The first round of group stage fixtures at the Women’s World Cup is complete and two contenders have emerged head and shoulders above the rest.
France, the hosts, appeared to have established themselves as firm favourites to be crowned world champions in Lyon next month with a hugely impressive 4-0 thrashing of South Korea on opening night.
It was only surpassed in the final game of the opening round, when the holders, the United States, recorded the biggest-ever winning margin at World Cup finals by eviscerating Thailand 13-0.
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Ladies and gentlemen, our two main contenders have emerged. They are, however, unlikely to meet in the final. If both top their respective groups and progress through the round of 16, they will meet in the quarter-finals.
That will give hope to the chasing pack, which includes England. Phil Neville’s side deservedly saw off Scotland, though a sloppy second half display almost allowed Shelley Kerr’s side back in.
The Netherlands did not have it all their own way against New Zealand, Germany were less than impressive against China, while Canada, Norway and Brazil all picked up three points. The field is open.
And with that in mind, how would we rank the 24 contenders and their chances of success after the first round of games?
Women’s World Cup 2019 power rankings
Group stage, first round
1. United States
They had to wait for their turn but once it came, they delivered an all-time record World Cup win. Thailand were blown away 13-0. As things stand, it seems the only obstacle between the United States and a fourth World Cup is a likely quarter-final against France.
Unlucky to be knocked off top spot last night. The host nation put in perhaps the most accomplished performance we have seen so far, thumping a competent South Korea side 4-0 on opening night. Their seven-strong Lyon contingent look on top of their game.
Much of a muchness from here, starting with England. A great first half was followed by a so-so second half in Nice and reviews of their all-round performance were mixed, but the 2-1 victory over Scotland leaves Phil Neville’s side well placed to top Group D.
The tournament’s most exciting attack came unstuck against New Zealand for the best part of 92 minutes, until Jill Roord’s late intervention. It was mostly a case of poor finishing, in fairness. They should not be as wasteful against Cameroon.
Victorious but oddly underwhelming and a shade fortunate to beat China, who created enough openings to punish the two-time champions. Improvement needed and the loss of captain Dzsenifer Marozsan to injury could be costly.
A defensively solid outfit, if not much else, but that is more than can be said for many of their competitors. The 1-0 win over Cameroon was not thrilling fare but Canada are happy to grind out results. It may take them far.
Ada who? A comfortable 3-0 win over Nigeria proved Martin Sjögren’s side can cope just fine without their Ballon d’Or winner, though a meeting with France in Nice will be a real test of their credentials.
The nine-game losing streak is over and those grumbling about Brazil’s ageing attack have fallen quiet after 34-year-old Cristiane’s hat-trick. Tougher tests than Jamaica will soon come, as will Marta, who is set to return from injury.
Undoubtedly talented but lacked incision for the majority of the win over South Africa. Two contentious penalty calls averted disaster. Will not be intimidated by their main rivals for Group B’s top spot Germany.
Unimpressive against Chile until the enforced stoppage, which appeared to focus their minds. Will surely finish in second place behind the United States, though could have been in trouble if the draw was not so kind.
The prize for this World Cup’s most entertaining climax to date goes to Barbara Bonansea, whose 95th-minute winning goal downed Australia. Italy will not expect to progress too far but a last-16 place is within their grasp.
The biggest disappointment of the opening round? Had no answer to Argentina’s excellent, deep-set defence. Technically sound but will need to show more of a cutting edge in order to pick up wins against Scotland and England.
Everybody’s pre-tournament dark horses will be stinging from their stoppage-time defeat to Italy, especially given that they led at half time. Qualification still should not be a problem, but a strong third-place finish may now be their most realistic target.
14. New Zealand
Undone by Roord late on, in arguably cruel fashion, though in truth they offered the Netherlands too many openings. Whether they have the threat up front to hurt their next opponents Canada is debatable.
Arguably the weakest team in the tournament delivered the upset of the opening round, heroically holding 2011 world champions Japan to a goalless draw in Paris. Hopes of reaching the knock-out stages, most likely via third place, have increased.
By no means disgraced themselves against England, though Argentina’s unexpected point leaves Shelley Kerr’s side bottom of Group D and in need of positive results in their remaining two games. Friday’s meeting with Japan will likely be crucial.
Unlucky in defeat, China will be hopeful of turning things around with Germany out of the way. Spain are definitely beatable, but first up is South Africa at the Parc des Princes on Thursday. A must win, you would think.
18. South Korea
Devastated by France, they can at least be pleased they only conceded one goal more than Nigeria. Their toughest test is now out of the way, too. Other than that, there was very little to hand your hat on.
Were 19 minutes away from earning a crucial point against Sweden, only for the match to be temporarily suspended due to adverse weather. Fell apart once play resumed, though their initial solidity against Sweden will give them faint hopes of sneaking through.
20. South Africa
For an hour or so, Desiree Ellis’ side looked likely to pull off this World Cup’s first upset but tired legs cost her band of part-time players when it came down to the crunch. Must avoid defeat to China.
Only narrowly beaten by a conservative Canada but defensive issues are likely to rear their head if the Netherlands are in the mood on Saturday. A good third-place finish will depend on breaking down New Zealand.
Rounding off a poor start for the African qualifiers, Nigeria’s hopes of progressing out of Group A look slim after succumbing to a three-goal defeat against Norway. Three points against South Korea seem vital as France await in their final group game.
The Reggae Girlz threatened in glimpses against Brazil but – ‘Bunny’ Shaw aside – appear to lack the quality they will require to escape Group C. Fourth-place behind Italy and Australia seems all but certain.
Who else? Outclassed but unsurprisingly so. Nuengrutai Srathongvian will tell his players that their opening game was always a write-off, though Sweden and perhaps even Chile will now expect to also record comfortable wins.