Group D / Women's World Cup

World Cup Preview: Group D

Teams:  United States, Sweden, Australia, Nigeria

When the groups were drawn for the World Cup, Group D was immediately dubbed the Group of Death. Three teams are ranked in the top 10:  Sweden, Australia and the United States. Nigeria has been a team on the rise in the youth ranks and could see some of that success translate on the world’s biggest soccer stage. Sweden and Australia have given the United States fits in previous tournaments and the Americans’ dominance has come into question. The group winner will likely have an easier path to the final as it draws a third-place finisher.

U.S.United States
FIFA Ranking:  2
Last World Cup:  2011 – Runners up, fell on penalty kicks to Japan
Best World Cup finish:  1991 and 1999 Champions

Roster

 

The Americans have never finished out of the top-three at the World Cup and came tantalizingly close to snagging a third trophy four years ago. Despite an epic comeback in the quarterfinals and two leads in the final, the U.S. couldn’t hold on. The U.S. roster is an aging one – only Julie Johnston and Morgan Brian are under 23 years old. It is the final tournament for Abby Wambach and Christie Rampone, who is the only player on the roster who knows what World Cup triumph feels like.

Players to Watch:  F Alex Morgan, F Abby Wambach, M Carli Lloyd

Morgan was the youngest member of the 2011 World Cup squad and used that tournament to step onto the world stage. She spent much of 2014 recovering from a seven-month layoff due to a stress reaction in her left ankle. She suffered an ankle sprain during World Cup Qualifying that kept her out of action until earlier this year and has recently missed time because of a bone bruise in her left knee. Morgan says she’ll be ready to go against Australia, but how fit will Morgan be? It’s anyone’s guess but the U.S. team will be hoping that she is healthy.

Lloyd has a tendency of being a clutch performer in big moments. She scored both goals against Japan in the Olympic final in 2012 and the overtime winner against Brazil in 2008. She’s settled back into her central role in the midfield after spending some time on the wing.

Key Match-up:  Sweden vs. United States (June 12, 8 p.m. ET, on FOX)

This will be the match that determines the group winner. Sweden brings a familiar face – former U.S. head coach Pia Sundhage, who coached the U.S. women to a pair of Olympic gold medals and to their heart-breaking loss to Japan. Christen Press is also familiar with several Swedish players after spending three years playing professionally in the Damallsvenkan.

SwedenSweden
FIFA Ranking: 5
Last World Cup: Third place finish in 2011 with victory over France
Best World Cup finish: Runner-up to Germany in 2003.

Roster

Player to Watch: F Lotta Schelin
The veteran striker has scored 80 goals in 149 appearances, and won the Golden Boot at the 2013 European Championships. With her club, French powerhouse Lyon, she has won Ligue 1 seven times and the Champions League twice.

Key Match-up: Sweden vs. United States (June 12, 8 p.m. ET, on FOX)

A matchup between the two favorites to take the Group of Death as Swedish head coach Pia Sundhage faces the international team that she guided to two Olympic gold medals and second place the last World Cup. Sweden has experience in World Cup prep as they defeated Germany in the group stage of the Algarve Cup. That experience and their height that could give the U.S. problems especially in the midfield where the U.S. has yet to show consistency.

australiaAustralia
FIFA Ranking:
10
Last World Cup: 2011 – quarterfinalist
Best World Cup finish: The Matildas have progressed to the knockout stages in the last two World Cups, losing to Brazil, 3-2, (2007) and falling to Sweden, 3-1 (2011).

Roster

The Australians are a young team – and very fast in the attack -and have played in every World Cup since 1995. Several faces will be familiar for U.S. fans – Kyah Simon, Lisa De Vanna, Caitlin Foord, Samantha Kerr, Stephanie Catley and Katrina Gorry have all featured in the National Women’s Soccer League. They finished second in the group in 2011 behind Brazil and could complicate things in group play if the Aussies can muster up good results against the United States and Sweden.

Players to Watch:  F Lisa De Vanna, M Caitlin Foord

De Vanna is one of the most experienced players on the roster for Australia with 99 caps and has scored 35 international goals. The 30-year-old’s speed up top could give defenses fits, so long as she stays on side.

Foord is one of 16 players age 25 or younger on the roster. She has played a defensive role for U.S. club Sky Blue FC but coach Alen Stajcic has chosen to put her in a more attacking role. Her pace on the flanks will be a threat whether she plays outside back or as a wing midfielder, particularly against tired defenses.

Key Match-up:  Australia vs. Sweden (June 16, 8 p.m. ET on FOX)

The Matildas end group play with a rematch from the 2011 quarterfinals that saw Sweden advance with a 3-1 victory. Australia has advanced out of the group stage the last two tournaments and a result against the No. 5 team in the world, who will be coming off a draining U.S. game, could provide opportunities for more than just third place.

nigeriaNigeria
FIFA Ranking: 33
Last World Cup: 3rd in group stage in 2011
Best World Cup finish: Quarterfinal appearance in 1999, lost 4-3 to Brazil

Roster

Nigeria is the type of team that if you look past them to the next game, they will punish you for that. They need a good first step for the future and getting out of the Group of Death would be a really big step for the future of women’s soccer in Nigeria. Many of young players were a part of the U-20 squad that lost in the final to Germany. They have the makings of a future golden generation but will it translate to the field against senior competition.

Player to Watch: F Desire Oparanozie
One of the youngest players for Nigeria at 20 years old, Oparanozie is one of Nigeria’s top scorers. Playing in her second World Cup, and she also played in the 2010 and ’12 U-20 women’s World Cups, plus the ’08 U-17 tournament, she has the experience that the team will be looking for as they look to pull an upset in the Group of Death.

Key Match-up: Nigeria vs. Australia (June 12, 5 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1)

If all the matches go as planned, this will be the match that determines third place and a possible Group of 16 appearance. Nigeria has experience on the World Cup stage, making every World Cup, but has only made it past the group stage once. The Super Falcons may be overlooked by Australia, meaning the youth and eagerness of Nigeria could pull off the upset.

Predicted Order of Finish:  United States, Sweden, Australia, Nigeria

Complete Group D Schedule:

June 8:  
Sweden vs. Nigeria, 4 p.m. ET on FOX
United States vs. Australia, 7:30 p.m. ET on Fox Sports 1

June 12: 
Nigeria vs. Australia, 5 p.m. ET on Fox Sports 1
Sweden vs. United States, 8 p.m. ET on FOX

June 16:
United States vs. Nigeria, 8 p.m. ET on FOX
Australia vs. Sweden, 8 p.m. ET on Fox Sports 1

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