Women's World Cup 2011 - Group B
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Captain: Homare Sawa
Nickname: Nadeshiko Japan
World Cup best: Quarter-finals (1995) Progress to the 1995 quarter-finals remains Japan's best showing at a World Cup thus far and despite playing in every edition of the tournament they were considered among the outsiders before the group stage draw in Germany. However, the football gods have smiled down on the Nadeshiko and they have been handed a group that is escapable, though England will be favourites to advance. Japan may have never tasted continental glory in the AFC Women's Asian Cup - they qualified in third place on this occasion - but Norio Sosaki's side can take heart from a fourth-placed finish at the 2008 Olympics and a gold medal at last year's Asian Games, at which they beat fellow World Cup qualifiers North Korea in the final. This year has brought plenty more positive results and a rise to fifth in the FIFA world rankings but there are certainly more than four teams capable of beating the Nadeshiko and they cannot be considered realistic challengers. Player to watch: Homare Sawa. Precocious teenage striker Mana Iwabuchi has been tipped to add to her three caps and announce herself on the world stage in Germany but it is elder compatriot Sawa who knows the global arena better than anyone in the Japanese squad. With 65 goals in 158 internationals, the Washington Freedom midfielder has always led Japan by example and will again be a key attacking outlet at what will be her fifth World Cup. Trivia: Japan conceded the fastest goal in Women's World Cup history when they allowed Sweden's Lena Videkull to score after just 30 seconds in 1991. Prediction: Quarter-finals.
Captain: Faye White
Nickname: Three Lionesses
World Cup best: Quarter-finals (1995, 2007) England's participation at the 2007 finals was a watershed moment for the game in the country and their progress to the quarter-finals, where they were humbled 3-0, was commendable. Hope Powell's side have pushed on since then and impressed in reaching for the 2009 European Championship final before losing to a Germany team at the height of their powers. The launch of the Women's Super League this summer, coupled with a good performance at the finals, should see the reputation of the women's game further enhanced at home. Powell is the longest-serving coach at the finals having been in the England hotseat since 1998, but masterminding a triumphant campaign in Germany would be a minor miracle for the experienced boss, who faces a tough task building a team capable of standing toe-to-toe with countries boasting professional leagues. But the Three Lionesses are certainly capable of a good run and possess a solid spine with Arsenal captain Faye White - who has 29 winners medals to her name with the Gunners - the rock at the back, Fara Williams the anchor in midfield and Kelly Smith and Eniola Aluko offering guile and electric pace respectively up front. Player to watch: Kelly Smith. Arguably England's finest ever female footballer, Smith has consistently been one of the Three Lionesses' best performers for more than a decade. Her personal and professional journey has been a tumultuous one and a career that had promised so much early on threatened to implode when, after seven years of playing in the USA, the forward was dragged home by her father to deal with a drink problem. She rediscovered her form in fine style playing for Arsenal Ladies in the middle of the last decade and has never looked back. Now playing in the US again with Boston Breakers in 2009, Smith will be the attacking fulcrum of Powell's side and should be a certainty to add to the four World Cup goals she scored in 2007. Trivia: The first recorded women's football match was played in England in 1895, though the sport was later banned by the Football Association between 1921 and 1969. The FA explained that its decision was made because they felt "the game of football is quite unsuitable for females and ought not to be encouraged". Prediction: Quarter-finals.
Captain: Maribel Dominguez
Nickname: El Tricolor ('The Three Colours')
World Cup best: Group Stage 1999 Having been completely embarrassed in their only previous appearance at the World Cup, Mexico travel to Germany expecting to give a better account of themselves than in 1999, when they lost all three group games, shipped 15 goals and scored just one - though the opponents were Germany, Brazil and Italy. A shock 2-1 qualifying victory over USA - their first win over their northern neighbours in 26 attempts - helped El Tricolor book their place at the finals. It's difficult to know which Mexico side will turn up in Germany, with Leonardo Cuellar's charges often a delight going forward but a disaster at the back. They lost five of six friendlies in the build up to last year's Gold Cup but produced some superb football at the tournament - particularly in the defeat of the USA and a 7-2 rout of Guyana. The women's game is much improved in Mexico and a professional league, the Super Liga Femenil de Fútbol, was launched in 2008. Progress to the World Cup knockout stages would encourage further development but is unlikely in reality. One to watch: Maribel Dominguez. The diminutive UE L'Estartit forward has 67 goals in 90 matches for Mexico and her clinical finishing will be crucial if El Tricolor are to have any chance of advancing past the group stage. She possesses excellent anticipation and a surprisingly impressive heading ability for a player of just 5ft 3in. Mexico also have some talented youngsters in their ranks, with 2010 Under-20 World Cup quarter finalists Alina Garciamendez, Nayeli Rangel and Kenti Robles now permanent fixtures in the senior line-up. Trivia: In 2004, Maribel Domínguez was given a two-year contract by Mexican second division men's club Atletico Celaya but FIFA forbade her from playing. "I just wanted to be given the chance to try," she said at the time. "If I failed I would have been the first to say I can't do it, the first to admit it doesn't work, but at least I would have tried." Prediction: Group stage exit.
Captain: Hayley Moorwood
Nickname: Football Ferns
World Cup best: Group Stage (1991, 2007) The four-time Oceania Football Confederation (OFC) Women's Championship winners are preparing more in hope than expectation for their third World Cup. New Zealand's men punched above their weight in South Africa last summer but there is little chance of the Football Ferns emulating the All Whites. New Zealand's women have only scored one goal in six previous World Cup games and conceded 20, and they are severely hampered by a lack of quality opposition in regional qualifying: last year's OFC Women's Championship - the qualifying tournament for the finals - saw John Herdman's side score 50 goals in five games, including an 11-0 annihilation of Papua New Guinea in the final. Key player: Rebecca Smith. The Wolfsburg centre-back is one of only three Football Ferns players to currently play their football abroad and her usually commanding presence at the back will be tested to the full in Germany. She received a FIFA Women's World Player of the Year nomination in 2007, as well as being named New Zealand Player of the Year. Talented full-back Ali Riley also offers quality in defence; she was named Women's Professional Soccer Rookie of the Year for her displays for US outfit FC Gold Pride last year. Trivia: Captain Hayley Moorwood was snapped up by Chelsea Ladies for the 2011 English Women's Super League season after moving over to the UK with boyfriend and international rugby union star Daniel Bowden, who had signed for London Irish. Prediction: Group stage exit.