2015 Women’s World Cup, Group B preview: Germany, Norway meet again

Throughout these group previews, we will be using FiveThirtyEight.com’s Women’s World Cup projections as a reference point. We explain why here. And textually, we’ll also be highlighting the key teams (bold) and players (bold-italic); at least, the ones that are actually playing in this group.

We’ll try not to be too boring, but let’s face it: at a certain level of depth, a topic becomes boring to anyone beyond genre’s hardcores. Consider that our cop-out, but also know for people who want something slightly less wonkish, we’ve got you covered (twice over).

Group B

538 Projection:

  1. Germany (83.4% to win the group, 99.9% to advance)
  2. Norway (15.9%, 94.%)
  3. Ivory Coast (0.6%, 41.4%)
  4. Thailand (0.1%, 14.4%)

As opposed to Group A, the most balanced group in the pool, Group B is one of two top-heavy quartets; so much so that 538 doesn’t see either the Ivory Coast or Thailand making the knockout round. Both teams will likely have terrible goal differences after playing the Europeans, meaning a draw in their head-to-head will doom both to early exists.

They’re two teams that wouldn’t have qualified if the tournament wasn’t expanded. Thailand likely wouldn’t have qualified out of Asia if North Korea hadn’t been banned, while Ivory Coast finished third in the African Women’s Championship. In 2011, only two African teams made the World Cup.

The Ivorians do have 26-year-old Josée Nahi, who has 12 goals in 18 international appearances, as well as Ines Nrehy, a 21-year-old whose strike rate is an even better: 13 in 17. Both play for notable teams in Russia (Zvezda 2005 and Rossiyanka, respectively), and both could give Thailand troubles. Neither are likely to do more than capitalize on mistakes against others.

Thailand, on the other hand, is a team made up exclusively of players from the Thai league, which makes it a bit of an unknown. But that unknown finished fifth at last year’s Asian Cup, losing to China and South Korea in the group stage by a combined 11-0. Making its first appearance at a World Cup, Thailand is the type of team fans feared would be demolished when word of an expanded tournament was confirmed – the type of team that gives the Ivory Coast hope of making the second round.

SOLNA, SWEDEN - JULY 28:  The team of Germany celebrate after winning the UEFA Women's EURO 2013 final match between Germany and Norway at Friends Arena on July 28, 2013 in Solna, Sweden.  (Photo by Martin Rose/Getty Images)Getty Images

SOLNA, SWEDEN - JULY 28: The team of Germany celebrate after winning the UEFA Women's EURO 2013 final match between Germany and Norway at Friends Arena on July 28, 2013 in Solna, Sweden. (Photo by Martin Rose/Getty Images)

As for Germany and Norway, they don’t need hope. They’re going to be playing into the tournament’s second phase. The only question is which team will claim the top spot, a query that’s better asked with some skepticism: What does Norway have to do to beat the No. 1-ranked Germans?

The meeting will be a rematch of the UEFA Women’s Euro 2013 final, when Anja Mittag’s early second half opener held up to give the Germans a 1-0 win. For Sylvia Neid’s team, it was the expected outcome, though most predicted it would have to defeat France or Sweden in the final. Instead, Even Pellerud’s pragmatic approach helped Norway take advantage of some breaks in the knockout round (not having to face either France or Sweden), allowing the two-time European champions to make their sixth final.

LA MANGA, SPAIN - JANUARY 17:  Ada Stolsmo of Norway in action during the friendly match between England and Norway at la Manga Club on January 17, 2014 in La Manga, Spain.  (Photo by Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images)Getty Images

LA MANGA, SPAIN - JANUARY 17: Ada Stolsmo Hegerberg of Norway in action during the friendly match between England and Norway at la Manga Club on January 17, 2014 in La Manga, Spain. (Photo by Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images)

If Norway is to reverse that 2013 result (and replicate its group stage win in the same tournament), it will have to do so without Caroline Graham Hansen, the team’s high-scoring Wolfsburg midfielder who was ruled out with an injury. Instead, the Grasshoppers will rely on 19-year-old Lyon star Ada Hegerberg (34 goals in 16 international appearances) as the lead striker in a 4-3-3. Behind Hegerberg, the absence of midfield anchor Ingvild Isaksen could also prove a major loss, one the experience of 34-year-old Solveig Gulbrandsen will have to offset. At the back, centerback Nora Holstad Berge and and fullback Maren Mjelde have been fixtures throughout qualifying, but the experience of 32-year-old captain Trine Bjerke Rønning (153 caps) will be key to executing Pellerud’s approach.

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 23:  Celia Sasic of Germany controls the ball during the Women's International Friendly match between England and Germany at Wembley Stadium on November 23, 2014 in London, England.  (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)Getty Images

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 23: Celia Sasic of Germany controls the ball during the Women's International Friendly match between England and Germany at Wembley Stadium on November 23, 2014 in London, England. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

But for all its talents, Norway is nowhere near the same level as Germany, arguably the most talented team in the world. In goal, Nadine Angerer is a former FIFA Player of the Year, one that will be intent on making her final international tournament count. Paris Saint-Germain’s Annike Krahn has 117 caps in central defense, while an enviable midfield pair of Dzsenifer Marozsán, Lena Goeßling, and Simone Laudehr will make the absence of the team’s best player, current FIFA Player of the Year Nadine Keßler, forgettable. In attack, Célia Šašić (left), Anja Mittag, Alexandra Popp and have a combined 117 international goals.

It’s a set of players that comprises some of the best talents across the German, French, Swedish and American leagues. The team’s ages, 23 to 36, span the spectrum from early prime to career’s sunset. The experience the team has, from World Cup winners, to Champions League titlists, to European holders, belies any real concern that a quarterfinal exit in 2011 is part of a larger pattern. Two years later, Germany claimed another European title.

Their World Cup was the aberration. As Germany showed at Euro 2013, its place near the top of the world’s pecking order is the rule. Going into Canada 2015, Germany’s reclaimed its favorite’s spot.

KALMAR, SWEDEN - JULY 17:  Ada Hegerberg (L) of Norway celebrate with her team mates their opening goal the UEFA Women's Euro 2013 group B match between Germany and Norway at Kalmar Arena on July 17, 2013 in Kalmar, Sweden.  (Photo by Martin Rose/Getty Images)Getty Images

KALMAR, SWEDEN - JULY 17: Ada Hegerberg (L) of Norway celebrate with her team mates their opening goal the UEFA Women's Euro 2013 group B match between Germany and Norway at Kalmar Arena on July 17, 2013 in Kalmar, Sweden. (Photo by Martin Rose/Getty Images)

Games (aka, fanfic)

June 7: Norway vs. Thailand (Ottawa) – Pellerud’s team will score as many as it wants, though often in these types of openers, we see the grossly overmatched put in one resilient showing, giving the false impression it can maintain that performance for two more games. Norway 4, Thailand 0

June 7: Germany vs. Ivory Coast (Ottawa) – Likewise, this game shouldn’t be particularly close. Germany has won 22 of 24 games since Euro 2013, whereas the Ivorians haven’t played any meaningful games outside of Africa. Let’s just throw some numbers out: Germany 7, Ivory Coast 0

June 11: Germany vs. Norway (Ottawa) – For as much of a favorite as Germany should be, it lost this exact game at Euro 2013 two years ago. And even when the teams saw each other again in the final, Germany only won 1-0. You have to pick Germany, because the upset we saw in Euro’s group stage is the type of sporting variance that you can acknowledge but not predict. Just know this may turn out to be Germany’s worst result of the tournament. Germany 1, Norway 0

June 11: Ivory Coast vs. Thailand (Ottawa) – The Ivorians can thank the draw gods, because grouped in with almost any other team from the Asia/South America pot (with the possible exception of Ecuador), it would be going home after group stage. But Thailand gives the Ivory Coast a chance to claim three points was well as a goal difference boon. After taking a beating from Germany, it will need it. Ivory Coast 4, Thailand 1

June 15: Thailand vs. Germany (Winnipeg) – With the group practically clinched, Sylvia Neid will completely rotate her squad, and after some early goals, Germany will put the game in cruise control. This will be one of the most boring matches of the tournament. Thailand 0, Germany 4

June 15: Ivory Coast vs. Norway (Moncton) – With goal difference in its favor, Norway will only need a point to secure second place. Against an Ivorian team that will might look to limit damage to its goal difference, this could be another boring one. Ivory Coast 0, Norway 2

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Intro | Group A | Group B | Group C | Group D | Group E | Group F | Knockout rounds
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