview: Australia could shock everyone in Group F

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Three international contenders and one newcomer highlight this fascinating group

Australia v New Zealand Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images

Group F

Australia
Germany
Canada
Zimbabwe

Schedule

Wednesday, August 3
Canada vs Australia, 2 PM ET
Zimbabwe vs Germany, 5 PM ET

Saturday, August 6
Canada vs Zimbabwe, 2 PM ET
Germany vs Australia, 5 PM ET

Tuesday, August 9
Australia vs Zimbabwe, 3 PM ET
Germany vs Canada, 3 PM ET

Full schedule here

Germany

FIFA ranking: 2
Best finish: 3rd (2000, 2004, 2008)

Conventional wisdom in Group F gives the edge to perennial powerhouse Germany, in what will be the final tournament at the helm for long-time manager Silvia Neid. Having fallen off the podium in the World Cup in Canada and falling short of their own monumental standards, the squad will collectively be looking to bounce back in Rio 2016. But even conventional wisdom cannot compensate for the retirement of talismanic goalkeeper Nadine Angerer, or the retirements of star attackers Nadine Kessler and Celia Šašić. Look to Alexandra Popp to shoulder the bulk of the scoring responsibilities and a healthy Dzenifer Marozán will provide much needed skill and impetus in the midfield. Much like their managerial situation, this is a team caught in flux between a veteran core and an emerging youth movement.

Australia

FIFA ranking: 5
Best finish: 5th (2004)

Another youth movement striding ever so dangerously towards its heyday has something to say about the conventional wisdom of this group. Australia, a team coming into the Olympics with a roster that boasts an average age of 23.67, believes that this is their tournament. Though this is their return to the Olympics after 12 years absent, this young squad boasts World Cup experience and the knowledge that they can beat any team on any given day.

This confidence, solidified with a historic win over Brazil in last year’s World Cup, makes the Matildas a team that nobody in Group F will be looking forward to meeting. Just as Germany lost their talismanic goalkeeper, Australia is experiencing the emergence of one. Lydia Williams has been nothing short of scintillating this season for the Houston Dash and with a skilled roster featuring emerging stars like Sam Kerr and Stephanie Catley, Australian fans have a lot to be hopeful about.

Canada

FIFA ranking: 10
Best finish: 3rd (2012)

It’s a testament to the depth of this group and the ever evolving landscape of international soccer that it has taken this long to mention the bronze medalists from the London 2012 tournament, Canada. In a group mired with conventional wisdom, it comes as no surprise that Christine Sinclair remains key for Canada’s success. More important though will be the play of the supporting cast. Everyone knows that Christine Sinclair will be the focal point for opposing teams; the question is can the players around her step up and make Germany, Australia, and Zimbabwe focus on more than just Sinclair. Much may end up depending on young midfielder Jessie Fleming, just 18 years old, and Janine Beckie, currently in her first professional season with the Houston Dash.

The decision making skills of 29-year-old goalkeeper Stephanie Labbé in her first major tournament as a starter will also be key behind a backline that has its strengths with Kadeisha Buchanan, Josée Bélanger, and the ever-improving Ashley Lawrence, but lacks any real depth. A team that hasn’t been scoring lot of goals in the run of play, Canada will really be leaning on the thinnest part of their roster and that doesn’t bode well for a repeat trip to the podium in Rio.

Zimbabwe

FIFA ranking: 93
Best finish:

The Mighty Warriors of Zimbabwe come into this tournament under a cloud of catastrophic financial mismanagement by the Zimbabwe Football Association, a federation in turmoil and on the brink of disbanding altogether. After an historic qualification for this tournament partially due to the withdrawal of Ivory Coast, the team has found their preparation wrought with financial troubles, cancelled friendly matches, and a host of injuries to key players. Despite these hardships look for the Mighty Warriors to live up to their nickname in Rio. Make no mistake, this is not a team happy to make the 4,500 mile trip from Zimbabwe to Brazil for a moral victory. Captain and striker Felistas Mudzongondi will be key to managing her squad's morale and fellow striker Rudo Neshamba will be looking to disrupt defenses and score Zimbabwe’s first Olympic goal.

The biggest clash of this group will be Germany vs Canada on August 9 in Brasilia. This may not be the marquee matchup of the group; that’s Germany vs Australia on August 6 in Sao Paolo, but this could be a battle for the second and third spot in the group. The top two finishers in Group F stay on one side of the bracket but the third best team jumps over to the presumptive US side of the bracket, if the US follows through as winners of Group G. Neither Germany nor Canada want yet another early knockout round date with the United States so look for this game to be a hard fought battle to not be third place.

If they perform to their potential and stay healthy, look for Australia to top this group but even one slip up opens the door for an opportunistic and talented German team looking to send off their manager with a solid tournament performance.

Prediction

  1. Australia
  2. Germany
  3. Canada
  4. Zimbabwe