Women's World Cup: Profiles of Groups A, B and C

Paris (AFP) –


The pressure is on France as they kick off the Women's World Cup against South Korea on June 7, but while the Koreans, Norwegians and Nigerians are all potentially tricky opponents for the hosts, the format of the group stage leaves them some room to manoeuvre.

The first round will eliminate just eight teams of the 24 teams, with the top two finishers in each of the six groups advancing along with four best third-place teams.

Here AFP, looks at the contenders in groups A, B and C:

Group A

France (World Ranking: Number 4), Norway (No. 12), South Korea (No. 14), Nigeria (No. 38)

Hosts France start as one of the tournament favourites, as the backbone of the starting XI play for Lyon, the dominant team in European club football. Sarah Bouhaddi is described by team-mates as "the best goalkeeper in the world", central defender Wendie Renard captains Lyon while defensive midfielder Amandine Henri captains France. Striker Eugenie Le Sommer has scored 74 goals for the national team.

Further improving their chances is the absence of their star team-mate Ada Hegerberg, who is boycotting a Norway team that should still have enough to advance from the group.

South Korea took the fifth and last Asian World Cup berth in a playoff, but they qualified without conceding a goal.

Nigeria meanwhile are the only African team to have ever made it as far as the quarter-finals, back in 1999, and coach Thomas Dennerby has set that as a target.

"I hope we can get to the quarter-finals and from there anything can happen," the Swede said.

Key match: France v Norway. The noveau riche French face one of the women's games old aristocrats.

Group B

Germany (No.2), Spain (No. 13), China (No. 16), South Africa (No. 49)

Germany remain number 2 in the world and are unbeaten since losing to France in last year's SheBelieves Cup. They will be tough to beat and coach Martina Voss-Tecklenburg is aware of what a good chance this is for her team.

"I am convinced that with this team, we are well set for the World Cup," said the confident coach.

Barcelona may have been thrashed by Lyon in the Champions League final, but they were the first Spanish club to get that far and their improvement coincides with Spain's rise in the FIFA rankings. Moreover, they do not have a single player over the age of 29.

Despite president Xi Jinping's declared dream that China will win the World Cup, the women's team have slipped back from 1999 when Sun Wen led the Steel Roses to the final with 10 goals and was named the tournament's most valuable player.

"We know that we are far apart from the world elite of women's football," said coach Jia Xiuquan, adding that he was still aiming to win the competition.

"I want them first to dream big and then go all out to achieve the highest goal possible," he said.

South Africa are distant outsiders.

Key match: China v Spain. The battle for second behind Germany

Group C

Australia (No. 6), Brazil (No. 10), Italy (No. 15), Jamaica (No. 53)

The Aussies have strength in depth. If attacker Mary Fowler appears in the opening match she will do so at the age of 16 years and 155 days. That might make her far younger than the men's finals record holder, Norman Whiteside, who was 17 years and 41 days when he played for Northern Ireland against Yugoslavia in 1982, but she would only be the fourth youngest women to play at the World Cup.

In the Brazilian squad, the attention is on two 5-foot-4 veterans.

Six-times world player of the year Marta is at 33 trying to improve on her collection of runners up medals from the 2007 World Cup and the 2004 and 2008 Olympics, while Formiga is back for a seventh World Cup at 41.

If the Paris Saint-Germain midfielder plays she will break the record set by Christie Rampone of the USA who was 40 years and 11 days old when she made her last appearance in the 2015 final. FIFA calculated that 150 of the players at this World Cup were not even born when Formiga made her competition debut in 1995.

Italy, with all but one of their squad playing at home, have found cohesion since coach Milena Bertolini took over in 2017, but are not fancied to win the competition.

For Jamaica, supported spiritually and financially by Bob Marley's family, just reaching the World Cup is a victory. The strike rate of 22-year-old Khadija Shaw, who scored 29 goals in her first 21 internationals, gives the Reggae Girlz hope of landing a big punch.

Key match: Italy v Brazil: Brazil's veterans take on the less experienced Italians most likely with second place and an assured quarter-final berth on the line.