WWC Group C, preview: US debuts
The day is finally here for the Americans. Over eight months removed from a disappointing qualifying campaign, the United States opens its 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup campaign on Tuesday against North Korea. And kickoff can't come soon enough.
It has been a long, tough spring for a US team that has taken a beating in the media, with only a slightly tamer reaction coming from fans. The Americans have fired back, ensuring everyone that they are stronger than ever now that they have faced adversity.
That entire theory will get put to the test on Tuesday against a North Korean team that is feared but very mysterious. Even the players know very little about the team, although historically, Korea DPR is a relatively familiar opponent. This is the fourth-straight Women’s World Cup that these two teams have been drawn into the same group, with the U.S. is 2-0-1 in the three previous meetings.
Last time (2007) was the first time the North Koreans took a point from the Americans, a 2-2 draw that's planted a seed of doubt. That uncertainty's fueled by the Asian runner up's style, the US having shown itself susceptible to technical teams who can work their way around the States’ physicality. Case and point: Mexico (who beat the US in qualifying).
Mexico proved dangerous as a counter attacking team against the US, who could not come up with answers when a disciplined Tri defensive clogged their passing lanes. It's not difficult to imagine North Korea trying to execute the same formula.
For the US, the key is coming out strong, just like they did in their two May friendlies with Japan, a team that bares a stylistic similarity to the North Koreans. In those matches, the States dictated play on the flanks and shut down the Japanese attack, which pushed numbers forward out of the back. Given North Korea could try that as well, the United States should be well prepared.
In the day's other match, Sweden takes on Colombia, one of the biggest underdogs in the tournament. This is the first-ever Women’s World Cup for Columbia, which shockingly qualified over Argentina out of South America.
Sweden looks to follow-up a disappointing 2007 Women’s World Cup where, also grouped with the US and North Korea, they went home after group stage group stage - a disappointing follow-up to their runners up finish in 2003.
Sweden's key will be avoiding complacency. Colombia is not expected to pick up a point in group, and there is very little information on the team. That recipe for overlooking an opponent could present a danger for Sweden, which will need to make sure it earns full points (and a decent goal difference) prior to more critical showdowns with North Korea and the United States.
In the bigger picture, Group C is very much the group of questions. Is Sweden ready for a 2003-like run or a 2007-esque flop? How good are the North Koreans? Is the U.S. really on the decline? And can Colombia hang around with these teams at all? The first answers come Tuesday.
Jeff Kassouf is a freelance writer and proprietor of Equalizer Soccer who will be contributing to FOX Soccer's coverage of the 2011 Women's World Cups. He is one the co-authors of The Complete Guide to the 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup.