Editors’s Note: The US Women are about to kickoff their World Cup, TSG guest columnist Maura Gladys reviews their group.
Group C Preview
Group C is one of the toughest of the tournament, featuring two veteran (re: aging?) squads, a mysterious team that even opposing coaches and players are struggling to get a read on, and a young, hungry South American squad ready to turn heads. With that so many potential storylines, as well as markedly different playing styles, every game in Group C should be entertaining and intriguing. Headlined by the top-ranked United States, the group features No. 8 North Korea, No. 5 Sweden and No. 31 Colombia. The group is also almost identical to Group B of 2007, which featured the United States, North Korea, Sweden and Nigeria. In that group, the U.S. tied North Korea, and defeated Sweden and Nigeria to win the group.
There’s not a ton of info out there about North Korea. What we do know about them: They finished second place in the Asian Cup, losing to Australia on penalty kicks. They seldom play international friendlies on foreign soil, but they recently took on Germany where they lost 2-0. They are a fast, disciplined machine of a team that likes to run their opponents ragged and thrives on organization. The Chollimas, who are currently ranked sixth in FIFA’s world rankings, took on the United States in the 2007 version of the tournament, and played the U.S. to a 2-2 draw, after a little bloodshed, so expect the rematch to be just as physical and fast. North Korea is dangerous on offense, led by lightning-fast attacking midfielder Kim Kyong Hwa. The offense often likes to work the ball into the area between the defense and midfield and take shots at the top of the box, a strategy that the U.S. isn’t the best at snuffing out. The Chollimas pose the biggest threat the to U.S. finishing with a perfect group record.
Columbia is young and unknown. With an average age of 21.6, and having never qualified for a major a major tournament, opponents have very little to go off of when preparing for the Cafeteras. However, it’s likely that Columbia’s inexperience will hurt them more than their opponent’s lack of knowledge will help them, as this tournament is seen more as a stepping stone to grow the sport for the future.
The majority of the squad comes from a core group of players that qualified for the U-17 World Cup in New Zealand in 2008 and took fourth place at the 2010 U-20 World Cup in Germany. Seventeen-year-old Yorelli Rincon is the one to watch. The midfielder is speedy and intelligent, and fits perfectly with Columbia’s fast, possession style offense. They’re fast, young, and rely on possession play and streaking diagonal runs to score. Give it another four years and this team might really be something special.
Like Germany and, to a degree, the United States, Sweden is in a transition period, balancing veteran talent and inexperienced youth. Because of that, and the mounting pressure to finally bring home some hardware despite being a powerhouse for years, Sweden might fall short of expectations once again. Their offense is driven by Lotta Schelin, who scored two of the team’s three goals in the 2007 World Cup and they’re controlled in the back by Charlotte Rohlin. Sweden has the ability to attack down the flanks and send balls up and over the defense, another pesky tactic that the United States isn’t the strongest at defending. But the U.S. will have history on their side when they take on Sweden. The Stars and Stripes are 18-4-7 against the Swedes.
The order of the matches could be key to determining who advances. The two top teams face off on the first day of group play when North Korea takes on the United States. A convincing win by the U.S. could set the tone for the rest of group play, but an upset by North Korea could break the group wide open. The U.S. should pick up a definite win over Colombia in its second match. Even though Colombia is youthful and speedy, the U.S. talent and experience should be too much to overcome for the South Americans. The U.S. finishes against Sweden, which could also shape up to be a key match. Sweden has a perfect record against North Korea, and if the U.S. stumbles in the aforementioned match with North Korea, this could be a must-win for the U.S.