Teams: France, England, Colombia and Mexico
Group F appears top heavy with tournament favorites France and fellow European rivals England expected to claim the top two spots in the group. But Mexico and Columbia boast World Cup experience and will be looking to advance to the knockout stages for the first time in either country’s history, though a third-place finish is likely either sides’ best chance.
FIFA Ranking: 3
Last World Cup: 4th place
Best World Cup finish: The 2011 semi-final run was the best in France’s short World Cup history after being eliminated in the group stages in the only other appearance back in 2003.
Once a dark horse to win the World Cup in 2011, France enters the 2015 tournament in Canada as a world power and a favorite to hoist this year’s trophy. With many of its players playing together on the same French league teams, Les Bleues sport a technical, cohesive style that is unrivaled by most countries. Their ability to build through possession or play more direct depending on the opponent also makes them difficult to prepare for. Having taken every point from UEFA qualifying for a second consecutive World Cup—outscoring opponents 54-3—it’s title or bust for a country making just its third World Cup appearance.
Player to watch: M Louisa Nécib
Despite the abundance of attacking talents at their disposal in forwards Élodie Thomis and Eugénie Le Sommer, midfielder Louisa Nécib is the x-factor. Nicknamed by some pundits as “the female Zidane” after former French legend and midfielder Zinedine Zidane, Nécib is known for her immense technical skill on the dribble and ability to create plays for teammates as either a left-sided or central midfielder. However, when it comes to top tournaments such as the 2011 World Cup and the 2012 Olympic Games, Nécib has yet to register a goal or an assist. At 28 years old and in the prime of her career, Nécib’s triumphs or shortcomings could go a long way in determining France’s title hopes.
Key Match-up: June 9 vs. England (1 p.m. ET on FOX)
In a rematch of 2011’s quarterfinals, England is aiming to deliver some swift revenge on Les Bleues in a matchup between countries that are far from fond of each other. The winner of this game should also determine who emerges the group winner.
FIFA Ranking: 6
Last World Cup: 2011 – quarterfinalist
Best World Cup finish: In all three of its World Cup appearances in 1995, 2007 and 2011, England has advanced to the quarterfinals but still awaits its first semifinal appearance.
Much like the men’s side last year, England enters the 2015 Women’s World Cup with limited expectations. The Three Lions bring experience and have a plethora of attacking talent, but advancing past the quarterfinals for the first time in program history is likely their ceiling. England did manage to take all possible points from UEFA qualifying for the very first time though, which tied it for the third-best goal differential in qualifying with France. The other question is which England team will show up? The one that was trounced in a November friendly, 3-0, in Wembley Stadium by Germany or the one that destroyed Sweden, 4-0, later in 2014?
Players to watch: F Eniola Aluko, F Toni Duggan
With Kelly Smith retiring from international play in February, the veteran forward’s departure leaves a void to be filled up front. Eniola Aluko, a 28-year-old forward from Chelsea, is expected to fill that role, but don’t be surprised to see Toni Duggan—making her first World Cup appearance—to emerge as the country’s new international star. The 23-year-old has 11 goals in 16 appearances for the Three Lions, which include 10 in European qualifying. Though Duggan’s off-field controversies on social media have served as a distraction, she could channel that into motivation entering a tournament that has a knack for transforming young talents into global stars.
Key Match-up: June 9 vs. France (1 p.m. ET on FOX)
The winner of this match-up is expected to win the group and following 2011’s penalty kick exit to France in the quarterfinals, England will have revenge on the mind.
Unlike its male counter-parts, who have advanced to the knockout stages in each of the last six World Cups, El Tri Femenil has yet to taste tournament play beyond the group stage. But following the experience gained in 2011, Mexico travels to Canada in prime position to finally hurdle that hump. That’s in large part thanks to the expanded tournament field where four of the top six third place teams have a chance to advance. Though Mexico has been usually overshadowed by the athletic and direct styles of the U.S. and Canada in CONCACAF, facing more technical sides in France and Columbia should suit a side that makes its living through build up play in possession.
Player to watch: GK Cecilia Santiago
El Tri Femenil have a host of talented and technical attacking players, but 20-year-old goalkeeper Cecilia Santiago could be the most vital. Santiago became the youngest-ever goalkeeper of any gender to play in a World Cup in 2011 as a 16-year-old and will need to be at her best to keep potent offenses like England and France’s at bay.
Key match-up: June 13: England vs. Mexico (4 p.m. ET on FOX)
A win against Columbia is necessary if Mexico is to have any chance advancing past the group stage, but a point against England could also go a long way with El Tri Femenil likely to finish third in the group. Mexico managed a 1-1 draw in 2011 against the Three Lions and a repeat result would greatly help its knockout round hopes.
In just its second World Cup appearance as a nation, Columbia has a much more favorable group to work with as opposed to 2011 where it was placed against both Sweden and the United States. But in order to advance to the quarterfinals for the first time, Las Cafeteras will need to score something they were unable to achieve back in 2011. Columbia has some technically gifted players, speed down the flanks, a solid backline and more experience this time around, but goals will ultimately determine its fate.
Player to watch: M Yoreli Rincón
If Columbia is to make some noise, it will have to come from 21-year-old phenom Yoreli Rincón. Las Cafeteras’ No. 10 scored five goals to help her country qualify for its first World Cup in 2011 as a 17-year-old and will be looking for redemption after controversially being left on the bench for Columbia’s disastrous 2012 Olympics campaign for arriving to the tournament out of shape.
Key match-up: June 9 vs. Mexico (4 p.m. ET on FOX)
With wins against France or England unlikely, if either of these teams is to advance to the round of 16 it will need no less than three points. That means you should expect some risks to be taken and goals to be scored which is exactly what you’d want in a soccer match.
Complete Group F Schedule:
France vs. England, 1 p.m. ET
Columbia vs. Mexico, 4 p.m. ET
France vs. Columbia, 1 p.m. ET
England vs. Mexico, 4 p.m. ET
Mexico vs. France, 4 p.m. ET
England vs. Columbia, 4 p.m. ET
Predicted finish in group: England, France, Mexico, Columbia