Let’s face it. 1999 was a long time ago. Some of the current USWNT players were barely in kindergarten the last time the U.S. won the World Cup. Abby Wambach says she’s sick about losing in the finals in 2011 and has hung on until the ripe age of 35 to try and win one. The U.S. women of 1991 and 1999 were, in large part, the reason why women’s soccer has become a global game of excellence. But until the U.S. wins another World Cup, they can barely deal with the missing piece of sterling silver hardware.
Getty ImagesDilip Vishwanat
If we were really being honest, Germany would tie the U.S. as the No. 1 team with the most pressure to win. The Germans were knocked out of the title match in 2011 in their own country. It’s amazing that Silvia Nied kept her job as the manager of the German side. But now, being the No. 1 ranked team in the world, and after losing on home soil the last time, the Germans come into the 2015 WWC knowing this is the last time Nied will lead the team. Her replacement has been named for a 2016 takeover. Germany will feel the pressure to deliver in Canada.
Bongarts/Getty ImagesAlex Grimm
France is an interesting character in this year’s World Cup. They are ranked No. 3 in the world, and are probably favored by many as the team whose time has come. They are confident, talented and eager without being anxious, and their steady rise under coach Philippe Bergeron has been boldly impressive. But, one can make the argument that since France is looking to truly announce their ascendancy on the international stage, they could get rattled now that soccer supremacy is truly within their reach.
AFP/Getty ImagesDANIEL ROLAND
O, Canada! As if to prove their mettle, the Canucks moved up in the FIFA rankings to No. 8 just weeks before hosting the WWC. The Canadians have also won a lot of praise from opponents. In April, France defeated Canada in a friendly, but France’s star forward Eugenie Le Sommer conceded that Canada is a terrific team capable of very solid play. Canada should sail through group play, but will then find themselves in the white-hot spotlight during the knockout rounds. No host team wants to disappoint the home crowd.
Bongarts/Getty ImagesJeff Vinnick
The reigning champs return to the World Cup without a clear narrative around them. They continue to be a superb ball-control team that can make all the right passes. However, they are transitioning and trying to bring some younger players into the mix, and will return to the World Cup stage, most likely, without their former captain, Homare Sowa. Was fate on the side of the Nadeshiko four years ago, when they came from behind twice to tie the U.S. and then win on penalty kicks? Perhaps. But this proud team will want to win again.
Getty ImagesFilipe Farinha
Brazil still has Marta, and Brazil is still Brazil, but even Marta has expressed skepticism that her team can prove they belong with the big guns at the top. The issues for No. 7 ranked Brazil is that after seven World Cup appearances, they are still looking for their first title. To make matters more pressing: Brazil will be the host for the 2016 Olympics. On paper, this is not Brazil’s year, but Marta & new coach Oswaldo Alvarez will aim to prove they are the most beautiful practitioners of The Beautiful Game.
AFP/Getty ImagesEVARISTO SA
Given their pretty horrendous results in the past few years and their steady sinking in the world rankings, China might have been happy to keep a low profile in this World Cup. The country has recommitted itself to soccer with a new national program to get tens of thousands of school-age kids playing in order to field world-class teams. But it has been a long time since 1999, China was a great test for the U.S. in the World Cup final. This time, they must open the 2015 WWC against home-team Canada. There is no place to hide.
Getty ImagesBuda Mendes
Let's just roll all the rest of Group D into one big grab bag of pressure. Along with the U.S., this isn't just being called a group of death. It is THE group of death, since these are all potent teams that can beat any other team on a given day. Sweden can be superb side, if they're firing on all cylinders. Australia, too, could make it out of the group. Nigeria has torn it up all across Africa and comes into the World Cup eager to prove it can run with the big dogs.