That awkward period of time between the main season and the summer is finally coming to an end. In celebration, we’re being treated to a hefty slate of tantalizing international games. Not to mention the Women’s World Cup, which in itself brings more excitement than anything else this summer.
Germany vs China
Along with the USA and France, Germany will have a fair amount of pressure to perform well in the World Cup this summer. Not only do they have a chance to salvage the country’s name in lieu of the men’s debacle in Russia last summer, but the Germans will appreciate a shot at revenge against the Americans.
Germany comes into the tournament second in the FIFA rankings, and they’ve shown it on the pitch. They have yet to lose in 2019, extending the streak to eight games since March of 2018. Notable recent results include wins over World Cup heavyweights France and Sweden, along with a draw against 2015 runners-up Japan.
Martina Voss-Tecklenburg and her squad will be looking to start strong in France. Germany outshone all other European teams during qualifying by scoring 35 goals and conceding only three times along the way. Carrying the momentum will be imperative in their first test Saturday morning.
China was an early powerhouse in the Women’s game, setting big statements in 90s. The Chinese finished second in both the 1996 Olympics and the 1999 World Cup. These results came just after the squad as semifinalists in the 1995 World Cup.
However, ever since the 1999 edition of the WWC, China has failed to make it to the semifinals in most of the major international tournaments. After spending an extended period of time far from the pedestal they built for themselves so early on, France 2019 will be the best chance for redemption.
Similar to their opponents on the weekend, China put together a high powered offense in the Asian Cup. Led by Li Yang, Song Duang, and Shuang, China netted a tournament-high 19 goals. Though Germany may have a more dominant hold over the match, China can rest assured knowing that any chance they get could be dangerous.
Both teams have a lot to prove, but expectations weigh more heavily for the Europeans. Germany has also proved time and time again that they can withstand the pressure, at least enough to get a respectable tournament finish. It’s not like the men’s team could have left the bar any lower.
Prediction: Germany 2, China 0
Croatia vs Wales
After their incredible run to the 2018 World Cup final, Croatia haven’t quite been up to par. Last year’s finalists struggled in the UEFA Nations League, registering only one win in the inaugural edition of the tournament. In their four games, Croatia were outscored 10-4.
Their most recent game, their second UEFA Euro Qualifying match, saw the Croatians fall to minnows Hungary thanks to a late goal from Mate Patkai. All isn’t for naught, as Croatia still have plenty of time to earn a spot in next year’s Euro tournament, especially with the quality of the squad.
The technically gifted midfield of Luka Modric and Ivan Rakatic would make any team worry, and it displayed its quality last summer. Hoffenheim forward Andrej Kramaric leads the lines for Croatia in place of Mario Mandzukic. Kramaric adds a keen and intelligent eye for goal to pair with the pacy Ivan Perisic, adding up to represent a fairly tasty front line.
Wales seemed to hold their own in the Nations League. Their two wins over Ireland balanced out the losses to Spain and Denmark, leaving them second in Group 4 of League B. Just like Saturday’s opponents, Wales aren’t lacking in the talent department.
Though midfield duo Aaron Ramsey and Ben Davies haven’t found their names on the team sheet, Wales have plenty of notable figures in the squad. Young stars Harry Wilson and David Brooks have impressed immensely in the English Championship and Premier League respectively.
Of course, all eyes will be on the big star Gareth Bale, if we can call him that still. No disrespect, but it hasn’t been much of a secret that his time at Real Madrid isn’t exactly trending upward. With summer rumors flying in full force, the next few Euro Qualifiers will give the winger a chance to put his best on display.
Both squads aren’t quite having the times of their lives, but recent times trend towards the team chequered in red and white. Wales put an equally strong performance in the 2016 Euros, and will want to return to prove themselves yet again. But they’re not qutie there yet.
Prediction: Croatia 2, Wales 1
Australia vs Italy
Australia is rolling into the tournament on a two game skid, which is certainly not ideal heading into a World Cup. However, the Aussies weren’t exactly stellar entering the 2015 tournament, but the quarterfinal finish felt like a disappointment when all was said and done.
Within the scope of the women’s game, Australia have ironically cemented themselves as an enigma. They have brilliant players like Sam Kerr and Lisa De Vanna leading the lines, helping to produce impressive results when called upon.
In the meantime, Australia has turned heads in ways that aren’t so attractive. The best example comes when the Matildas were preparing for the 2016 Olympics in Rio. Headlines spread when they lost to the Newcastle Jets U15 side by a score of 7-0. The headlines unfortunately overshadowed the squads impressive wins over Brazil and England less than a year before.
Italy provide Australia with a respectable obstacle to start the tournament, but they hope to be more than that. After a 20 year hiatus from the World Cup, the Italian Women’s team is finally back on the international stage and earning a lot of support from back home.
The Azzura have only lost twice in their last 10 games, both to tournament favorites Germany. The recent success not only bolstered their run to World Cup glory but placed Italy in an interesting spot among the competition.
With 2019 set to be the woman’s third World Cup appearance ever, there’s not a lot to base their performance off of. The lack of tournament history could be an advantage for the Italians. There is not much in terms of standards to live up to, while opponents may struggle to know what to expect when they come against Italy.
Australia can work wonders on the field, but can also hurt themselves. Considering Italy have nothing to lose and are on a good wave of form, the Matildas may look to start the tournament a bit more cautiously in order to make sure mistakes are minimized. That being said, it should be a cracking game.
Prediction: Australia 1, Italy 1
Portugal vs Netherlands
Interestingly enough, Portugal have an opportunity to win their second straight European trophy. In an appeal to Ronaldo stans everywhere, winning this trophy only bolsters his status as the GOAT. But we’ll have to see how likely it is that the Portguese can pull it off.
In all honesty, it seemed for a while that the Swiss would win the semifinal matchup between the two. After a second half penalty canceled out an early CR7 free kick, the momentum didn’t exactly seem to go the way of Portugal. But moments of brilliance from the Juventus star, much like that famous Euro 2016 run, lifted the Seleção das Quinas to the final.
Other stars from the club season that could make an impact on Sunday take their place in the midfield. Manchester City’s Bernardo Silva and Benfica’s João Félix, who have blossomed in their respective clubs, are more than capable of instilling considerable influence in the Nations League final and in the team for years to come.
On the other hand, the Netherlands have had a sudden and sharp revival in the international game, and this trophy could mark the full Dutch return. The Oranje have been resurrected through talents young and old.
The Netherlands relied on a lot of England mistakes to make it to Sunday’s final, but the quality in punishing those mistakes can’t be understated. Starting from the forceful defense of Van Dijk and De Light, to the gifted midfield of De Jong and Wijanldum, Holland have more than enough to scare an opponent just on paper.
What comes as most notable on this Dutch comeback tour is the way the Netherlands found their way to the latter stages of the competition. The Netherlands shutout the last two World Cup winners, Germany and France, at home before earning an important draw on a visit to the Germans.
A battle between two teams riding incredible international momentum will produce fireworks regardless of the result. Ronaldo had one European campaign downed by the Dutch, and its hard to see him avoid that same fate here. Portugal have a fine squad, but the quality of the Netherlands, especially under pressure, makes the difference in major finals.
Prediction: Portugal 1, Netherlands 4