The 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup starts on Friday at 3:00 p.m. ET with a match between France, the tournament hosts, and Korea Republic. We break down the group including who the favorites are and where there might be upsets along the way.
Meet Group A
France: Group A consists of the host country, France, filling the ceremonial first spot. At some World Cups, like the men's tournament in Russia or South Africa, the host country is weak and Group A is, in turn, weak. That is far from the case this time around. France is one of the strongest teams in the world, and they are co-favorites to win the tournament with the United States Women's National Team. France boasts a stellar defense anchored by Wendie Renard, a technically gifted midfield, and a pair of speedy forwards than can stretch the defense. Keep your eye on the midfield play of Euginie Le Sommer and the attacking presence of Kadidiatou Diani. They are nearly impossible to stop.
Korea Republic: The hosts will take on South Korea in their first match of the tournament. The first set of matches is always a bit low at the World Cup, but this could be an extremely tight contest. South Korea made their way to the World Cup by earning strategic draws against far superior teams in low-scoring matches. Their path to the tournament saw 1-1 draws against both Australia and Japan; two of the best teams in the world. Despite their strong performance in 2018, the team has been less settled of late. Their recent form is middling, with a spate of tough losses against equally matched teams like Sweden, Iceland, and China in 2019. This team should be capable of playing sound defense if they can keep the score close, and it will be up to veteran midfielder Ji So-yun to balance the attacking and defensive efforts of the team.
Norway: The team most likely to compete with South Korea for the second place in the group is Norway. After an absolutely miserable performance at the 2017 UEFA Women's Euro, were Norway was bounced from the tournament in the group stage after scoring zero goals, the team came together and found a way to qualify for the World Cup. The team has lost world superstar Ada Hegerberg due to a conflict between her and the federation, but the team has been mostly successful since she left. Sure, there have been some stumbles, like their loss to New Zealand back in April, but the majority of the team's recent games have been victories against mid-level opponents. It is notable that Norway has not beaten a top-10 team in the last two calendar years. The match between Norway and South Korea will almost certainly decide second in the group.
Nigeria: Pulling up the rear, but far from the worst team in the tournament, is Nigeria. Nicknamed the Super Falcons, Nigeria is making their eighth appearance at the Women's World Cup. The biggest problem in handicapping Nigeria is their lack of quality opponents in their recent history. They have a recent 2-1 loss against Canada, but in every other match this year they have either beaten a lesser team - take, for example, their 6-1 win over UMF Selfoss, an Icelandic women's club team - or have been soundly beaten by a mediocre team - such as their 4-1 loss to Austria back in February. There are going to be times when this team looks exciting, and they might even be able to steal some points off of South Korea or Norway, but odds are better than even that they will leave the tournament empty-handed. In a tough group, being the lowest ranked team doesn't bode well. Fans of the National Women's Soccer League will recognize Francisca Ordega, who plays for Nigeria.
Who is the favorite?
France, and it's not even close. It would be surprising if they dropped a single point. The women's game has certainly become more equal and anything can happen, but France is just plain dangerous.
Match you should watch
It's easy to pick the opening match of the tournament because it's, well, the opening match of the tournament, but realistically it is likely to have little impact on the standings. Even if Korea Republic stuns the world and forces a draw, it won't have much of an impact.
The most influential match of the group will definitely be the June 17th match between Norway and Korea Republic. Assuming that both teams have lost to France and beaten Nigeria, not a given but it's probable, then this game will determine which team moves on to the Round of 16 and which team will be waiting to see their fate. The games between Nigeria and Norway/Korea Republic could be important if either of the big teams struggle.