2015 Women’s World Cup, Group C preview: The defending champs and their forgiving draw

Throughout these group previews, we will be usingFiveThirtyEight.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 we’ve got you covered (twice over) if you want something slightly less wonkish.

Group C

538 Projection:

  1. Japan (79.3% chance to finish first; 99.6% to advance)
  2. Switzerland (14.5%, 87.4%)
  3. Cameroon (6.1%, 71.5%)
  4. Ecuador (0.1%, 9.6%)

538 gives the Ecuadorians the worst chance of making the final 16, partly because its group’s third-best team, Cameroon, is better than Group B’s Ivory Coast, partly because Ecuador is not very good. The tournament debutants only qualified by beating Trinidad and Tobago in an interconfederation playoff. 1-0. Over two legs. With the winning goal coming in stoppage time of the second game. The team’s unlikely to do well in Canada, but hopefully the experience will help it grow for 2019.

The most likely beneficiary of Ecuador’s struggles will be Cameroon. Like the Ivory Coast in Group B, the Cameroonians are unlikely to take points off the group’s big two. And like the Ivorians, Cameroon can still sneak into the knockout round if a win over Ecuador is coupled with some draws by third place contenders in other groups. The big places where Cameroon deviates from the Ivory Coast, though: Recent meetings suggest it’s a superior team, something that dovetails well with having more players placed in Europe.

But there is some weird triangulation we have to do in order to claim Cameroon is better than Ecuador, particularly since little is known about either. We know that Cameroon has one win in its last three against a Nigeria side that won a game (over Canada) at the last World Cup. And we know that Nigeria has improved (we’ll get to them in Group D). As for Ecuador, it’s seen as inferior to a Colombia team that didn’t score a goal at Germany 2011. It’s vague triangulation (and likely meaningless), but it’s enough to imply those other indicators of Cameroon’s superiority may be real.

Besides, neither of those two teams are likely to make waves in Canada. Switzerland, on the other hand, despite being a tournament debutant, has a few notable talents: Lyon’s Lara Dickenmann (above); Rosengard’s Ramona Bachmann; Bayern’s Carlona Abbé; Turbine Potsdam’s Lia Wälit; and Frankfurt’s Ana-Maria Crnogorčević. Together with a host of other dependable talents who play across Europe, they form a side with few weaknesses, albeit with no obvious strengths. While Dickenmann and Bachmann are dangerous, they’re not as dangerous as the threats of the real contenders.

MARUGAME, JAPAN - MAY 24: Homare Sawa of Japan in action during the MS&AD Nadeshiko Cup 2015 women's soccer international friendly match between Japan and New Zealand at Kagawa Prefectural Marugame Stadium on May 24, 2015 in Marugame, Japan.  (Photo by Koki Nagahama/Getty Images)Getty Images

MARUGAME, JAPAN - MAY 24: Homare Sawa of Japan in action during the MS&AD Nadeshiko Cup 2015 women's soccer international friendly match between Japan and New Zealand at Kagawa Prefectural Marugame Stadium on May 24, 2015 in Marugame, Japan. (Photo by Koki Nagahama/Getty Images)

For example, consider Yuki Ogimi, Japan’s leading scorer who plies her trade at Wolfsburg. Or Yuika Sugasawa, an emerging threat from JEF United in Japan. Or the midfield that features all of former FIFA Player of the Year Homare Sawa (right), Japanese Player of the Year Aya Miyama, and former Seattle Reign FC star Nahomi Kawasumi – talents that will enable Japan to match up with any team in the world. With veteran Azusa Iwashimizu in defense and 31-year-old Miho Fukumoto in goal, the defending champions have a deep, astute, technical side that’s carried over much of the core from its 2011 triumph.

Perhaps most worrisome for those teams beyond Group C is the influence of turf. If the artificial surfaces used across the tournament have their predicted effects, a faster game that will require more technical skill and stamina, along with more squad depth to deal with the quick turnarounds, could favor the Japanese, whose talents and styles lend themselves to that approach.

In this group, Japan’s unlikely to be truly tested, but coming off a disappointing Algarve Cup (losses to France and Denmark), there are some doubts about the holders. Given the strength of this group, however, critics will likely talk themselves out of those doubts until the knockout round.

Games (aka, fanfic)

June 8: Cameroon vs. Ecuador (Vancouver) – Neither of these teams are accustomed to this stage, not that BC Place is going to fill up for this matchup. But in a game between neophytes, the team that screws up least could end up taking full points. Veteran striker Madaleine Ngono may be best equipped to sway this result. Cameroon 2, Ecuador 1

June 8: Japan vs. Switzerland (Vancouver) – The defending champions, yet to concede a goal since its disappointment at the Algarve Cup, facing a tournament debutant. Japan should get off to a quick start. Japan 2, Switzerland 0

June 12: Switzerland vs. Ecuador (Vancouver) – Once the day one jitters are out of its system, Switzerland will look to feast on Ecuador, if for no other reason than to get back some of those goals it gave up to Japan. Ecuador, on the other hand, will have little idea what World Cup quality is like after facing Cameroon. Switzerland will be its first taste. Switzerland 3, Ecuador 0

June 12: Japan vs. Cameroon (Vancouver) – Like Ecuador, Cameroon won’t quite know what it’s in for, part of the problem with not playing few games beyond Africa (not that there aren’t lots of issues to talk about there). Having already beat Switzerland, Japan can clinch first place with a win, and it’s too early to ease off the pedal. Japan 4, Cameroon 0

June 16: Ecuador vs. Japan (Winnipeg) – Japan will have little to play for, will rotate its squad, and still won’t give Ecuador much of a chance. Perhaps mercy will keep this close, but Japan’s going to cruise. Ecuador 0, Japan 2

June 16: Switzerland vs. Cameroon (Edmonton) – With both teams on three points, second place is theoretically at stake, but with three more groups still to play, Cameroon needs to worry about goal difference; specifically, how its total will stack up if a huge maelstrom of teams end up on three points. Once Switzerland goes in front, this one could get “cagey.” Switzerland 1, Cameroon 0


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