If you thought this summer would be a time to relax for football fans after a busy 2018, think again.
On Friday, the 2019 Women’s World Cup kicks off with hosts France taking on South Korea at the Parc des Princes.
For some, this may be their first experience of women’s international football, as the game continues to grow in stature.
So, what might you need to know about France 2019? We’ve got you covered.
1. Tournament format
For the second tournament in a row, the Women’s World Cup will consist of 24 teams.
Although this does give more nations a chance of qualifying for the showcase tournament, it can cause some confusion once you realise that amounts to six groups of four, which are as follows:
Group A: France, South Korea, Norway, Nigeria
Group B: Germany, China, Spain, South Africa
Group C: Australia, Italy, Brazil, Jamaica
Group D: England, Scotland, Argentina, Japan
Group E: Canada, Cameroon, New Zealand, Netherlands
Group F: United States, Thailand, Chile, Sweden
The group stage games take place between June 7 and June 20, by the end of which the top two teams automatically go through to the knockout stages.
They are joined by the four best third-placed teams from the six groups. These are decided by points totals, then goal difference, goals scored, disciplinary points and, if required, drawing lots.
In four straightforward Round of 16 ties, Group A runners-up will face Group C runners-up; Group B runners-up take on Group F winners; Group E winners go up against Group D runners-up; and Group F runners-up play Group E runners-up.
But things get slightly more complicated when working out the remaining four ties.
Group A winners will go up against a third-placed team from Group C, D or E; Group B winners will face one of the third-placed teams from Group A, C or D; Group C winners will face a third-placed team from Group A, B, or F; and Group D winners will face a third-placed team from either Group B, E or F.
The criteria for sorting out which teams face off in this instance are shown in the image below:
These ties will take place between June 22 and June 25, with the World Cup then facing the familiar tournament flow through quarter-finals (June 27-June 29), semi-finals (July 2-July 3), third-place play-off (July 6) and the final at the Parc Olympique Lyonnais on July 7.
2. Who are the top five favourites?
Although the talent at the top of the women’s game is spread far more evenly than has historically been the case, there is one clear favourite for the 2019 World Cup.
The United States Women’s national team are the defending champions and will be looking to win the World Cup for a fourth time, extending their record. With Jill Ellis still in charge, USWNT boast 11 players from the team that won the World Cup in 2015, including 274-capped Carli Lloyd.
Understandably, hosts France are the next favourites, with many expecting home advantage to push Les Bleues to glory. But it is not without merit either, with France the fourth-best ranked team in the world going into the tournament. Les Bleues also boast seven players from the all-conquering Lyon team in their squad.
Germany are also high up on the list of expected winners, being the second-best team in the rankings behind USWNT and the only team to retain the Women’s World Cup so far – with their two successes coming in 2003 and 2007. In 2015, Die Nationalelf were disappointed with their fourth-placed finish and Martina Voss-Tecklenburg will be hoping to move her nation level with USWNT on three World Cups.
Then comes England, led by Phil Neville, and the third-best team in the world according to FIFA’s rankings. The Lionesses finished third in 2015, beating Germany in the bronze medal match, for their best finish at a World Cup.
England have already won some minor silverware this year, wrapping up the SheBelieves Cup ahead of USWNT, Japan and Brazil. But the Lionesses go to France on the back of a shock friendly defeat to New Zealand, with some believing Neville does not yet know his best team.
Bringing up the rear of the five favourites – though still a team who should not be taken lightly – are reigning European champions Netherlands. Sarina Wiegman’s squad are ranked eighth in the world but with Vivianne Miedema in attack, they will be expected to at least reach the quarter-finals if not advance further.
As last year’s Men’s World Cup showed, anything is possible for a dark horse.
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3. Will VAR be used?
Like last year’s Men’s World Cup, video assistant referees will be used at the 2019 Women’s World Cup finals for the first time.
The decision was made on March 15, 2019 and, as usual, VAR will be used to check for clear and obvious errors relating to four “match-changing” situations: goals, red cards, mistaken identity and incidents in the penalty area.
As well as VAR, goal-line technology will also be in use at the Women’s World Cup finals.
With regards to disciplinary regulations, any player to pick up two yellow cards in separate matches will face a one-game suspension, while a red card will also result in at least a one-match ban.
Yellow cards will be wiped off after the end of the quarter-finals, meaning players will only miss the final through a red card in the semi-finals.
4. Why is Ada Hegerberg not in Norway’s squad?
It’s rare that a World Cup will not play host to the best player(s) in the world, but that is exactly what will happen in France.
Lyon striker Ada Hegerberg was named 2019 Ballon d’Or winner and continues to be part of the French side’s fantastic team. But, despite her native Norway taking part in the World Cup, Hegerberg will not be present – though it is nothing new.
Hegerberg has not featured for the Norwegian national team since 2017 in protest against the way in which the nation’s FA treat the women’s side compared to the men’s.
And although since then, the Norwegian FA has made some improvements, Hegerberg still feels it is not enough.
“This is the hard side of playing football,” Hegerberg said in December.
“Obviously, I’d love to play for my country. I’ve been quite critical, direct with the federation [about] what I felt hasn’t been good enough in my career in the national team.
“In the end it was an easy choice for me to move on in my career. I’ve been quite clear with them the whole way.
“It’s not always about the money. It’s about preparing, taking action, professionalism, really clear points I’ve put quite directly to them when I made the decision.”
So instead of leading the line, Hegerberg will be watching the World Cup on from the sidelines, working as a TV pundit.
5. Five players to look out for
As is the case with most major tournaments, the Women’s World Cup will be watched by more than just the hardcore fans. Many may be experiencing women’s football live for the first time, with only basic knowledge of some of the game’s bigger stars – or their nation’s squad.
But, outside the household names such as Carli Lloyd, Alex Morgan, Fran Kirby and Marta, who should new fans be looking out for?
Christine Sinclair (Canada): The Canadian forward has had a simply ridiculous international career spanning 19 years and 281 appearances. In that time, the 35-year-old has scored a monstrous 181 goals.
Across both the men and women’s game, only Abby Wambach (184) has scored more in international football, and there is a serious chance Sinclair could make the record her own this summer. Only four goals stand between Sinclair and history, but she will need to better her previous World Cup best of three strikes – which she achieved in 2003 and 2007.
Vivianne Miedema (Netherlands): Another goalscorer to take note of, Vivianne Miedama was top-scorer in the Women’s Super League this season, scoring 22 goals in 20 games to help Arsenal win the title.
But her record for the Netherlands national team, since making her debut as a 17-year-old, is even more unbelievable. The 22-year-old is already just one goal behind Manon Melis as Netherlands’ all-time top goalscorer, with Miedema currently sitting on 58 goals from 75 games. She is almost certain to make that record her own in France, adding to what looks to be a phenomenal career.
Saki Kumagai (Japan): Not the most eye-catching of players, Japan captain Saki Kumagai is considered one of the best defensive midfielders in world football. Supporting this is the fact she recently became the first Japanese player to receive a nomination for the BBC Women’s Footballer of the Year.
Her presence at the heart of Lyon’s midfield was key to the French side winning a fourth-consecutive Champions League title, and she was part of the Japan team to win the Asian Cup in 2018. Kumagai also scored the winning penalty as Japan clinched the 2011 World Cup through a shoot-out.
Also capable of playing in defence, the 28-year-old will be a rock for Japan on their quest to reach another World Cup final.
Sam Kerr (Australia): Back to the goalscorers, Sam Kerr may be one of the best on show at the World Cup this summer. The Matildas captain is the all-time top scorer in the National Women’s Soccer League with 61 goals, and the Australian W-League with 70 goals.
At her current club, Chicago Red Stars, Kerr has scored 18 goals in 22 games, but the 25-year-old is yet to score in a World Cup – despite having played eight games across two tournaments for Australia. It’s time for that to change.
Wendie Renard (France): We end with a defender, one, again, considered to be among the best in the game in her position. The captain of Lyon’s dominating team, Wendie Renard – the tournament’s tallest player at 6ft1 – is a centre-back capable of dealing with pretty much anything and everything that comes her way.
With Renard at the back, Lyon conceded just six goals in 22 league games en route to the Division 1 Feminine, and won another Champions League title – the centre-back has six in total, to add to 13 Division 1 Feminine successes.
The only titles to have eluded the 28-year-old are with their national team, but who knows what could happen this summer.