Friday, May 31, 2019

FWM 2019--Group D Preview

Introduction—“Arise ye Favorites”
(England, Japan, Scotland, Argentina)


Before unveiling the favorites, we have a bit of administrative bookkeeping to attend to. 

Members 33, 36, 71, and 105-M would be most displeased if I didn’t update one of my more incommodious stats. 

Your friendly bookie stands a wholly unsuitable prognosticator with respect to picking the overall champions. When discussing the issue in last Summer’s Group G Preview Section, we noted that I’ve picked the correct winner from the outset only thrice in twenty-four attempts. With two more Syndicate Chapters now done and dusted, the total number of attempts now rises to twenty-six. Correct onset winning picks remain where they are. I’ll type out the hyphen for you guys: 3-26. Blah.

In the bookie’s defense, it’s not exactly easy to pick a winner before a ball has even been kicked. Moreover, Belgium to win the World Cup and South Korea to capture Asia were…well…they were damned reasonable. Both teams dropped matches they were favored to win in the later stages of the knockouts. Roberto Martinez miffed up his peerless squad’s chances with amateurish management in the Semis while Son Heung-Min and Paulo Bento uncharacteristically lost focus in the Quarters.  

This tournament’s pick may very well not fall under the descriptive auspices of “damned reasonable”. Vicey falteringly treads across a thin and un-sturdy branch to pick…The Limeys! The most cursed national football program ever…and it’s being coached by Phil Neville; the man whom some have still not forgiven after Euro 2000.

It’s about time all disaffected England fans forgave the younger Bury Brother. He’s done a fantastic job with his tournament selection and the Lionesses have looked superb in qualifying, friendlies, and the latest SheBelieves. Following a fairly exhaustive research round, bookie concludes this happens to be the best put-together squad. They’ll make it out of this tough group stronger, more confident, and ready to catch fire. 

Neville shall furnish redemption for mother England, just as his counterpart Gareth Southgate did last Summer. In an odd coincidence, both men owe their jobs to scandals that abruptly forced the resignation of their high-profile predecessors. No need for Sampson or Big Sam on this team. 

They shall capture their first star! Laura Basset’s tears shall be avenged!

 Yes…your friendly bookie’s 2015 empathy for a female player who scored an own-goal is sexist. A male athlete likely wouldn’t have received it. I concede the point. I do, however, firmly believe that one needs to apply a double-standard on occasion…as there happen to be TWO things! 

England—“The Lionesses”

Loved building this lineup. It all comes together very nicely, at least in my own visualization. Injuries to Jordan Nobbs and Isobel Christiansen may turn out to be a blessing in disguise. It paves the way for Beth Mead and Nikita Paris, whom you’ll meet below, to get the start on the flanks. Kirby, Duggan, and Taylor form a veteran 7-8-9 triangle that should be easy for the youngsters to hit. Stanway and Staniforth are also options outside the box. 

I’d personally stick with Carney as the anchoring midfielder, even though Walsh and Moore have turned in strong auditions. White and Scott can serve as potential “Super-Subs” giving the Lionesses the strongest bench in the tournament. As much as I’d like to pair Carney with Bright at centerback, Houghton needs to stay right where she is and has always worked well with Greenwood. 

No shortage of options for fullback, but Bronze and Stokes appear the best the combination. Lucy did very well on the right last tournament and in the 2017 Euros. She’s as good as Alex Scott was in her prime at that position. Stokes has also done well as Claire Rafferty’s replacement.

We didn’t cover the 2017 Euros in this Sportsbook, but I assure the members who didn’t tune in that England probably had the best team in that tournament too. They coasted through group play easily and humbled the French thoroughly in the Quarters. 

No one really knew how good the Dutch were that year, and home-field advantage really counts in women’s football. The fact that twenty thousand supporters show up to cheer on these girls when may 1/20th that amount come to their club matches mean the ladies know that they’re playing the game of their lives. 

The English girls are this bookie’s date to the prom. He’ll be a respectful German escort, picking them up and dropping them off promptly and punctually. He won’t even expect them to put out. 

A little light “snogging” and I’ll take you back to “mum’s” 

 Projecting the English Lineup (5-3-2) 

                       Fran Kirby   Toni Duggan 
Beth Mead              Jodie Taylor               Nikita Parris            
                               Karen Carney
Demi Stokes                                                 Lucy Bronze
              Alex Greenwood   Steph Houghton  
                              Karen Bardsley

 The Talisman—Toni Duggan 

A hot-young prospect no more, she’s now matured into one most lethal strikers in the world. Bookie thought the 27-year-old from the blue side of Mersey would always operate as a flank-based attacker, but she’s demonstrated just how fearsome she can be in a central attacking role since transferring to Barça ladies in 2017. 

Club form has been spectacular. Twenty-two tallies at the Gamper Ground. She also struck home some stunners in the 2017 Euros.  Looked to be in absolute pinnacle form during the 2019 SheBelieves, setting-up numerous creative charges and getting all of her teammates involved. 

A player growing in confidence and sophistication before our very eyes. Graceful in possession, yet brutally slick when skipping past markers. Definitely a Golden Boot contender.

  The Pillars 

 Fran Kirby 

Duggan’s projected attacking partner up front. A perfect stronger, more physical presence to serve as a counterpart to Duggan’s grace.  She’s only scored 12 national team goals to Duggan’s 22, but just completed another 18-goal campaign for Chelsea ladies. The 25-year-old finally looks to be getting into a groove with the Lionesses, tallying four times in the last calendar year. 2018’s PFA World Player-of-the-year, she set a women’s transfer record when moving to the Bridge. 

 Ellen White 

Yes, she’s still here! Ellen White. Still shining bright at the age of 30. A prolonged bout with injury now behind her, she begun to truly pop in form as of late. Two goals in 2019 now push her national team totals to 28 in over 80 caps. She secured her second English Women’s Player of the year award in 2018. Current form may be described as comparable to that of her 2011 tournament. Bookie doesn’t see her starting up front, but will prove vital off the bench should Neville need to reformat to a late match 4-3-3. 

 Jill Scott 

Yes, she’s still here too! The female Peter Crouch joins her male correlative in persistently defying the biological laws of emaciated gigantism. Her internal organs somehow still function…or perhaps not. This oddsmaker can’t find any confirmed reason why she withdrew from the 2019 SheBelieves. Could be health related. In any event, the 134-times-capped 32-year-old is precisely the player you want coming off the bench when the team needs a late goal. I’ll never forget her 2011 goal. 

 Karen Carney 

We’ll place her a little farther back now that she’s entered the twilight of her career, but she likely needs to be in the starting eleven. She recently found the back of the net for the first time since 2016. Now mostly serves as a midfield anchor for both club and country. Bookie always loved watching the Birmingham Belle in her short stint in the USA.

 Steph Houghton 

The 31-year-old Man City Ladies centerback returns, now donning the captain’s armband for her third consecutive tournament. She’s now been capped 104 times for a nation she’s so passionate about she even actually put forth an effort for the Great Britain team in the 2012 Olympics. A fabulous pitch director who totally turned this team around after the 2013 Euro debacle, she most recently provided exquisite leadership for the 2019 SheBelieves Championship squad. Born to take the lead. 

 Karen Bardsley 

The veteran keeper will maintain order at the back together with former Man City Ladies teammate Lucy Bronze. She lost her starting club job to teammate Ellie Roebuck after fracturing her hip at the end of the 2017 FEM, but takes her #1 Jersey back here for perhaps the last time. Expect a prime performance from her. 

  The Phenoms

 Nikita Parris 

How many “La Femme Nikita” references might we expect? Can’t rightly say. Bookie still projects Jodie Taylor to start in the young prospect’s natural position, at least in the first match. Georgia Stanway may thus be a better option on the right. One cannot, however, ignore the numbers. The 25-year-old just completed a 22-goal-season for Man City Ladies and secured a fat contract with Lyon. She’s also tallied twice for the national side in the past two months. This girl’s too hot to handle. Glad it isn’t me who has to find a place for her. 

 Beth Mead 

Phenomenal Yorkshire lass who has already scored thrice for the squad in 2019, including two great goals at SheBelieves. Tears it up for Arsenal Ladies in the WSL after helping Sunderland secure promotion with an amazing 77 goals in 78 appearances. Looks to be comfortable on the left after spending most of her career in the 9-spot.

 Georgia Stanway 

A 20-year-old former captain of the U17 Squad. Has barely played for the senior side, but tallied in virtually every appearance she ever made for the U19 and U20 teams. One to watch intently. She may even start on the right. 

Japan—“The Nadeshiko”

Just when one thought their era in the limelight drew to a close, they went ahead and captured another continental championship. It didn’t appear they had what it took to repeat in the 2018 AFC Women’s Cup. Following listless draws against South Korea and Australia, they rebounded to convincingly trounce the Chinese in the Semis and extract revenge against the Aussies in the final. Were they to face the Aussies in this tournament, the bookie would probably classify it a pick. 

The initial incarnation of the post-Homare Sawa Nadeshiko looked to be a complete flop. Long-time manager Norio Sasaki stepped down from his post following the team’s failure to qualify for the 2016 Olympics. The JFA then became the latest—and hopefully not the last—Football Federation to make history by appointing their first female manager. 

Asako Takakura, sometimes referred to as Asako Takemoto, secured the internal promotion after three years of coaching the U-17 and U-20 squads. The former national team midfielder encountered her share of adversity. Initial tournament form was somewhat bumbling. No one seemed to truly want the ball in the attacking third. A porous defense lead to deflating early goals that that witnessed in the 2018 Tournament of Nations. 

Plenty of issues remain, particularly at the back. Bookie contends it will take at least two more years of experimentation and geling before this program may be considered a global contender again. For the time being, the talent level of this squad calls for a projected second place finish and a trip to the Quarterfinals. 

X-Factors like Hasegawa, Minami, Takarada, Miura, and Endo may very well prove this prediction far too conservative. No way to tell how good this team can be until we get a better look at the tyros.

 Projecting the Japanese Lineup (4-4-2) 

     Kumi Yokoyama   Mana Iwabuchi
Yui Hasegawa                     Emi Nakajima               
      Yuka Momiki  Mizuho Sakaguchi
Aya Sameshima                  Risa Shimizu             
           Saki Kumagai Rumi Utsugi
                     Sakiko Ikeda

 The Talisman—Mana Iwabuchi 

Syndicate regulars and Frauenbundesliga enthusiasts are well acquainted with this little firecracker. A speed demon with an inherent ability to create opportunities out of junk sequences. Her tenure at Bayern came to an unfortunate end after a string of injuries. She returned to her homeland back in 2017 and largely thrived at INAC Kobe Leonessa. 

She didn’t feature as prominently in the 2011 and 2015 tournaments, but it’s unequivocally her turn to take the lead here. The MVP of the 2018 Women’s Continental Championship has now scored in a third of her national team caps. 

Bookie projects her starting with a tandem striker up front, but wouldn’t be shocked to see her deployed alone as a true number nine. 

  The Pillars

 Aya Sameshima 

Reportedly a great mentor to the talisman after she returned to the domestic league, the Nadeshiko will rely heavily on the stabilizing presence of their prudent old left back. Now capped over a hundred times, the veteran still rushes forward when her accumulated wisdom dictates she can make something happen. 

 Rumi Utsugi 

Intuitively switches to cover Sameshima whenever necessary. The two have been conjoined on the same vertical access for the better part of a decade. Bookie predicts she’ll relinquish her standard midfield role to Momiki and move back further to centerback. Still highly agile at the age of 30. 

 Saki Kumagai 

Another defensive midfielder whom the bookie places at centerback. She’s always been an intriguing player in that she sometimes plays on the attacking flank for clubs like FFC Frankfurt and Olympique Lyon, yet rarely dares to cross the center of the park for the national team. An essential protective presence on the 2011 and 2015 squads. 

 Mizhuo Sakaguchi 

The indispensable number ten not afraid to scout chances on the wing. She’s really come into own since claiming the position in 2016. The likely captain leads the active squad in caps (124) and goals (29).

 Emi Nakajima 

Finally get a chance to see her. The 28-year-old has been capped seventy times for the national team since 2011, but somehow missed both FWMs. Not sure whether it was form or injury. Five goals in the last calendar year mean she’ll likely beat out Yukia Sugasawa for a starting position up front. Swift, sporty, and foxy. 

 The Phenoms 

 Rikako Kobayashi 

In defiance of the name’s referential movie connotations, definitely not one of the Usual Suspects. The 21-year-old Nippon Beleza forward has already struck twice in five caps since receiving her first call-up earlier this year. Takakura might even start her over Yokoyama in opening match against Argentina.

 Yui Hasegawa 

22-year-old projected attacking left flanker. Six goals in 35 caps for the Nippon Beleza youth prodigy. The female footballing equivalent of Ritsu Doan.

 Jun Endo 

An Okazaki-esque 19-year-old prodigy who also happens to be a product of the Nippon Youth Academy. Lit it up for both the U-17 and U-20 squads. Looked deadly in the recent fixture against Germany. 

 Risa Shimizu 

A crowded defensive field pushes the 22-year-old out to the right flank. Boasts slightly more caps than years. Another Nippon player with sights set on more lucrative pastures.  

 Yuki Momiki 

The budding heiress of Homare Sawa. Has already tallied eight times in less than two years on the senior side. Tiny, yet snake-hipped.  

Scotland—“The Highlandresses”

Bookie renounces any attempt to disguise his exuberance. After seventeen long years, he FINALLY has the privilege of writing up a section on the Scots. The men’s team fell just short of an UEFA WM qualifying place in 2002, 2006, 2010, and 2018. European championship qualification barely escaped their grasp in 2000, 2004, 2008, and 2012. European seemed assured when the EM expanded its field to 24, but the 2014-2016 incarnations were especially shoddy. 

I’ve long waited to welcome what I consider genuine European brothers into the international tournament fold, but we’ll settle for the sisters for now. Scotland can always join up with Europe…should they wish to retain those non-interest developmental loans. If that or any other EU Perk factored into your remain vote back in 2014, let it guide you back into the ring of stars once the Pound plummets.

Non-coverage of FEM 2017 meant that we missed the chance to cover the team from two years ago. This was likely for the best as their monarchical rulers bitchslapped them 6-0 in the opening match. The girls rebounded well after the England defeat, nearly snatching a draw with Portugal and beating Spain before bowing out. 

An intriguing side with an almost perfect mix of young and mature talent means….well…it doesn’t mean that much. Bookie projects 3-4 points, a third-place-group-finish and a possibly a Round of 16 blow-out. They should nevertheless prove fun to watch. 

As is the case with many of our more provincial teams, there’s plenty of moving stories surrounding the squad. The Scots only first allowed women’s association football to organize to 1970. Now they have a female coach in Shelley Kerr who, along with French manager Marinette Pichon, belongs to the growing club of women’s trainers who have actually coached a men’s team.

Neat stuff. Enjoy scouting them while it lasts.

 Projecting the Scottish Lineup (4-5-1) 

                           Jane Ross
          Lisa Evans                Erin Cuthbert     
Lizzie Arnot    Leanne Crichton      Kim Little
Hayley Lauder                                   Kirsty Smith    
            Jennifer Beattie  Rachel Corsie
                         Lee Alexander

 The Talisman—Kim Little 

The primary reason the Scots are here. She was the star who turned this program around beginning with the women’s team first ever Hat Trick in 2012. Obstinately refuses to slow down or be hampered by injury. 

After sitting out a great deal of 2017, she’s returned even stronger, netting three crucial goals in the qualifying round. Perhaps the most creative clutch performer in the tournament. 

Joseph Montemurro has deployed the 28-year-old vice-captain at practically every attacking position in his Arsenal Ladies’ formation She ordinarily plays as an advanced attacking midfielder, but can score from the deep pocket or wing. 

The awesome possum from Aberdeenshire now has now tallied 53 times in 132 caps for the national side. If Shelley Kerr makes the mistake of burying her too deep, bookie will be most disconcerted.  

  The Pillars

 Jane Ross 

The 29-year-old lead striker’s career has largely mirrored that of the talisman. Similar numbers over a similar time frame for the West Ham Lady. Also a very clever player who works hard to produce consistent form. Seems to have discovered even more sensational abilities for the national side since the introduction of players like Cuthbert, Weir, and Arnot. 

 Lisa Evans 

A 27-year-old wild card who can patrol just about any area of the pitch. Mostly played striker in five years in the German Frauenbundesliga with Turbine Potsdam and Bayern. Saw her used exclusively on the right in the 2017 Euros. After moving to Arsenal in 2017, she’s been playing fullback. Bookie sees her moving to the central left here in order to make way for Cuthbert.   

 Jennifer Beattie 

Good old-fashioned tall Glaswegian centerback…if I may be so brash to invent such a term. The daughter of former national rugby team captain John Beattie appears tough as nails. Over the course of an accomplished career that included stints with Celtic, Montpellier, and Man City, she’s scored ridiculously often for a player on the defensive axis. Twenty-two goals in 124 caps for the 28-year-old, who occasionally rotates positioning with fellow veteran Leanne Crichton. 

 Rachel Corsie 

The Abderdeen lass tries out the captain’s armband for her first major tournament. In contrast to Beattie, a more traditional defender who rarely strays. A curious choice to inherit the armband after FEM 2017. Unlike most of the other players on this roster, she’s spent the majority of her professional career in the states. 

  The Phenoms

 Erin Cuthbert 

A livewire budding Archie Gemmel who came up through the Rangers youth academy. Started getting regular starts for the national team after scoring in the 2017 Euros. The 20-year-old now has nine goals in twenty-nine caps for the senior side. Stars for Chelsea ladies. 

 Lizzie Arnot  

Kenny Daglish could use an explosive hustler like her on the men’s team. A very talented forward who’s amassed great stats at Hibernia and Manchester United. Also a star for Scotland’s U19. The 23-year-old hasn’t exactly gotten established on the senior side yet, but bookie predicts she will. 

 Caroline Weir 

Another breakout youngster with a secure starting spot since 2013. That’s how a 23-year-old gets capped an unreal 62 times. Successful stints at Arsenal, Bristol, Liverpool, and Man City. Scored a real stunner against Spain in FEM 2017. Bookie thinks Kerr will go use her as an early second half sub in this tournament, but doesn’t rule out her should a 4-3-3 be used. 

Argentina—“The Albicelestes”

Argentines don’t really do women’s football. When it comes to the global game, they mostly preoccupy themselves with self-defeating tabloid skewering of their national hero. Could be wrong about this, but the bookie doesn’t think they even have a fully professional women’s league. Some players who cleared part-time-wage in the Brazilian league did qualify for the2003 and 2007 FWMs, but got bounced out via three-loss group stages. Respective goal differentials were -14 and -17. Ouch.

Yeah…prospects are less than rosy. They’ve qualified for the Olympics once in the last thirty years and typically finish third or fourth in their continental tournaments. This year’s Columbia, without any Catalina Usme, Nataly, Arias, or Natalia Gaitan equivalents. 

Piecing together information about them hasn’t been easy, but the bookie found data on enough of them to confidently predict a last-place finish. Scouting of their 2019 Cup of Nations fixtures proved painful. They failed to score a single goal, garnering three losses with an aggregate -10 goal differential. Ouch again. 

Perhaps this experience will assist them in growing the program…or perhaps the Argentines will spend the rest of the Summer placing far too much pressure on Messi in the Copa America and end up coming up empty-handed again. 

Business as usual. We only await they unique manner in which they’ll figure out how to express their bitterness this year. 

 Projecting the Argentine Lineup (3-5-2) 

                 Sole Jaimes   Yael Oviedo     
 Milagros Menendez                    Yamila Rodriguez   
            Vanessa Santana      Estefana Banini
                          Mariela Coronel
     Ruth Bravo    Adriana Sachs  Aldana Cometti 
                            Vanina Correa

 The Talisman—Sole Jaimes 

A career-domestic league player until she scored a club contract and erupted with five goals in the 2018 Copa America Feminina. That put her on the Olympique Lyon radar and suddenly the 30-year-old had access to the European scene. 

Bookie confesses he hasn’t had the chance to watch her play yet, but scouting reports describe her as a disciplined striker who put in a significant amount of effort into honing her craft. 

We shall see if the late-bloomer is fit to lead, or even gets the opportunity.  

  The Pillars 

 Yael Oviedo 

Sporadic call-ups for the 26-year-old who received her first senior team cap in 2010. Bookie’s pick to pair with Jaimes on the frontal assault. Not a prolific scorer for the national side, but has done well playing professionally in Spain for the past three years. 

 Estefania Banini 

A strong candidate for the captain’s armband, the 28-year-old midfielder has extensive experience playing in Spain and the U.S. An incredibly productive 2018 saw her score thrice in the Women’s Continental Championship and kick-in five during a splendid loan spell at Levante. Bookie recalls being impressed with her improvisational dribbling when she played with the Washington Spirit.    

 Mariana Larroquette 

Scorer of the opening (and as it so happens the game-winning) goal in the Intercontinental Playoff against Panama. Other than that, bookie doesn’t know much about the 26-year-old. Has a face resembling a cute rabbit. That’s about all I know.

 Vanina Correa 

35-year-keeper and captain candidate who’s been between the sticks since 2003. Recall watching her let in eleven goals in a match against Germany in the 2007 WM and wondering whether or not it was a good idea to give a girl a name that rhymes with vagina. 

  The Phenoms

 Milagros Menendez 

Rising 22-year-old who survived the final round of squad cuts despite being capped only three times. There must be something there. Plays for UAI Buenos Aires in the domestic league.

 Aldana Cometti 

A 23-year-old centerback who starts for Sevilla in the Spanish Primera. Might get a start over Natalie Juncos.

 Vicey’s Fearless Group Prediction (Straight Up Odds for bookie)

 1) England 
 2) Japan
 3) Scotland
 4) Argentina

Overall Championship Odds

  England (Straight Up)
  Japan (3 to 1)
  Scotland (8 to 1)
  Argentina (15 to 1)

Round of 16 Odds

  England (NO BETS)
  Japan (NO BETS)
  Scotland (Straight Up)
  Argentina (6 to 1)

Quarterfinal Odds

 England (NO BETS)
 Japan (Straight Up)
 Scotland (4 to 1)
 Argentina (10 to 1)

Semifinal Odds

 England (NO BETS)
 Japan (2 to 1)
 Scotland (8 to 1)
 Argentina (12 to 1)