Japan, England favorites in Group B

June, 21, 2011

While no team in Group B has ever claimed the FIFA Women's World Cup title, the fact that this is the only group with all four teams in the top 25 of the FIFA World Rankings could be a good indicator that these four teams are on the rise and ready to make an impact in Germany.

• Japan, currently ranked fourth in the world, is the narrow favorite to win Group B, as England is not far behind at number ten. Still within the top-25 rankings are Mexico (22) and New Zealand (24), who both excelled in qualifying and are eager to earn their first-ever victory at the FIFA Women's World Cup. While all confederations are not created equal, England and New Zealand were two of the top five teams in goal differential during qualifying.

• Boston Breakers striker Kelly Smith became England's all-time record goal scorer in its 2011 World Cup qualifying playoff first-leg victory over Switzerland in September, all but sealing the Three Lionesses' place in Germany. In the weeks leading up to the World Cup, England has defeated Sweden and the U.S. -- two of the world's top-five teams -- in warm-up friendlies.

• Japan is one of seven teams to have qualified for every FIFA Women's World Cup and will be making its sixth straight appearance after finishing third in the AFC Women's Asian Cup in May 2010 to qualify for Germany. The Nadeshiko took part in the 2011 Algarve Cup in Portugal in March, finishing third behind the United States and Iceland. Former Washington Freedom midfielder, Homare Sawa, is Japan's all-time leading goal scorer, entering the tournament with 75 goals, including three at the 2003 tournament in America. Boston Breakers defender Aya Sameshima will face club teammates Alex Scott and Kelly Smith when Japan faces England on July 5th in Augsburg.

• Mexico enters the World Cup with an added confidence after beating the top-ranked American team 2-1 in the CONCACAF Women's World Cup Qualifying tournament last November for the first defeat of its northern neighbors in 26 matches. Maribel Dominguez, the captain and only player on the current El Tricolor squad to have played in a FIFA Women's World Cup, will lead a Mexican side loaded with current and former U.S. college players onto the field in Germany. Dominguez leads the current squad with 68 international goals, including one at the 1999 World Cup, which is the only other time Mexico has qualified for the tournament.

• Led by Amber Hearn's 12 goals, New Zealand outscored its opponents in the OFC's Women's World Cup qualifying 50-0, but the team has scored only one goal in six matches in the final tournament. Western New York Flash and Football Ferns promising young defender Ali Riley will face former Stanford teammate and fellow California-born defender Alina Garciamendez when New Zealand faces Mexico on July 5th in Sinsheim.



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