FOX Soccer Exclusive
Lionesses favorite for Group B glory
Group B's calling card is parity, though that's more of a fallback disposition than something you'd splay across a billboard.
Women's World Cup
Women's World Cup
Sunday, June 26
Group play starts for Group A - four of the 16 teams that will be taking part in the 2011 Women's World Cup, including host and defending champion Germany.
Tuesday, June 29
The United States opens their World Cup against North Korea.
Thursday, June 30
Canada faces France in a game that could determine who advances out of the Group of Death (Group A).
Saturday, July 2
The United States plays their second game, against Colombia.
Tuesday, July 5
Final rounds of group play start. Four matches per day, with group contests kicking off simultaneously.
Wednesday, July 6
The US finishes group play with the quartet's "second seed:" Sweden.
Saturday, July 9
Quarterfinals begin, to be played through the weekend.
Wednesday, July 13
Semifinals (Frankfurt, Mönchengladbach).
Sunday, July 17
None of the Women's World Cup's "Big Three" (Germany, the United States, and Brazil) are in the quartet, nor are popular dark horses like France and Canada, all of which is great news for the nation that's become the group's de facto favorite, England.
The Lionesses made waves in April when they beat the United States at Brisbane Road, a result that superficially buttresses the acclaim of their runners up finish at Euro 2009.
But the win over the US becomes less impressive when you consider what the States haven't played like a true power for over a year.
The Euro 2009 performance deserves fewer accolades when you remember England finished third in their group, allowed 15 goals in six matches, and were lucky to avoid France in the knockout rounds.
Credit to the Lionesses for going undefeated in qualifying (allowing only two goals in eight matches), but when you notice that no other teams in their qualifying quintet appeared at Euro 2009, you start to wonder how much we know about England's potential.
On Monday, we start to find out, with England facing Mexico in Wolfsburg. Which Mexico the Lionesses will face will go a long way to telling us how good Hope Powell's team can be.
If Mexico plays the ambitious football that saw them dismiss the US in CONCACAF's qualifying tournament, England will be tested (and could be had). Maribel Dominguez - the legendary Mexican forward making her first appearance in a World Cup - is more than capable of stealing a result from an England team who lack the Christine Sinclair, Marie-Laure Delie, Domniquez-esque finisher you want to see on a dark horse.
However, if Mexico plays conservatively - as they did against the US earlier this month - Kelly Smith and Faye White should be able to pick apart the Tricolor defense.
Whereas Mexico was able to take the States to stoppage time even by playing behind the ball, England has (at least) two players In midfield who are more capable than the States' Carli Lloyd. If Leonardo Cuellar is overly reverential of England, he'll find out for himself.
In the day's first match the group's seeded nation - FIFA's fourth-ranked team, Japan - takes on a New Zealand team with an atrocious World Cup history.
Having qualified for both China World Cups (1991 and 2007) , New Zealand's lost all six of their matches, scoring only once while allowing 20 goals. Because they had a cake-walk to qualify for this tournament out of Oceania - outscoring their opposition 50-0 over the course of five matches (beating Papua New Guinea 11-0 in the final) - it's difficult to establish context for their results.
A Peace Cup 0-0 with the imperfect benchmark that is England goes a little way toward solving that problem, though a result from roughly two years before that may be more telling.
Back in the summer of 2008, at another major international tournament in China (this time, the Olympics), New Zealand got their most notable result ever.
Then, the Football Ferns got a 2-2 result against their Monday opponent, the favorites needing late goals from Aya Miyama and Homare Sawa to avoid an embarrassing defeat.
New Zealand would go on to be outscored 0-5 in losing their last two matches of the tournament, but a history of sorts had already been made.
If Japan remembers that result and seeks a measure of redemption, it's difficult to see them losing this match.
Miyama and Sawa are still in the team, providing midfield support for Yuki Nagasato and Shinobu Ohno. All four of those players have at least 15 international goals. New Zealand has only one player (Amber Hearn) who's reached such heights.
That's one reason Japan might be forgiven for looking beyond New Zealand. Another: Japan has a history of struggling in group stage, inconvenient for a team whose world ranking carries the expectations of making it to the knockout round. That's only happened once before, in 1995, when a group stage upset over Brazil allowed the Japanese to squeeze of their group with a third place finish. The only other team Japan's ever beaten in World Cup is Argentina (twice), one of only four teams that has not returned to the World Cup.
With that history, Japan can feel fortunate to have drawn New Zealand to start. Their advantages in technical proficiency and quickness should make it a long night for John Herdman's team, provided the midfield plays to their billing. And if that happens, Japan should gain the kind of early moment that can help a team forget their uncertain past.