France qualified as group winners, winning all 10 of their matches (among Uefa’s nine group winners only Germany and Italy failed to go undefeated) but since sealing qualification in September, results have been somewhat mixed. With Corinne Diacre still at the helm, they lost friendlies to Sweden and Germany, but have since recovered to beat Norway and win the Tournoi de France.
The France shirt.
Diacre was sacked after falling out with several top players and in the two friendlies they have played since, France overwhelmed Colombia and edged past an injury-hit Canada. The new manager, Hervé Renard, will have to contend with several absences through injury, particularly in the team’s forward line, as Delphine Cascarino and Marie-Antoinette Katoto are unavailable. To this end, Renard will rely on the veteran striker Eugénie Le Sommer, the country’s all-time leading scorer, to lead the line and the team’s propensity to play a more flowing style of attacking football may be more limited as a result. At the back, Wendie Renard will again be vital and with the underrated Juventus goalkeeper Pauline Peyraud-Magnin in goal defence will be one of Les Bleues’ strong suits. With Renard, Le Sommer and several other players in their 30s, the team have been ambitious about exceeding their past performances in the tournament, with Chelsea’s Ève Périsset saying: “It’s up to us to prepare ourselves well to reach our goal, the last four.”
Hervé Renard replaced the controversial (but relatively successful) Diacre in March, but has yet to put his stamp on the team. Despite having no previous experience in charge of a women’s team, he does have experience at international level and has also overachieved in tournaments at short notice in the past, including winning the Africa Cup of Nations with Zambia in 2012. At international level, Renard has often played a 4-2-3-1, but has also experimented with three at the back. For France, he is likely to opt for the former, but could also play with three in midfield.
Wendie Renard provides leadership and aerial prowess for France. She will have plenty of veterans alongside her in Le Sommer and Amandine Henry but given they have been out of favour in recent years, Renard will be the linchpin for her country in what could be her final World Cup. Physically imposing and elegant on the ball, her leadership and aerial prowess at set pieces make her important at both ends of the pitch. If France are to reach their aims in this tournament she will be vital.
Just 19, Vicki Bècho was quietly impressive for the league champions, Lyon, last season. Her return of two goals and four assists may not catch the eye, but she achieved these numbers in relatively limited minutes. A livewire on the pitch, she is able to operate on either flank or through the middle, using her outstanding technical ability. She is also exceptional in terms of her ability to press and will be an ideal option to disrupt a match late on.
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Lyon’s Amel Majri became the first active French international to return to the pitch after becoming a mother. Her daughter, Maryam, has just turned one and she is already a part of the set-up for Les Bleues, having joined the team at their April camp at Clairefontaine.
Standing of women’s football in France?
D1 Féminin is one of Europe’s top leagues, led by Lyon and Paris Saint-Germain, but with other strong teams as well, including up-and-coming Paris FC. The national team’s matches and the league are broadcast domestically by Canal+, France Télévisions and M6, all national channels.
Realistic aim at the World Cup?
France have reached at least the quarter-finals of the past three World Cups and will aim to get as far in this edition. The veteran players are keenly aware this may be their last chance at silverware, with Le Sommer recently expressing a goal of reaching the last four: “It’s a big goal, and we know it’s going to be difficult, but we have to aim high and have ambitions given the level of our team.”
They are no longer the only Caribbean team to qualify for the Women’s World Cup, but Jamaica’s Reggae Girlz will be the first from the region to make a second consecutive appearance at the finals. Ranked No 43 in the world, they are a much more formidable group than that of 2019 and the squad features several US and England-born players with Jamaican heritage who were not a part of the team which made a historic appearance in France. The squad is similar to the one that competed in the qualifiers, winning all but two games – a 5-0 group stage loss to the United States and a 3-0 semi-final loss to Canada – at the Concacaf Women’s Championship in Mexico. During that tournament, Jamaica registered a 1-0 win over the host nation and also beat Haiti 4-0 and Costa Rica 1-0 on their way to a third-place finish.
The Jamaica shirt.
In total, the Jamaicans scored 30 goals and conceded 10 between the first phase of qualifying and the Concacaf championship and were again led by the talismanic striker Khadija “Bunny” Shaw, who ended the qualifiers with 12 goals. Since then, the head coach Lorne Donaldson has brought in a few young prospects in 19-year-old goalkeeper Liya Brooks, 18-year-old Solai Washington, 19-year-old Kameron Simmonds and 22-year-old Peyton McNamara, all of whom impressed in the lead-up to the World Cup. Jamaica will rely on their speed opening up opposing defences, particularly from the wide areas, especially with the addition of fleet-footed players Washington, Simmonds and Kalyssa van Zanten, who can be lethal when coming off the bench. Still, Shaw, as always, will be the focal point in the attack and, much like she did at the 2019 showpiece when she assisted Havana Solaun to score a historic first goal against Australia, she could make a difference against their more illustrious Group F opponents if is she is able to get on the ball close enough to goal.
The defence has not always been the team’s strong point and while Donaldson and his assistants have done their best to beef up the backline, it basically remains the same as that of 2019, with the exception of Tottenham goalkeeper Rebecca Spencer and right-back Tiernny Wiltshire. Strong performances can be expected from the former captain Konya Plummer, who recently returned from maternity leave, but is looking raring to go again. Much is also expected of her fellow defender Allyson Swaby, who is strong in the air and resolute on the ground. Without doubt Jamaica remain one of the biggest underdogs at the World Cup, but they are certainly not going to the tournament accepting defeat, especially with the 2019 experience now under their belts.
Lorne Donaldson was born and raised in Jamaica where he started his playing career at Kingston College and Cavalier FC, before moving to the United States where he entered Metropolitan State University of Denver (he was inducted into MSU Denver’s Hall of Fame in 1995). He went on to play for the Denver Kickers, where he won the 1983 National Amateur Cup, and Jamaica. He later started his coaching career as an assistant at Metro State Roadrunners in 1983 and has not looked back since, managing Colorado Foxes, Colorado Rapids and Real Colorado Foxes, along the way. Donaldson was introduced to the national women’s programme on the recommendation of the ambassador for Jamaican women’s football Cedella Marley in 2014, along with previous head coach Hue Menzies and the two guided the Reggae Girlz to their historic qualification in 2019. Both later left the programme for various reasons that involved the Jamaica Football Federation, but Donaldson expressed a willingness to return provided the conditions were different. In July last year, he replaced Vinimore “Vin” Blaine at the helm, a few weeks ahead of the crucial Concacaf Championship, after the players released a letter expressing dissatisfaction with Blaine’s leadership.
Khadija Shaw in action during the third place match against Costa Rica at the Concacaf W Championship last summer. The first player from the Caribbean to win the Concacaf Player of the Year Award in 2022, and Jamaica’s all-time leading scorer with 56 goals, Khadija “Bunny” Shaw’s career is one of bumps, bruises and of course, tremendous success. The 6ft striker’s physicality and speed of thought had set her up for a dazzling career from a young age – aged 14 she played for Jamaica’s under-15, under-17 and under-20 teams. She made her debut for the senior side on 23 August 2015, scoring once in a 6-0 win over the Dominican Republic. She has lost siblings to violence and accidents but used those tragedies to fuel her passion for football. During the 2019 World Cup in France, Shaw signed a two-year contract with FC Bordeaux and ended her second league season with 22 goals and seven assists in 20 matches, winning the top goalscorer award. She then joined Manchester City where the now 26-year-old continues to show her class, scoring 31 goals in 30 games last season and being named the club’s player of the year.
At 18 years old, the US-born midfielder Solai Washington is the youngest member of the squad and is one of the up-and-coming players to look out for at the World Cup. Still in high school going into her senior year, Washington first joined the setup at a camp in Florida this year and hasn’t looked back. She possesses great ability and works hard on and off the ball in a manner that belies her age.
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Thirteen of Jamaica’s 23-member squad will be making their first World Cup appearances. That number includes the five England-born players – Rebecca Spencer, Vyan Sampson, Atlanta Primus, Drew Spence and Paige Bailey-Gayle. Also of note is that Cheyna Matthews, like she did in 2019, has returned shortly after giving birth to make the World Cup squad.
Standing of women’s football in Jamaica
Women’s football in Jamaica came to life in 1991 when the Reggae Girlz played their first international match against Haiti, losing 1-0. Since then, they have become one of the top teams in the region, and currently boast their second highest ever Fifa ranking at 43. They achieved their highest of 42 last year. There have been bumps on the road, however, and in 2010 the women’s programme as well as the women’s Olympic programme were disbanded by the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF). At that point, they were at their lowest ranking of 128 but the country was later removed from Fifa’s world rankings after three years of inactivity. The programme was restarted in 2014 with the support of Cedella Marley, the daughter of the late Bob Marley. Marley’s robust fundraising efforts eventually helped the Reggae Girlz achieve their historic World Cup qualification.
Realistic aim at the World Cup
While it seems a daunting task for Jamaica to get out of Group F and into the last 16, they are expected to prove more competitive than they did in 2019 and the collective goal is to at least take points off one of France or Brazil. If they can do that, confidence is high that they will get the better of Panama in their final group game. So the realistic aim for the team known for its stubborn determination and passion is to prove their doubters wrong by getting beyond the group stage.
Brazil enter the tournament still searching for their first world title. They were beaten finalists in 2007 but have disappointed since, falling at the quarter-final stage in 2011 and the last 16 in 2015 and 2019. But a new generation under Pia Sundhage are optimistic this time can be different. Perhaps unencumbered by the pressure felt by previous teams, this young group went unbeaten in claiming the 2022 Copa América, with their versatility a key asset. Antônia, Kathellen and Ary Borges, for example, all played in multiple positions. “I’m there for whatever she [Sundhage] needs,” said Borges.
The Brazil shirt
The team no longer rely so heavily on the legendary trio of Marta, Cristiane, and Formiga, with only Marta in the squad. The No 10 now acts as a source of support and inspiration for the younger players and Sundhage often makes a point of praising the 37-year-old superstar. In 2019, Brazil arrived at the World Cup on the back of nine consecutive defeats but their form in the lead-up to this tournament has been much better. After going unbeaten for 10 games in 2022, the team were impressive against England and Germany in April, losing to the Lionesses on penalties after a resilient display in the Finalissima at Wembley and beating a strong German side 2-1 in Nuremberg. “We have taken big steps in these four years,” said Sundhage. “We’ve brought in new players and I think we are in a good place.”
Pia Sundhage is one of the most successful coaches in the women’s game, having won two Olympic golds with USA, reached the World Cup final in 2011, plus an Olympic silver with Sweden. She took over Brazil in 2019 with the mission to rejuvenate the team and re-establish them as a leading force. Sundhage has called up more than 90 players and formed a squad mostly of new talents. Her side is physically stronger, mostly playing in a 4-4-2 system, with an emphasis on technical players. She travels to Australia and New Zealand in a confident mood: “We have got a chance.”
Marta, a six-time winner of the Best Fifa Women’s Player award, leads the squad in her sixth World Cup. A key figure on and off the field, she is regarded as one of the best of all time. This will be her final World Cup and she would love to sign off by winning the trophy for the first time. Her teammates have made a pact: “We are taking inspiration from what Argentina did for Messi. We want to do the same for Marta,” said Kerolin.
At 17 years old, Aline Gomes has a huge future. The attacking midfielder has explosive physicality, serious dribbling skills and speed. She came through the ranks at Ferroviária and made her international debut against England at Wembley.
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Gabi Nunes always wanted to be a footballer, but she never imagined she would play alongside her biggest inspiration. When she was younger, she used the password “Marta in the future” for her social media accounts and, like many Brazilian girls, dreamed of meeting the Brazil No 10. They are now teammates.
Standing of women’s football in Brazil?
Women’s football was banned in Brazil for nearly 40 years. As a result, the sport still grows slowly in the country. The 2019 World Cup was a turning point and in the past four years the domestic league has gained more visibility with matches broadcast on television. Clubs have started to invest more in their women’s teams, attracting more fans to games and setting attendance records.
Realistic goal for this World Cup?
Reaching the semi-finals is the target, though those recent performances against England in the Finalissima and the friendly against Germany showed Brazil can dream bigger. “They are very good and prepared to do anything,” said Sundhage.
Courtesy of the Guardian