*Excitement in the air –

Come today when the French and their South Korean counterpart would be slugging it out in the opening game of group A, many would be rooting for the Les Bleues to follow in the footsteps of France’s men’s team by winning football biggest trophy.

To be the best, you have to beat the best, which is something France’s players have been keen to stress whenever asked if they can picture themselves becoming world champions on home soil. Fate has given them the opportunity to put that maxim into practice when they take on the 1995 édition winner Norway and Nigeria, who have never failed to qualify for the competition, and South Korea in the group stage games.

So, here’s a preview of the 2019 Women’s World Cup, which begins today

in Paris, including a preliminary look at the best teams and few selected players.

*Favorites – USA, France and Germany*

It’s a three-way race at the top of the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup with USA and Germany both fielding championship-calibre teams and France having the home support behind them.

The Americans enter the 2019 Women’s World Cup as a favourite, to bring their fourth World Cup title home, four years after they demolished Japan in the 2015 final behind a glorious hat trick from Carli Lloyd. They will be motivated when they face a familiar foe in Sweden, who knocked them out of the Rio Olympics in 2016 at the quarter finals stage.

The Germans fell to the USA in 2015 Semi-finals when they thought they had finally shattered the American supremacy in the women’s game. They later bounced back to win gold medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics. With two titles to their name, they will also be striving to make it three. They have the perfect blend of youth and experience talents in their team. They will first have to make it out of Group B though, a group many, including the Spanish coach, have nicknamed ‘the group of death’. It comprises China PR with a great women football tradition, South Africa who are making their first appearance in the world cup and Spain who qualified without dropping a single point.

To do so, they (Germany, France and the USA) will have to navigate what will almost certainly amount to the deepest, most talented and best-balanced field of teams ever assembled for an international women’s tournament.

*Sleepers – Norway, Japan and Sweden*

Japan are comfortable being underdogs heading to France, same way the media rated them in 2011 when they beat the highly rated USA in the final. They have been in the last two finals with enormous experience.

Norway, who have never failed to qualify for the world cup will be banking on the heroics of their predecessor with 83 tournament goals – the third highest after USA’s 112 and Germany’s 111. Will they miss Ada Hegerberg, the current ballon d’or winner, who stood down from the national team in 2017 after her demands for equal pay was denied by the Norwegian Soccer Federation? Time will tell.

*Long Shots – Nigeria, England and Sweden*

The Super Falcons will be a live threat in the upcoming Women’s World Cup with their all-out offense led by two devastating forwards in Asisat Oshoala and Désire Oparanozie. Oshoala, by now would have moved on from the disappointing UEFA League final loss to Lyon – a game in which she scored the consolation goal for Barcelona. Desire Oparanozie will be on familiar ground in France, having played for Guingamp since 2014.

*Will there be a new champion? *

Only four teams have ever won the trophy – the USA, Germany, Norway and Japan.

France, Brazil, Nigeria, Canada and Sweden are highest-ranked teams to have never won the tournament.

*Will the winners receive same pay as their male counterparts? *

While the USA women received $2 million for their 2015 victory, the German men received $35 million for winning the 2014 World Cup. This is highly unlikely to change given the business aspect of the game as FIFA gets more sponsors and viewership from the men’s edition.

The onus now lies on the Football Federation of individual nation to ensure the women are well motivated and compensated like their male counterparts. Till the tournament ends, we can only guess.

*Will there be a record attendance? *

The record attendance still stands. 90,000 at the Rose Bowl, US in 1999 in the game between the USA and China PR.

While attendance is largely determined by the stadium capacity, a deep women football tradition and love for the game can also go a long way.

Paris, bring it on.

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  1. At the risk of not sounding like a patriotic Nigerian, I doubt the Super Falcons’ abilities to make it beyond the group stage.

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