When England and Mexico meet Monday in Wolfsburg, Germany, it'll be a matchup of two teams whose World Cup hopes have been shaped by upset wins over the United States this past year. It'll also be the first look at one of a handful of "underdog" teams, England, hoping to make a splash at this year's tournament.
England is a team coming into the tournament with high hopes -- star midfielder Kelly Smith said recently in The Equalizer/All White Kit Women's World Cup preview that she feels her side can make it into the semifinals where "anything can happen." It's not out of the question, as England leads a cast of dark horse teams competing for the fourth spot after the big three of the United States, Germany and Brazil.
England's upset of the United States -- a 2-1 win in London on April 2 after a brilliant first-half performance -- combined with a solid 2-0 win over Sweden on May 17 has the team feeling rightly confident of its chances. The Lionesses made the quarterfinals of the 2007 World Cup and advanced to the finals of the European Championships in 2009 (before losing 6-2 to Germany), so they have built up experience in international tournaments. It also doesn't hurt that the team was drawn into what's widely considered the weakest of the group -- Group B, featuring world No. 4 Japan, Mexico and New Zealand. England and Japan are expected to advance easily out of the group.
It'll also be the first chance to see whether England has recovered from injuries that impacted the team's World Cup preparations. Captain and defender Faye White and key midfielder Fara Williams appear fit and ready to go, but both missed England's final tuneup game versus Sweden. Smith will need the help of a healthy Williams in midfield if England is going to make a run in this tournament. Williams missed England's quarterfinal match against the United States in 2007 because of a yellow-card suspension and the team struggled in her absence.
With England coach Hope Powell in attendance, and perhaps because she was in attendance, Mexico didn't show much in its 1-0 friendly loss to the United States on June 5. However, the Mexicans stayed in the match until Lauren Cheney's stoppage-time winner because of the play of 16-year-old goalkeeper Ceci Santiago. Mexico has been rotating its keepers, but Santiago's performance against the U.S. should be taken into consideration when putting together the starting lineup for Monday's game.
It was Mexico's win over the United States in October that set the women's soccer world abuzz as the result ousted the Americans from CONCACAF World Cup qualifying in Cancun. Mexico finished second in qualifying behind Canada, forcing the U.S. to earn the last spot in the tournament after a playoff series with Italy. It was the biggest upset in women's soccer history. While it's unlikely that Mexico will advance to the knockout stages, it will be hoping to recapture some of that magic this summer.