2019 FIFA Women's World Cup: Group D Preview
England beat Japan 3-0 at the 2019 SheBelieves Cup. | Photo: AP Photo -  Mike Carlson

The 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup kicks off in France on June 7th. 24 teams will face off to see who is crowned champion of the world for the next four years. Group D will probably be the closest contested group in the tournament.

Meet Group D

England: The highest-rated team in the group is England. Over the last 15 years, England has progressed from a middle-of-the-road squad without high aspirations to a serious tournament contender. Now, they need to overcome the hurdle of finally making a top-2 appearance at a major international tournament. That goal is going to be made more difficult by the quality of England's group. The team is deep from top to bottom. In goal, Karen Bardsley is a quality option, and the back line contains Lucy Bronze, one of the greatest players in Europe. Also on defense, Rachel Daly, who plays up top for the Houston Dash in the National Women's Soccer League, is a quick and talented player who can transition seamlessly between offense and defense. There is lots of old talent on offense for England, but younger players like Beth Mead and Nikita Parris are fighting for playing time. This is definitely one of the premier teams in the tournament, but they have stiff competition and occasionally lay an egg on the pitch. They shockingly lost to New Zealand in their final official warm up match before the tournament.

Japan: The 'Nadeshiko' has been in a slump for the last few years. After making the final match of the 2011 and 2015 World Cups, Japan has stumbled and nearly dropped out of the top 10 in world rankings. The slump means that they were drawn from Pot 2 for the tournament for the first time in over a decade. The recent form for Japan does not bode well for their chances of progressing far into the knockout stage, especially if they fail to win the group. Japan boasts one of the greatest defenders in the world in Saki Kumagai, but there isn't a lot of strong attacking talent to match the defensive skill. Back in March, Japan was thoroughly beaten by England in a 3-0 loss at the 2019 SheBelieves Cup. At the same tournament, they were able to get a 2-2 draw against the United States, but there aren't any wins in the recent form against truly top-level teams. Japan will need to play excellent defensive soccer and control the run of play if they want to beat England, and that still might not be enough.

ScotlandThe dark horse of Group D is definitely Scotland. Starting with their improbable run to the World Cup, Scotland has repeatedly punched above their weight and now poses a serious threat to both England and Japan in the group. With a large complement of extremely experienced and talented attackers like Kim Little and Jane Ross, it is surprising that Scotland's issues have stemmed more from their offensive performance than their defense. One part of those struggles might stem from the year-long recovery of Little from a serious leg injury, and it bodes well for the team than they have played so well without her. Now comes the true test. If they can steal points from either England or Japan, they will be near locks to make the knockout round in their first World Cup appearance, and they absolutely have a shot at winning the group. They are probably the only third-pot team that can make that claim. 

Kim Little is back for Scotland after recovering from a broken leg. | Photo:  theshortfuse
Kim Little is back for Scotland after recovering from a broken leg. | Photo: theshortfuse

Argentina: Argentina overcame great hurdles to make the World Cup, but their tournament should be quite short. They are one of the weakest teams in the tournament, and they have been drawn into one of the most difficult groups. In the last year, Argentina has primarily faced off against college teams in the United States with mixed results and various teams scheduled to play in the upcoming World Cup. One Argentine player, Sole Jaimes, plays overseas for Lyon, and another, Estefania Banini, played for years with the Washington Spirit in the NWSL. Both of those players are pure quality, but the team just doesn't have enough depth to make a statement this World Cup. It would be shocking if they earned a single point.

Who is the favorite?

England probably has a two-thirds chance of topping the group, with Japan and Scotland splitting the other third. This is one of the few groups without a clear-cut leader.

Match you should watch

The match with the most international appeal will definitely be the opening England vs Scotland match on June 9th. There's something extra special about watching two teams from the same island facing off in the biggest tournament in the world. England definitely has the advantage, but the opening round of the tournament is notoriously low scoring which favors Scotland. 

The game with the greatest implication is certainly the final match on June 19th between Japan and England. Japan will almost certainly have a chance to win the group with a win, but England should be playing with a points advantage. That definitely plays into England's hands, but it will be especially exciting to see what Japan can do when they're backed into a corner needing to win.