The FIFA Women’s World Cup Canada 2015 feels like yesterday in some ways. The whole of Vancouver’s BC Place shook when Carli Lloyd completed her hat-trick within the first 16 minutes in USA’s stunning 5-2 win over Japan in the final, and the deafening noise of the crowd that day can almost still be heard. Now in Brazil, it’s time for a new chapter to be written in women’s football. Twelve nations compete across the country, from the Amazon in Manaus to the coasts of Rio de Janeiro, to kick off a month when the world stops to celebrate sport. FIFA.com previews the first matchday of the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament. Whose moment in women’s football history will it be in Brazil?
Brazil-China PR, 3 August, 16.00 (local time)
The country’s eyes will be firmly on the third kick-off of the day when hosts Brazil face a challenging first test against China. Led by Marta, Brazil will be feeling confident following their 3-1 win over Australia in a warm-up match in front of over 10,000 fans in Fortaleza. China, now under the leadership of former France head coach Bruno Bini, have been getting plenty of practice minutes in before their Rio 2016 opener—losing 1-0 to France and Canada and defeating Zimbabwe 3-0—and are aiming to get to the podium themselves. Not only will Brazil be motivated by playing in front of their country at home on the world’s stage, but they will no doubt be determined to put together a better run than they did in Canada last summer, where they were defeated by Australia in the Round of 16.
The other matches
Along with Brazil-China, Canada-Australia is another one of the most even matches on paper. Both sides dropped out of Canada 2015 at the quarter-final stage and will be looking build on their encouraging performances at the world finals. Both teams also have a young core to their squads and play progressive brands of football. Holders USA start their medal defence against New Zealand in Belo Horizonte on the back of a string of wins in warm-up matches. There’s a new generation ready to shine for the Stars and Stripes in Brazil; Crystal Dunn, Mallory Pugh and Lindsey Horan are now regulars in Jill Ellis’ side. Can the Football Ferns cause a shock? If they are to do so, they will need to be clinical in front of goal. "Defensively we're a solid team. On a personal level I think we need to be a lot more clinical and attack-minded. That’s where games are won. What we need to focus more on is winning consistently and finishing matches earlier, rather than chasing the game or scraping through with a draw,” New Zealand forward Amber Hearn told FIFA.com.
Gold medal challengers Germany begin their campaign against debutants Zimbabwe in Sao Paulo. Silvia Neid’s side is expected to win, but there’s no doubt Zimbabwe will be putting up a challenge of their own, towards being what they hope will be a breakthrough tournament for their country. France-Colombia brings to mind memories of one of the true shock results at Canada 2015 when Las Cafeteras defeated France in the group stages. Colombia will look back at that match fondly, in a game that marked a huge step forward for their programme, and it was a win they thoroughly deserved on the day. France has talent across the pitch, but can they finally turn talent into a major tournament triumph?
Sweden and South Africa will have the honour of kicking the first ball at Rio 2016. The Swedes head into the match with confidence, having defeated Japan 3-0 in a warm-up game. Coach Pia Sundhage will be hoping forward Lotta Schelin brought her scoring boots with her to Rio, while South Africa, under coach Vera Pauw, will look to be competitive in each game. “The aim [for Rio] is to make an impact,” Pauw told FIFA.com. “It’s key that players are seen and recognised in their abilities, that South Africa can add something to international women’s football.”
Player to watch
All eyes will be on the five-time Women’s World Player of the Year. Having taken silver on two occasions at the Olympic Football Tournament, the opening match against a tough Chinese team will be crucial in setting the tone for a campaign in which the hosts are desperate to win gold in front of their home fans. If Marta is in top form, their dream may be closer to reality.
11 – Four-time Olympic gold medalists USA are currently on a record run of 11 consecutive wins in the Olympic Football Tournament. Their last defeat in the competition came in a 2-0 loss to Norway in the Beijing 2008 opener. If the Stars and Stripes defeat New Zealand, they will double the next best series of victories, set by Norway between 2000-08.
“I don’t think anything compares to the expectations we have for one another. We know how difficult it will be to be back-to-back winners. That pressure drives us. We always look for that next challenge because we constantly want to achieve that next level of greatness. People expect us to win, we know what it actually takes to win and that comes with a different level of accountability and sacrifice.”
USA co-captain Becky Sauerbrunn, in an interview with ussoccer.com
Sweden-South Africa (Olympic Stadium, Rio de Janeiro, 13.00)
Brazil-China PR (Olympic Stadium, Rio de Janeiro, 16.00)
Canada-Australia (Corinthians Arena, Sao Paulo, 15.00)
Zimbabwe-Germany (Corinthians Arena, Sao Paulo, 18.00)
USA-New Zealand (Mineirao, Belo Horizonte, 19.00)
France-Colombia (Mineirao, Belo Horizonte, 22.00)