Women’s World Cup Group F: Colombia, England, France, Mexico
Colombia is a fast-improving team that has established itself as the second-best squad in South America behind perennial power Brazil. In qualifying, Colombia didn’t lose a game in finishing runners-up to Brazil (5-2-0) and allowed only two goals the entire tournament. With both team already assured of a World Cup spot, Colombia and Brazil met in the final round robin game of the second round in qualifying and Las Cafeteras held the eventual champion Brazil to a 0-0 draw. This was in no small part to the strategy of coach Fabián Taborda. He played a 5-4-1 that stymied a Brazilian attack without superstar playmaker Marta. In Canada, Las Cafeteras are more likely to play a 4-4-2 centered around 21-year-old playmaker Yoreli Rincon who finished with a team-high three goals in qualifying and midfield anchor Diana Ospina. Colombia prides itself on playing a short passing, ball possession style and hopes that will lead to a historic first World Cup win this summer.
After a quarterfinal showing at the 2011 World Cup, England had high expectations for Euro2013 but when they were eliminated in the group stage veteran head coach Hope Powell was soon dismissed. What followed was a World Cup qualifying campaign that saw young players such as Toni Duggan and Lucy Bronze make their mark while veterans such as Fara Williams, Karen Carney and Eniola Aluko took larger leadership roles. England went a perfect 10 for 10 in qualifying with interim head coach Brent Hills at the helm for the first four games, before Mark Sampson took over as permanent head coach in December 2013.
After back-to-back fourth-place finishes at the 2011 World Cup and the 2012 London Games, France was expected to be a serious contender at Euro2013. In a surprise, Les Bleues lost on penalty-kicks to Denmark in the quarterfinals of Euro2013, a result that cost veteran head coach Bruno Bini his job. In the wake of the Euro2013 disappointment, Philippe Bergeroo took the head coaching reigns, knowing that expectations are high in France for a serious run at the World Cup. He led France to a perfect 10 for 10 qualifying record changing very little from the Bini formula, and relying on a core group of veterans, many from Champions League powers Lyon and Paris Saint-German: prolific strikers Gaetane Thiney, Marie-Laure Delie and Eugenie Sommer, with the brilliant playmaker Louisa Necib pulling the strings in midfield where Camille Abily and Elise Bussaglia provide plenty of flair and steel as well. At the back, another World Cup-Olympic veteran Wendi Richard will anchor the defense.
After losing its opening qualifying game 1-0 to Costa Rica, Mexico suddenly faced a more complicated journey to Canada than expected. A young team, but with several players that had seen playing time at the 2011 World Cup, Mexico easily handled minnows Martinique, 10-0, in their second game but then had to rally to beat Jamaica 3-1 to advance to a semifinal showdown with the U.S. Veteran head coach Leonardo Cuéllar took a calculated risk in resting several starters for the U.S. game, but the move paid off when those rested players were needed for the eventual Third-place match against Trinidad & Tobago (Mexico having lost 3-0 to the U.S. in the semifinals). Mexico clinched its berth in Canada by beating T&T on penalty kicks after a 1-1 tie. Cuéllar is aiming to get more preparation time with his players ahead of the World Cup than he did for the qualifying tournament. If he can, then players such as Charlyn Corral, Monica Ocampo, Stephany Mayor may get the chance to shine and have a shot at Mexico’s first win at the World Cup.