2015 Women’s World Cup, Group F preview: Time for France’s breakthrough

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 for people who want something slightly less wonkish, we’ve got you covered (twice over).

Group F

538 Projection:

  1. France (60.2% chance to win the group; 96.8% to advance)
  2. England (31.6%, 89.5%)
  3. Mexico (5.5%, 48.1%)
  4. Colombia (2.8%, 32.4%)

Like Groups B, C and D, Group F gives as a quartet with a distinct top two, within which we had a clear pecking order: one team a title contender; the other capable of player spoiler (though “spoiler” may flatter Switzerland in Group C). In this group, however, the top two are each fan darlings, albeit of different sorts. France captivated viewers in 2011 with a fluid and technical style that left many lauding the quality of the entire tournament, while much of England’s renown is based merely on language and familiarity. Thanks to spells at U.S.-based clubs from players like Alex Scott, Lianne Sanderson, Jodie Taylor, and Eniola Aluko, fans and media are more familiar with the Three Lionesses than most foreign squads. That familiarity sometimes leads to England being overrated.

NICOSIA, CYPRUS - MARCH 9 : Eni Aluko of England in action during the Cyprus Cup match between England and Netherlands at GSP stadium  on March 9, 2015 in Nicosia, Cyprus.  (Photo by Getty Images/Getty Images)Getty Images

NICOSIA, CYPRUS - MARCH 9 : Eni Aluko of England in action during the Cyprus Cup match between England and Netherlands at GSP stadium on March 9, 2015 in Nicosia, Cyprus. (Photo by Getty Images/Getty Images)

That bias aside, the fault in England’s squad is up top, where Aluko has enviable talent without enviable production. Though she gets help from Manchester City’s Toni Duggan, Aluko played a vital role in qualifying, where her 13 goals in 10 games led the team. But overall, her 32 goals in 91 international appearances is relatively few for a striker with time to pad her numbers against Europe’s minnows. Much like Lisa de Vanna with Australia, Eluko is a player who has spent time in the U.S. who has enviable physical tools. And like de Vanna, her production doesn’t match everyone’s regard.

Elsewhere, however, there are few qualms with England’s squad, particularly with Alex Scott and Steph Houghton at fullback and Fara Williams, Jordan Nobbs, Jill Scott and Karen Carney in midfield. Much like England’s men, the only issue is that, across the board, each player is not quite good enough. On a good day, Mark Sampson’s best XI can trouble the Germanys and Frances of the world, but that team would also have a difficult time placing more than two players in a favorites’ starting lineup. There’s just a talent gap.

Consider the talents France has at its disposal. Attacking midfielder Louisa Nécib’s world-class technique is a potent complement to her playmaker’s vision. Eugénie Le Sommer, Gaëtane Thiney and Marie-Laure Delie each have over 40 international goals (a mark nobody on England’s roster has reached), while holding midfielder Amandine Henry is in the conversation as the best in the world at her position. Even players like attacking midfielder Camile Abily, speed merchant Élodie Thomis and veteran midfield anchor Élise Bussaglia would be among the best in England’s squad – less of a slight to England than a spotlight on reality. While many teams on England’s level are improving, there’s still a huge gap in pure talent between them and the Germanys, Frances, and United States of the world.

At the other end of the spectrum, Mexico and Colombia may end up killing each others’ chances to make the knockout round, with a possible draw in their June 9 opener a potential killer for their Round of 16 hopes. While a Mexican team that’s been able to leverage the U.S. collegiate ranks to add depth and talent seems like a slight favorite, 21-year-old midfielder Yoreli Roncón gives Colombia the matchup’s best player, somebody who can supply the single moment that can cancel out what Renae Cueller, Monica Ocampo or Veronica Perez may do for Las Tri.

Games (aka, fanfic)

June 9: France vs. England (Moncton) – England has the players to compete with France, but Les Bleues have won three of the teams’ last four meetings (the other was a draw). In the teams’ last two matches, the Lionnesses have been outscored 5-0, so while a tough 1-1 draw is not out of the question, recent history gives us no reason to make that prediction. France 2, England 0

June 9: Colombia vs. Mexico (Moncton) – A draw might be as good as a loss for both of these teams (given they’re looking at losses in their last two games), but teams and coaches rarely think like that. One day at a time isn’t just a cliché; it’s code written into their DNA. When neither teams show any urgency to break their tie on Tuesday, try not to burst a blood vessel yelling at your TV. They can’t change who they are. Colombia 1, Mexico 1

June 13: France vs. Colombia (Moncton) – At this point, with its core having played together for so long, France is a well-oiled machine. Other teams might be susceptible to a let down after a convincing game one, but this France side will maintain its focus. It needs a major tournament breakthrough. It’s not going to take games for granted. France 4, Colombia 0

June 13: England vs. Mexico (Moncton) – Mexico has a way of making matches like these tough, much like in the last World Cup, when Ocampo pulled back a Fara Williams opener to earn a 1-1 draw. That result’s unlikely to happen here, especially since England will be pressing for points after its France loss, but a draw was also unlikely four years ago. England 2, Mexico 1

June 17: Mexico vs. France (Ottawa) – France will have first place locked up at this point and will rotate its squad, but even those backups are in another league than Mexico. If anything, the fresh legs could help France, with Mexico’s regulars set to play a third game in nine days on turf. France 3, Mexico 1

June 17: England vs. Colombia (Montreal) – A draw would likely give England second place, but with both Colombia and Mexico having slim chances to overtake it, Sampson’s team won’t take any chances. It’s a convincing win, one England needs after its performances against France and Mexico, but also one that sends Colombia home. England 3, Colombia 0

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