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The Guardian Preview: Group H



Germany’s football self-image, which was lost for a short time, is back. After the quarter-final defeats at the 2017 European Championship and the 2019 World Cup, the Germans were no longer considered favourites – but that changed at Euro 2022. However, there was trouble before this summer’s training camp after Bayern Munich released their five selected players three days later than previously agreed. Germany did not always convince in the warm-up matches either, as Martina Voss-Tecklenburg admitted. Nevertheless, the national coach is not worried – probably because the situation was similar before last summer’s European Championship. She says: “I’m still relatively relaxed because I have great confidence in our players.”

The Germany shirt.

The German fans also have confidence; they got carried away during last year’s Euros when they reached the final and so nearly won it. Almost 18 million watched the final on ARD – fewer people tuned in for the group stage matches of Germany’s men in Qatar last year. The team were aware of the euphoria they had sparked at the Euros, said captain Alexandra Popp. “And we are also aware that we have the pressure to at least confirm that at the World Cup.” Voss-Tecklenburg will probably go for her preferred 4-3-3, although she says she wants the team to be able to adapt. She has proven that she can do what Hansi Flick is unable to do with the men: identify an XI that work well together. She decided against including the versatile Bayern player Giulia Gwinn, although the 24-year-old is already training again after her second cruciate ligament injury and was hoping to be fit in time for the World Cup. The Germans’ goal? Firstly, topping what looks a winnable group. In the round of 16, they will most likely face a tough opponent: France or Brazil. Whoever they play it is a relief that the World Cup matches can be seen on television in Germany after all. Fifa wanted more money from the German television networks ARD and ZDF, who replied that they had already made their best and final offer. Before the deal was struck, the DFB president, Bernd Neuendorf, and the minister of the interior, Nancy Faeser, are said to have mediated to ensure it came to pass.

The coach

In one of her last matches as a player in 2003 Martina Voss-Tecklenburg scored an own goal in the 89th minute, to decide the German cup final. In her great career, in which she was twice Germany’s player of the year and four times a European champion, it was the first goal she had scored into her own net. Afterwards she said: “It’s better that it happened to me than to one of our young players.” That earned her a lot of sympathy, and she still has it, even as a coach. She was an expert for ZDF at the men’s World Cup in Qatar. After the quarter-final exit at the 2019 World Cup, many were sceptical, but since the European Championship in England, confidence in Voss-Tecklenburg, who is regarded as a great motivator, has never been greater.

Star player

Without doubt Alexandra Popp is the most popular player in the German squad. This is partly due to her sense of humour. And certainly because Popp – an honest worker – always makes the extra effort. But the 32-year-old’s footballing qualities should not be underestimated either. You often don’t know how she has scored the goals she does. Popp scored in every European Championship match until the final – in which she was crucially absent due to injury. Then she became the top scorer in the Bundesliga for the first time: “I would have gladly swapped the championship trophy with the goalscoring trophy,” she said afterwards. It is quite possible that Popp, the striker, will not play up front but in midfield, as she often does for Wolfsburg.

Rising star

Several young players have important roles in the German team: Lena Oberdorf, at 21, is one of the best midfielders in the world. Klara Bühl, also only 22, plays on the left wing. That’s where Jule Brand could also play. For many, Brand is Germany’s greatest offensive talent. With great technique and dribbling ability there is no doubt she has special skills. We are really just waiting for her to make her big breakthrough. At 20, she still lacks consistency and determination; in the last Bundesliga season she scored only three goals. Maybe the World Cup will be her breakthrough moment.

Did you know?

Melanie Leupolz, who didn’t go to the European Championship last summer because she was pregnant, will take her baby son with her to Australia. A nanny will also be travelling with her, and a place for Leupolz and Leupolz Jr to stay has already been chosen. “We will do everything possible to help Melli,” said Voss-Tecklenburg. “Many players are already looking forward to playing nanny.”

Standing of women’s football in Germany?

For the first (of eight) European Championship titles in 1989, the DFB gave each player a coffee set. Part of it is still at home with Voss-Tecklenburg, who played up front in that team. The shaking of heads over the past is now used for marketing: the new main sponsor produces hoovers and kitchen appliances. Interest in the men’s national team is declining in Germany, while interest in the women’s football team is higher than ever. However, to some Bundesliga matches last season only a few hundred fans were in attendance. It will now be important to turn the hype from last year’s Euros into permanent interest.

Realistic aim at the World Cup?

Facing Colombia, Morocco and South Korea, Germany are the clear favourites, and they should win Group H. In the build-up the players and the coaching team are saying they feel they can win against anyone. However, Germany will probably meet Brazil or France in the round of 16 and they also know that a tournament can be over very quickly.

Courtesy of the Guardian



Faithful to the style of football associated with Colombia, Nelson Abadía’s team seek to incorporate a tiki-taka style, often thrown together in a 5-2-2-1 or 4-2-3-1, that relies on pace on the flanks to create danger. Colombia waltzed into the World Cup by stringing together five straight wins in the Copa América held on home soil last year, including a semi-final victory over Argentina, to reach the final in Bucaramanga and book their World Cup ticket. In front of a sold-out crowd and with millions more tuning in at home, Colombia then gave Brazil their first proper test of the tournament before wilting late in the game. The one-goal defeat was seen as major progress for Colombia against a side that has long ruled the continent; this was their eighth South American title out of the nine contested since 1991.

The Colombia shirt.

However, despite capturing the nation’s attention and for all their bright buildup play of short passing and quick movements, the coach has not yet been able to resolve a fundamental flaw that could prevent them from reaching the next level. While Colombia are often pleasing on the eye, they are profligate in front of goal and their decision-making in crucial moments is often questionable. This anxiety in the final third may prove to be their undoing. Nonetheless, this is still an exciting mix of young talent, such as Real Madrid’s Linda Caicedo, alongside the vast experience of players such as midfield leader Daniela Montoya and the all-time leading scorer, Catalina Usme. United through strong personalities, daring ideas and peppered with an abundance of tricks and skills, a style of play has been forged that reflects the raw and unbridled football that many of these players first discovered playing on the many dusty, rock-strewn pitches across the country.

“Our strategy started out by seeking an identity and style that was consistent with our country’s idiosyncrasy – about what our football is all about. That has now lifted Colombia into an important position,” Abadia told El Espectador last year. Their preparations for the tournament were overshadowed by the fallout from a friendly against Republic of Ireland, which was abandoned after 20 minutes after the Europeans claimed the game had become “overly physical”. Colombia said Ireland had “preferred not to continue playing” and defended their players’ style of play. “Although all the processes and training of our teams are framed within the rules of the game, healthy competition and fair play, among others, we respect the decision of our rival team,” a statement from the federation said.

The coach

Nelson Abadia, 67, has spent more than 40 years in football and has earned a reputation as a coach who develops talent. In 1977, he was made head of the men’s youth teams at América de Cali, one of Colombia’s biggest clubs, before later coaching several second division teams. In 2016, he was appointed manager of the nascent América de Cali women’s team after a short spell as assistant manager of the women’s national team. Since 2017, he has been manager of las Chicas Superpoderosas. However, he has been accused of blacklisting several leading players, many of whom still play in the world’s top leagues, due to the role they played in bravely speaking out about abuses in the women’s game in 2019 and the indifference long displayed by the federation to address these issues.

Star player

Team captain and the example that others follow, Catalina Usme recently struck her 50th goal for Colombia, to consolidate her place as the country’s all-time leading goalscorer. Star of the Colombian league where she is also the leading scorer, Usme has landed two titles with América de Cali and last year bagged her 30th goal in the Women’s Copa Libertadores to also lead the goalscoring charts in South America’s biggest club tournament.

“Throughout my playing career, I’ve learned that leading by example is the best way of demonstrating leadership,” said Cata, as she is fondly known. “You can have good or bad days, normal days or spectacular days where you get carried out on somebody’s shoulders, or people drag you down and hit you hard. But what I will never do is to stop working hard.”

Rising star

The rise of Linda Caicedo over the past year has been exponential. In 2022, the Cali-born player finished as runner-up in the Copa América and the Under-17s World Cup, while also sealing a bumper transfer to Real Madrid upon turning 18 in February. With two Colombian league titles already under her belt, her goals and technical ability on the ball have transformed the teenager into one of the hottest young talents in women’s football.

Did you know?

Caicedo made her debut in 2018 when she was 14 before winning her first league title with América de Cali a year later. That same season, at 15, she finished joint top-scorer of the league. In a busy 2022, she represented Colombia at the Under-17 and Under-20 World Cups, while also leading the seniors to qualification for this tournament. Chosen as the best player at the 2022 Copa América, aged 17, she was also picked as the best under-20s player in the world by the International Federation of Football History and Statistics.

Standing of women’s football in Colombia?

Born in 2017, the women’s league has been plagued by problems and scandals principally caused by a lack of support provided by the country’s male-dominated footballing bodies. This has resulted in haphazard tournaments often cobbled together at the last minute and played out over irregular periods ranging from 45 days (2021), to the current five-month format, despite assurances from the league president that this year’s league would extend to a full year. While this paucity of interest from the top of the game has stunted progress, most league games are televised and more than 30,000 fans packed El Campín in Bogotá for this year’s championship showdown between Santa Fe and América de Cali. Fan interest is evident and increasing, but players are still demanding the league does more to support them.

Realistic aim for the World Cup?

Players believe now is the time to make history. “We have a strong group including Germany, who are a world power. But Colombia can take on any team,” striker Mayra Ramirez said. Women’s football is growing in Colombia and this is a team blessed with talent and some big players. A lot will rest on Caicedo, but the ambitious goal set is to break their record and go at least one stage further than the last-16 finish achieved at the 2015 World Cup in Canada. With the under-17s reaching last year’s World Cup final and the under-20s reaching the last eight in Costa Rica in 2022, Colombia have already achieved considerable success at youth level. The goal now is to transfer that progress to football’s biggest stage.

Courtesy of the Guardian



Morocco’s maiden participation in the World Cup is an achievement in itself. Hosting the Women’s Africa Cup of Nations in 2022 was a huge boost to promoting the women’s game in the country and the side reached the final with a team largely composed of players from Rabat’s AS Far and some very talented individuals from further afield. The draw has put Morocco in a delicately balanced group with Germany, South Korea and Colombia and the aim would be to reach the knockout stages, despite it being an extremely difficult mission. Having also participated in the Under-17 World Cup in India, Morocco is beginning to take women’s football very seriously.

The Morocco shirt.

As with the men’s side, the team is a melting pot where four or even five languages are spoken, but the common goal is not just to succeed on the pitch but also to advocate the women’s game and serve as trailblazers for the generations to come. It seems a genuine aim in a country where football has long been the “game of men”. A shift in mentality came in 2022, with the Moulay Abdellah Stadium in Rabat a full house for every Morocco game at Wafcon. That fever grew when AS Far hosted and won the second edition of the CAF Women’s Champions League.

The coach

When the Moroccan Football Federation (FRMF) contacted Reynald Pedros during the pandemic, they wanted a big name to help the team make the leap to the top level. He proved to be just the person for the role. The former France international is a legend, having won two Ligue 1 titles, a French Cup and two Women’s Champions League titles with Lyon. Pedros is conscious of the importance of the women’s game for Morocco and has brought in several young and talented players from Europe. Leading the team to the World Cup could be one of his biggest challenges, but whatever the outcome, he seems set to be linked with Morocco for a long time to come.

Star player

Ghizlane Chebbak is the face of Moroccan women’s football. Her late father was a Morocco international and was part of the team that won the sole Afcon title for the Atlas Lions in 1976. He was also her biggest supporter when she decided to play football. Chebbak is captain of the leading Moroccan club AS Far and is an icon in the country. Whenever she has the time, she speaks to young girls, encouraging them to follow their dream and to put the work in. “Moroccan people love watching football and they love supporting anyone who represents the country,” she told

Rising star

Fatima Tagnaout is without a doubt a generational talent. Her unique style, speed on the flank and dribbling skills make her a real danger for opposing defenders. But Tagnaout’s main weapon is her tremendous shooting ability with her left foot, a tool she uses perhaps less frequently than she should, preferring to assist rather than to score. She was voted player of the tournament at the Women’s CAF Champions League in 2022.

Did you know?

An African attendance record was set during the 2022 Wafcon in Moulay Abdellah Stadium in Rabat. The semi-final between Morocco and Nigeria had 45,562 fans in the stands. Some believe that during the final, the numbers were higher than 50,000, though without any official confirmation. What is sure is that there were hundreds of fans outside the stadium, wanting to get in and cheer for the Atlas Lionesses.

Standing of women’s football in Morocco?

The Moroccan FA has been investing in the promotion of women’s football since 2009, but the pace of the development took a huge leap in recent years, with the creation of a professional league. To protect the players, FRMF pays their monthly wages. This has encouraged a lot of families, who were concerned about the uncertainty of a footballing career for their daughters. In 2018, Morocco hosted the Symposium on African Women’s Football, which led to several resolutions regarding the development of the game. The FRMF also created a women’s football academy six years ago. Morocco is the only country in the world with a two-tier championship that is entirely professional. Besides the senior team, Morocco managed to qualify for the Under-17 World Cup, held in India in 2022. The Under-20 team was close to qualification for the World Cup in 2020, but the pandemic hit and Fifa had to cancel the tournament. Otherwise, it could have been a hat-trick for Moroccan women’s football.

Realistic goal for the World Cup?

The lack of experience at the highest level could be the main difficulty. Nevertheless, they have enough talent to make it to the knockout stages. The opening game against Germany is daunting but anything can happen and even a close defeat would give the team a real boost.

Courtesy of the Guardian


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