Women’s World Cup Power Rankings: Which teams have the best shot at hoisting the trophy?

The 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup is set to kick off next Saturday, June 6, and soccer fans will soon be tuning in to watch 24 teams showcase the best that women’s soccer has to offer. The opener will feature (host country) Canada squaring off against China, so let’s take a look at all the teams and how they stack up.

    1. United States- The memory of losing in penalty kicks to Japan during the last World Cup will be a strong motivational tool for the many veterans on this squad. Although the U.S. will be playing in the Group of Death against Nigeria, Sweden and Australia, they have enough talent and veteran leadership to warrant the title of being the best overall squad in the tournament. With a tough schedule, the U.S. seem poised to show their mettle, advance to the finals and hoist the trophy.
    2. Germany- Another top team upset by Japan in 2011, Die Nationalelf are arguably one of the most complete teams in the tournament overall, and they spread it around well, with five players scoring at least five goals during the qualifiers. They have stability at the helm, with coach Silvia Neid having spent 20 years on the staff after ending her career as a player. The Germans have never missed a World Cup, and a Germany-United States final match looks like a strong possibility.
    3. Japan- Winners of the 2011 World Cup, they are now fully on the radar and will not be taken lightly this time around by their opponents. Japan has tried to work around its lack of physical play against stronger rivals with some success. Look for them to go deep into the tournament, but with four years for their competitors to study their tactics, a semifinal appearance can be expected to be their ceiling in 2015.
    4. France- This is a team that has steadily risen in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Rankings since 2009, and with good reason. Playing in Europe against some of the best competition in the world, they have built a solid foundation behind a strong core of midfielders and a tenacious defense. Their offense, however, is still somewhat lackluster, and will need marked improvement if they hope to advance to the semifinals and beyond. Look for France to cruise past the group stage, but stagnate once beyond that point.
    5.  Sweden– Expect Sweden to advance out of group play in the top spot, ahead of the U.S., Nigeria and Australia. Led by ex-United States coach Pia Sundhage, there is plenty of solid veteran leadership on this roster. Their one-dimensional offense is predictable, however, and the rest of the team has lost a step since 2011. They will progress perhaps as far as the semifinals, but not beyond.
    6. Brazil- Just the mention of Brazil draws lofty expectations, and the women’s team is a top ten contender (in addition to the men’s team). Playing in Group E against Costa Rica, South Korea and Spain, this squad should easily advance beyond group play. Led by their star players Formiga and Bruna, most of their players are veterans yet are only in their mid-twenties. With talent and depth, expect A Selecao to advance beyond the Group of 16.
    7. England- Likely to advance out of Group F along with France, this is a team that has improved since 2013 but cannot be counted on to beat the top teams in this tournament. Their best asset is their physical style of play, wearing down their opponent as the match progresses. While this style of play should be successful in group play against Mexico and Colombia, it will prove less effective as the tournament progresses. A quarterfinal match might be as far as The Three Lionesses progress in this competition.
    8. Canada- With the host team matched against China, Netherlands and New Zealand in group play, expect the Canadian squad to advance beyond their group, but probably not much further. Anchored by veteran Christine Sinclair (222 caps) alongside Melissa Tancredi (99 caps) up front, this is a good but aging team that could wear down as the tournament progresses. Do not be surprised if they do not progress beyond the Round of 16.
    9. Australia- With their ranking somewhat stagnant over the past decade, they have the misfortune of playing in Group D against the United States, Sweden and Nigeria. With an athletic and youthful squad, the Matildas will be a formidable opponent should they advance to the Round of 16. One of the few teams to utilize a 4-3-3 formation, expect solid performances by the Aussie ladies. However, seeing them go deep into competition would be a surprise.
    10. Netherlands- Making their first trip to the World Cup, the Dutch find themselves in Group A and will play Canada, China and New Zealand. This team should be considered a sleeping giant, having been matched against tough European teams on their road to cup play. Look for Oranje Leeuwinnen to advance to at least the Round of 16, ultimately done in by their lack of experience on the international stage.
    11. Norway- After a disappointing group stage exit last go-around, they seem poised to advance out of group play in this tournament, probably finishing second to Germany. With a mix of veteran and younger players, their 4-2-3-1 is predictable but has been successful, with former coach Even Pellerud trying to return the ladies to their World Cup victory heyday of 1995. But with the year being 2015, expect The Grasshoppers run to end in the Round of 16.
    12. Spain- Competing in Group E and matched against Brazil, Costa Rica and South Korea, it might prove to be a struggle for this squad to survive group play. While they are a far better team than Costa Rica, the Brazilians and South Koreans are more than worthy adversaries, and La Roja will have to play at the top of their game to advance to the next round.
    13. China- After failing to make the tournament in 2011 for the first time in history, China finds itself in Group A against Canada, Netherlands and New Zealand. But opening against the host country is a tall order, and it is unlikely that China will be able to adapt to the physical style of play of the Netherlands squad. It is possible that China can advance beyond group play, but it is also equally likely that The Steel Roses will find themselves unable to advance to the Round of 16. Flip a coin.
    14. New Zealand- Look at the road the Football Ferns traveled to get to the World Cup. They had to beat Tonga, Papua New Guinea and the Cook Islands. While this is their third consecutive World Cup appearance, they have failed to advance beyond the group stage. Expect the saga to continue, and the Ferns will be treated to an early exit.
    15. South Korea- Matched in Group E along with Brazil, Costa Rica and Spain, the Taegeuk Nangja have failed to qualify for the World Cup since 2003, when they did not advance beyond group play. It seems that history will repeat itself in 2015, and the South Koreans will end their play early in the tournament.
    16. Switzerland- Making their first World Cup appearance, the Swiss have been held scoreless just once in their last 24 matches. It is possible for them to advance out of group play against the likes of Cameroon and Ecuador, but victories seem unlikely as the tournament advances. With most of their players lacking experience in match situations at a high level of play, the competition will more than likely bid the Swiss adieu in the Round of 16.
    17. Mexico- Finding themselves in Group F against England, France and Colombia, the possibility that the Mexicans will advance out of group play is remote. It is hard not to imagine England and France taking the top two spots, resulting in an early exit for El Tricolor.
    18. Colombia- The most likely battle for Las Cafeteras will not be to advance to the next round, but rather to clinch the third spot in Group F that Mexico will also be fighting for. There appears to be little chance for this team to overtake England and France at the culmination of group play.
    19. Thailand- Playing in Group B opposite Germany, Norway and the Ivory Coast, it is hard to see how they can advance beyond the group stage. Having never qualified for the World Cup, Thailand has benefited from FIFA expanding the number of Asian Football Confederation berths from three to five, with Thailand securing the fifth spot. While they are an improved team, it would seem highly unlikely that they are ready to do battle with the elite teams, and will be making an early exit from the 2015 World Cup.
    20. Nigeria- While qualifying for their seventh Women’s World Cup, they have only advanced beyond group play once. While dominant on their home continent, they have yet to make their mark on the world stage, and this World Cup will be no exception. Aggressive and athletic, the Super Falcons have struggled to put together a consistent, balanced effort. While moving too many players up to support their attack, they have fallen victim to the counterattack. Have the taxi driver keep the meter running for the Falcons.
    21. Costa Rica- Having to compete in group play against Brazil, South Korea and Spain, the challenge for Costa Rica will be tough to overcome. Having never qualified for the World Cup prior to 2015, they have a young and inexperienced squad, with their oldest striker being 23 years old. While they have shown marked improvement since being ranked No. 106 in 2010, Las Ticas cannot be seen as advancing beyond their group.
    22. Ecuador- Jumping in the world rankings from No. 125 in June 2014 to No. 48 in March 2015 will not be enough to see this team through to the Round of 16. Headed to their first World Cup, their motto of “nothing will stop us” has served them well in the past year, at least until now. Matched in group play against Cameroon, Switzerland and Japan, this is a team that has had fitness issues, and their level of play has dropped precipitously later in matches. Not a real attribute given the short passing style of Japan or the ball control expertise of the Swiss. The good news for Ecuador’s players is that their club teams back home will barely have time to miss them.
    23. Cameroon- Playing in Group C against Ecuador, Japan and Switzerland, they will not advance beyond their group play, but have a real shot at third place as a “consolation prize”. In fact, their opening match against Ecuador might decide who ends up in last place in this group. Either way, this team will make the long trek back to Africa on June 16.
    24. Ivory Coast- Hey, someone has to be ranked last. Why not Les Elephantes? To be fair, in order to qualify, they played heavily-favored South Africa and beat them to secure the third spot for African entrants in the World Cup. So here they are. Now what? Playing in their inaugural World Cup, their opener will be against powerhouse Germany. The second game should afford them some equal competition against Thailand, but they close out the group stage against Norway on June 15. If they can save money by prepaying their homeward-bound tickets for that evening, that might be their biggest win of the tournament.