Opening game: Canada host China in Edmonton on June 6
Reasons to watch: China hosted the first Women’s World Cup back in 1991. China used to be a monster test for the U.S. women, at least up until 1999, when they were a foil for the U.S. women’s crazy good -- and last -- World Cup win. But this is a soccer match that pits yesterday vs. today. As the host team, Canada were an automatic bid for the tournament. But that’s too bad, really. As the No. 8-ranked team in the world, they didn’t need a gimme slot. This team is led by Christine Sinclair, one of the greatest strikers ever to play the game. She and her mates are determined to show how skilled, disciplined, creative and strong they are. Don’t miss the chance to catch the fire Team Canada will bring to the tournament. They’re going to up the fun and intensity of this World Cup. Tune in.
Carlos Osorio (Toronto Star) & C
Beautiful mind: Silvia Neid's last World Cup as Germany's manager
Reasons to care: Whenever Germany is on TV, or in the news, make sure you watch for coach Silvia Neid. She is just a trip. Tough, tight-lipped easily annoyed, leader of the favroites and No. 1-ranked team in the world. Neid also cuts a striking figure; tiny, blonde, athletic, well-heeled when not sporting the German training jacket. She’s also generally glamorously hidden behind polarized aviator sunglasses. Neid is in her last year as coach of the German national team. She was the coach when Germany hosted the 2011 tournament and failed to win at home. To say that a big part of the Women's World Cup isn’t about Neid and the Germans would be missing the point.
AFP/Getty ImagesCHRISTOF STACHE
Battle of titans: United States face Sweden in Group D super clash
Reasons to watch: Do not miss this game. Just don’t. On June 12, in the second match of group play, the U.S. will get a rush playing against their former coach, Pia Sundhage, who is now back coaching Sweden. Sundhage has a load of talent (Caroline Seger, Lotta Schelin, Nilla Fischer, Sofia Jakobsson) and has formed a style that makes Sweden exceedingly strong in the middle. If they’re clicking, the U.S. must be on their game. Alex Morgan knows what’s coming. She told Goal recently: "Sweden in particular with Pia being the head coach, they’re going to put up a good fight. They always challenge us in a great way and I’m excited to get it started." Listen to Morgan. Get excited with her.
Lance King & Jose Manuel Ribiero
The champs are here! Japan defend their World Cup title
Reasons to care: They can’t compete on direct play with the likes of Germany and the U.S., but there is not another team in the world that is more technically proficient. That is not to say they are mechanical or will leave you feeling cold. Japan are a pleasure to watch. And now they have ratcheted up the enthusiasm for their effort to defend their title as former captain and 2011 Women's World Cup heroine Homare Sawa, 36, was just named to the Japan team by coach Norio Sasaki. He said it wasn’t for sentimental reasons, but heck, even if Sawa’s presence in Canada was fueled by that emotion, we’re in!
Getty ImagesKiyoshi Ota
Familiar faces: England, France lock horns on June 9 in Moncton
Reasons to watch: With France poised to make a run for the title, this game is a decent way to start the tourney. It adds to the intrigue that the British were eliminated on penalties in the quarterfinals by rivals France at the 2011 World Cup. It's cool to see these two rivals drawn in Group F. France is packed with talent and exceptionally prepared to execute some of the best football being played by women in the world today. This first game will give them an Old European opportunity to show just how much of a killer instinct they have. So far, despite France’s rise in the rankings and the general concession that this could be France’s World Cup to win, they have yet to go for blood. Their Algarve Cup final loss to the U.S. in March either confirmed a lack of killer instinct, or maybe they’re saving for something bigger.
Christopher Lee (The FA) & Chris
Predicting the stars for the United States women's national team
Star watch: Carli Lloyd: She is the heart and soul of the team, in addition to wearing the captain’s band she may be the one player that the U.S. can't do without. Christen Press: This striker has all the right moves and is coming into her own at the perfect time. With Abby Wambach limited by aging legs, Press could be the breakout star for the U.S. offense. She knows how to work in behind defenses, she can run and shoot. She is very smart and very ready to lead the next generation of American goal scorers. Meghan Klingenberg: This left back has earned the nickname "Pepper Pot" by some of the soccer media, who have fallen in love with Kling’s energy and ability to cover the entire field. Not only that, she is quick-witted, engaging, alert and could probably sell Wheaties or Chevy’s by the score.
Getty ImagesMitchell Leff
Flying under the rader: Spain get their chance to shine
Reasons to care: Steffi Jones, the former German star set to take over next year as coach of the German national team, and Philippe Bergeroo, the coach of France, have both identified Spain as an underrated team worthy of respect and a little fear. Of all the first-time entries in this year’s World Cup, Spain are the ones to watch, led by the attacking talent of Veronica Boquete who was a candidate for the FIFA’s World Player of 2014. If you're looking for an underdog to root for, Spain are a good choice.
Getty ImagesClaudio Villa
Abby Wambach's last chance to grab World Cup glory
Reasons to care: At age 34, and as soccer’s all-time leading goal-scorer, it will be interesting to see if Wambach rises to the occasion of this World Cup she wants so badly to win, or whether she will be exposed by teams prepared to nullify Wambach’s advantages on set pieces. Look for Pia Sundhage to gleefully play defender Nilla Fischer on Wambach in the match against Sweden. It could be epic, these two old warriors battling for possession in the air.
Getty ImagesTom Dulat
One woman gang? Marta puts Brazil on her shoulders
Reasons to care: Even the great Marta -- the five-time FIFA World Player with 91 goals in 91 career matches -- has expressed curiosity about whether her side has what it takes to hang with the likes of Germany, U.S., France and Japan. However, Brazil has a knack for looking like a hopeless mess, especially in goalkeeping lately, only to break out the finest exhibition of the beautiful game when they reach the big stage. Look for an interesting game June 13 when Brazil plays Spain in the second match of group play.
Bongarts/Getty ImagesAlex Grimm
Worth the wait!
Reasons to watch: With professional leagues in Sweden, Germany, France and the United States providing opportunities for the best women players to compete, this World Cup will bring together an international consortium that have squared off against each other -- and played on the same teams -- from Kansas City to Lyon to Stockholm. German goalkeeper Nadine Angerer plays with U.S. stars Alex Morgan and Tobin Heath in Portland as does Canada’s star Christine Sinclair. Japan midfielder Rumi Utsugi plays for Montpellier in the French First Division alongside Sofia Jakobsson of Sweden. These players know each other and have made each other better, which makes watching them compete against each other all the more intriguing.