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Women’s World Cup 2019: Group B preview

Germany are the favorites, but don’t count anyone out in this extremely tough group.

Germany v Denmark - UEFA Women’s Euro 2017: Quarter Final Photo by Maja Hitij/Getty Images

Group B features two old powers, one rising force, and a newcomer to the tournament hoping to make a big impression. While Germany are the popular favorites to top the group, there is a wealth of talent up and down these rosters, so you’d probably be wise to expect the unexpected.

GERMANY

Rank: 2

Recent record: The question for Germany in 2019 is which Germany will show up in France. Will it be the defending champions of the last global tournament, the 2016 Olympics, ready to unite the titles with some swashbuckling performances? Or will it be the team that lost in the quarterfinals of the European Championships a year later, and which then proceeded to lose to Iceland in qualifiers, putting them in real danger of having to go through the playoffs to even make this World Cup?

If it’s the former, the world should beware. Because if anything this group is even stronger than the one that took home the Olympic gold medal three years ago. They’ve phased out a few veterans, but replaced them well. And in terms of sheer star power, there are few nations in the world that can match this Germany. In particular, they possess one of the strongest attacks at the tournament, with world-class players all across the front six.

After their struggles in 2017, Germany made a coaching change, only settling on Martina Voss-Tecklenburg in early 2019. That is very little time for a new coach to make her mark, and some of the fluctuations in the German team may simply be a result of everyone trying to find their place. If they can capture that energy and direct it in a positive direction, there’s no limit to the potential of this German team.

Odds of winning: Favorite/In the Running/Dark Horse

One to watch: As usual, Germany’s hopes will rise and fall with the sensational Dzsenifer Marozsán, who is fresh off playing a key role in driving her club team Lyon to a fourth consecutive Champions League title. Marozsán does a little bit of everything for Germany, generally playing as a deep-lying central midfielder who dictates play and controls the tempo of the game. But she also has a ferocious shot, and can do quite a bit of damage with runs into the box.

CHINA

Rank: 16

Recent record: It’s been a long time since China has been a true world power in women’s soccer. Long gone are the days of Sun Wen and the great teams of the 90s. However, there have been occasional glimmers. China advanced to the quarterfinals of the 2015 tournament, only to be knocked out by the United States. That was a young team and many of those players are back this time, presumably four years wiser and more developed.

And yet, looking at their recent results, China seems to have regressed. They finished in last place from twelve teams at the 2019 Algarve Cup and have generally struggled when forced to play similarly-ranked opposition, particularly when it takes place outside China.

One to watch: Wang Shuang is the only player on China’s squad to play outside of her home country, after making a big move to Paris Saint-Germain last year. Her performances at PSG show why she has quickly become the fulcrum of the Chinese attack. Her skill and precision will be critical to their chances.

Odds of winning: Favorite/In the Running/Dark Horse

SPAIN

Rank: 13

Recent record: Spain have popped up on plenty of lists as a dark horse for this tournament, based on their exceptional technical ability. But at least so far, that potential has never quite shown up in a big tournament. They managed the quarterfinals at the European championship, after a group stage exit at the last World Cup. But recent results suggest that Spain might be ready to turn the corner, with recent victories over the Netherlands, Brazil, and Switzerland, along with draws against Germany and Canada demonstrating that Spain deserves to be counted among the credible challengers for the later stages of the knockout rounds.

When everything is clicking, Spain move the ball with lightning speed through a series of one-touch passes, and it all looks as pretty as any nation in the world. The problem is: it doesn’t always click. When it doesn’t, they lack the cutting edge to manufacture goals through more direct means. And given the tough group, they may flatter to deceive once again.

One to watch: While the attack is where Spain is most exciting, their results may depend more keeping the defense and attack working in unison. One key player on that front is Mapi León, who has come into her own as a top defender over the past two years, after joining Barcelona in the first paid transfer in Spanish women’s soccer history. While still young, she is quickly making a case for herself as one of the top fullbacks in the world. American viewers may remember her from the absolute lockdown she placed on Tobin Heath in their friendly earlier this year.

Odds of winning: Favorite/In the Running/Dark Horse

SOUTH AFRICA

Rank: 49

Recent record: This is South Africa’s first trip to the World Cup, and they have not been blessed with an easy group. For a team that has yet to win in 2019, including losses to teams like the Czech Republic and Finland, it may be a bridge to far to expect results against the likes of Germany and Spain. Still, there is real quality in this squad. If everything clicks, they’ll be able to defend deep but not be forced to withdraw into a bunker. With occasional forays upfield, they’ll spring attacks and hope that the strikers will take the few chances they’re given. On their best day, this is a team that can reasonably challenge just about anyone. But only on their best day. And even then, it only takes one mistake to throw everything into chaos. Most likely, that will be the fate of South Africa in France as well. But it’s no sure thing.

One to watch: Linda Motlhalo is the linchpin of the team. Her versatility in the midfield will be critical to keeping them from getting run over. Despite a relatively slender frame, she is an important physical presence. And her movement to open up space will be essential to relieve what will likely be insistent pressure from the opposition.

Odds of winning: Favorite/In the Running/Dark Horse