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The 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup begins Saturday. Here are the key games to focus on in the group stage:

 

Every USA Group Game

 

USA-Australia (Winnipeg, Monday, June 8, at 7:30 p.m. ET, FOX Sports 1)

USA-Sweden (Winnipeg, Friday, June 12 at 8 p.m. ET, FOX)

USA-Nigeria (Vancouver, Tuesday, June 16 at 8 p.m. ET, FOX)

 

It’s the Group of Death! You have to watch every moment.

 

Seriously — this group is tough. The United States is ranked 2nd in the world. Sweden is ranked 5th. Australia is ranked 10th. Nigeria is 33rd. With the expanded format, at least three teams should make it through, but they will beat each other up a lot to do it.

 

Winning this group is imperative. The second-place finisher? Gets a likely Round of 16 matchup with the always dangerous Brazil. The Americans finished second in the group in 2011 after a first round loss to Sweden, and had to face Brazil in the quarterfinals. Sure, it worked out fine then–but it very nearly did not, and who wants to go through that again?

 

It will also be interesting to watch to see how much Alex Morgan is able to play. When healthy, she is probably the most dangerous player for the United States, but a bone bruise in her knee has kept her out for the past seven weeks. U.S. head coach Jill Ellis recently said the team would need to build up her minutes in the early games of the tournament. If she is able to play, it seems that it will be in limited minutes as a second half substitution.

 

Alex Morgan shined off the bench in 2011. Will she do the same again this year in Canada?

 

Canada-China

Edmonton, Saturday, June 6, at 6 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1

 

It’s the opening game — so it is definitely a must-watch!

 

It’s hard to know what to expect from Canada. A last place finish at the 2011 World Cup was followed up by a third place finish at the 2012 Olympics–highlighted by the wildly dramatic semifinal 4-3 loss to the United States.

 

Canadian legend Christine Sinclair, who notched a hat trick in that semifinal match, will be on the field and ready to go for her side. Canada has a lot to play for, and a lot of pressure, but Sinclair will put these team on her shoulders if she needs to.

 

Japan-Switzerland

Vancouver, Monday, June 8, at 10 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1

 

Yes, yes, yes — Japan is the defending champion and all — but Ramona Bachmann plays for Switzerland and her World Cup debut should be well worth staying up late for. Who is Ramona Bachmann, you ask?

 

This is a lengthy highlight reel of a recent performance, which is worth watching to see her passing ability and her footwork, but check out her clever goal at 1:40 in the video:

 

 

The player who has been compared to Marta plays alongside her for FC Rosengård of the Swedish league. In Switzerland’s World Cup qualifying, she notched 8 goals. She is superb on the ball and has great vision. She should be very fun to watch in this tournament.

 

She’s perhaps best known in the international community for an epic dive in a World Cup qualifier vs. England in 2011 that led to English goalkeeper Rachel Brown being red carded… and ultimately Bachmann apologizing for actions.

 

France-England

Moncton, Tuesday, June 9, at 1 p.m. ET, FOX

 

Just 24 hours before the legendary USA-Brazil quarterfinal in 2011, France and England met in a quarterfinal that was every bit as memorable. Deep in the second half, England held a tenuous 1-0 lead over a France side that was clearly outplaying them–but Elise Bussaglia’s 88th minute goal sent the game into extra time.

 

On it went to penalty kicks. England’s best ever player, Kelly Smith, despite hardly being able to even walk it seemed, went first for England — scoring on a thunderous shot. If Smith could do it, surely England would be on its way to victory. But, in the fourth slot, Powell sent defender Claire Rafferty, a second half sub in her World Cup debut, with just a handful of caps to her name. She missed the goal entirely, wide right. After France made its fifth penalty, England captain Faye White went next — smacking her shot off the crossbar and giving France the win. White never moved and the French celebrated around her in some of the best images of the tournament.

 

 

Powell later revealed that she had asked for volunteers for penalties (instead of having a set list ahead of time) and players were hesitant to step up. The word “cowardice” was used. It caused quite a stir.

 

Gone are White and Powell, but plenty of players, including Rafferty, remain from both teams. Plus–France is one of the top tier favorites to win the tournament after a fourth place finish in 2011 and at the 2012 Olympics and a strong run of play since then.

 

If any group match fits with “Settle the Score” (FOX’s WWC slogan)…. it’s this one. Take a long lunch and enjoy it.

 

Germany-Norway

Ottawa, Thursday, June 11, at 4 p.m. ET, FOX Sports 1

 

You know how the United States hasn’t won a Women’s World Cup in 16 years? If you didn’t know, don’t worry–you will hear it A LOT over the next four weeks. Well….Norway hasn’t won a Women’s World Cup in TWENTY years. So if we’re going by a long drought meaning a team is due… then Norway fits the bill even more than the United States.

 

These two teams just met in the 2013 Women’s Euro final where Germany prevailed (as usual). But was it a return to form for Norway?

 

Germany will almost definitely roll through its other group matches against Thailand and the Ivory Coast. If they see any kind of early test, it will be in this match.

 

Brazil-Spain

Montreal, Saturday, June 13, at 4 p.m. ET, FOX Sports 1

 

Want to root for the best player to ever play the game who doesn’t have a single first place finish of note (no World Cups, no Olympics) to finally get a title in her fourth Women’s World Cup? That sounds like a great story, right?

 

Look no further than Brazil, led by five-time FIFA Player of the Year Marta. Her first goal in Canada will be a record setter, snapping her out of a tie with German legend Birgit Prinz for most all-time at the Women’s World Cup. (Unless the United States’ Abby Wambach, who trails them both by one, scores a bunch in her first game.)

 

Is Marta no longer unstoppable? Well, she may not be the 21-year-old who destroyed everyone in the 2007 Women’s World Cup, but she looked pretty much in her prime when she twisted the United States into knots en route to a hat trick back in December.

 

 

Spain is led by the very talented Veronica Boquete, who introduced herself to U.S. fans in 2011, winning Player of the Year honors in the old United States club league, Women’s Professional Soccer.

 

Considering Brazil has never been known for its defense, this should be a wide-open match.

 

Australia-Sweden

Edmonton, Tuesday, June 16, at 8 p.m. ET, FOX Sports 1

 

As noted earlier, the winner of this group avoids possibly getting pummeled by Brazil in the Round of 16, so this final group game (while the United States faces Nigeria at the same time) will be very important. It could end up being a high-scoring affair if goal differential is needed to decide the group winner.

Jacqueline Purdy

About Jacqueline Purdy

Jacqueline attended Japan’s win over the United States in the 2011 Women’s World Cup Final in Frankfurt, Germany and considers it the greatest moment of her life. Follow her on Twitter @JacquelinePurdy

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