2016 Olympic Preview: Group G is about Expectations

This group is going to be fun. The United States and France are expected to advance, but Colombia and New Zealand are both capable of throwing wrenches into that machine. It’s also a contrast of styles.

Matches

August 3

USA vs. New Zealand in Belo Horizonte
France vs. Colombia in Belo Horizonte

August 6
USA vs. France in Belo Horizonte
Colombia vs. New Zealand in Belo Horizonte

August 9
Colombia vs. USA in Manaus
New Zealand vs. France in Salvador

Prediction

  1. United States
  2. France
  3. Colombia
  4. New Zealand

Storylines

Coming off a 2015 World Cup win, can the United States win Olympic gold and become the first women’s team to win a world title and Olympic title?

Will France find a consistent gear in this tournament and live up to the promise and expectations?

Colombia

FIFA Rank: 24th
Head Coach:
Fabian Felipe Taborda

Olympic History
Colombia’s first appearance in a women’s Olympic soccer competition was London 2012. In a group stage that included the United States, France, and North Korea, a young Colombian team lost all three of its group-stage matches and finished 11th.

Road to Rio
Colombia finished second in the Copa América Femenina, which served as the qualifying tournament for Rio 2016. It was the country’s second second-place finish in a row.

Outlook
At the 2015 World Cup, Colombia shocked France in the group stage with a 2-0 win and advanced out of the group but lost in the Round of 16 to eventual champion the United States. Colombia has steadily improved since its second-place finish in the 2010 Copa América Femenina.

Colombia’s chances for a repeat run in this tournament were dealt a major blow when midfielder Yoreli Rincón suffered a fractured fibula and is out of the competition. The style of play leans toward the physical, which can give France and the United States trouble.

With Rincón out, the scoring burden falls to Lady Andrade, a player unafraid to take on anyone. The defense will need to be strong and is led by captain Natalia Gaitán who has the experience of World Cup and London 2012 appearances under her belt.

First up for Colombia is a rematch against a French team that might be looking for a little revenge. But Colombia proved it can score and play. Against New Zealand, it will be a physical battle as the Football Ferns are defense-oriented, and against the United States, a familiar foe, Colombia will look to frustrate the U.S. and counter with Catalina Usme and Diana Ospina.

Ultimately, the inability to score goals make it very difficult to see Colombia advancing out of the group.

Roster

Goalkeepers

  • Catalina Pérez (University of Miami)
  • Sandra Sepúlveda (F.C. Kiryat Gat)

Defenders

  • Angela Clavijo (Colombia Club Kamatsa)
  • Carolina Arias (Liga Vallecaucana)
  • Natalia Gaitán (Valencia CF)
  • Nataly Arias (Atlanta Silverbacks)

Midfielders

  • Carolina Arbeláez (Formas Íntimas)
  • Catalina Usme (Formas Íntimas)
  • Diana Ospina (Formas Íntimas)
  • Isabella Echeverri1 (University of Toledo)
  • Leicy Santos (Club Gol Star)
  • Liana Salazar (Futuro Soccer)
  • Mildrey Pineda (CD Palmiranas)

Forwards

  • Ingrid Vidal (CD Palmiranas)
  • Lady Andrade
  • Oriánica Velásquez (CD Gol Star)
  • Tatiana Ariza (Houston Aces)
  • Nicole Regnier (Rayo Vallecano)

France

FIFA Rank: 3rd
Head Coach: Philippe Bergeroo

Olympic History
It’s surprising given the talent of the squad but this is the second appearance for France in an Olympic women’s soccer competition. The first appearance came in London 2012 and saw Les Bleues place fourth, losing in the bronze medal match to Canada, 0-1.

Road to Rio
France qualified as one of UEFA’s top two finishers at the 2015 World Cup.

Outlook
Always bright. France is good, but often it’s down to which French team shows up: the confident team capable of flowing soccer or the unconfident team that crumbles when shots and calls don’t go their way?

Defense is a question given the losses of Laure Boulleau and Laura Georges due to injury. Wendie Renard is back there though to anchor the line. And then there is always the question of decision-making in goal with Sarah Bouhaddi. But this is talented squad that has a midfield and attacking options to make up for defensive mistakes. Some of the time.

France boasts some of the best midfielders in the game (Camille Abily, Amandine Henry, Louisa Cadamuro (Nécib)) but at times struggles. In the attacking third, Delie (and Thomis) is pure speed that can place any defense on its heels. And Eugénie Le Sommer is dangerous but at time also struggles to finish. She’s joined by Claire Lavogez and Kadidatou Diani.

France can’t get caught looking past Colombia like it did at last year’s World Cup given the United States is in this group and defense-first New Zealand can give them trouble. They will advance out of the group, and if it’s in second place, that sets up a possible quarterfinal match against Germany.

NWSL Connection
Amandine Henry (Portland Thorns FC)

Roster

Goalkeepers

  • Sarah Bouhaddi (Olympique Lyon)
  • Méline Gérard (Olympique Lyon)

Defenders

  • Sabrina Delannoy (Paris Saint-Germain)
  • Jessica D’Houara (Paris Saint-Germain)
  • Sakina Karchaoui (Montpellier)
  • Amel Majri (Olympique Lyon)
  • Griedge Mbock Bathy (Olympique Lyon)
  • Wendie Renard (Olympique Lyon)

Midfielders

  • Camille Abily (Olympique Lyon)
  • Élise Bussaglia (VfL Wolfsburg)
  • Kheira Hamraoui (Paris Saint-Germain)
  • Amandine Henry (Portland Thorns FC)
  • Louisa (Nécib) Cadamuro
  • Élodie Thomis (Olympique Lyon)

Forwards

  • Marie-Laure Delie (Paris Saint-Germain)
  • Kadidiatou Diani (FCF Juvisy)
  • Claire Lavogez (Olympique Lyon)
  • Eugénie Le Sommer (Olympique Lyon)

Alternates
Kenza Dali, Sakina Karchaoui, Clarisse Le Bihan, Laëtitia Philippe

New Zealand

FIFA Rank: 17th
Head Coach:
Tony Readings

Olympic History
In Beijing 2008, the team didn’t advance past the group stage. In London 2012, however, New Zealand made it to the quarterfinals where they lost, 0-2, to eventual gold medalists the United States.

Road to Rio
New Zealand won the 2016 OFC Women’s Olympic Qualifying Tournament to qualify for Rio 2016.

Outlook
Need goals. New Zealand is a tough, gritty squad unafraid to defend. There is a mix of experience in players such as Sarah Gregorius and youth in players such as Rosie White.

Abby Erceg leads a defense capable of locking down an of the teams in this group, and Ali Riley gets forward in the attack.

Midfield has quality but lacks creativity. In the attach a healthy Hannah Wilkinson is joined by Amer Hearn and the aforementioned Gregorius and White, as well as Annalie Longo and Jasmine Pereira.

It’ll be a tough road to advance out of the group for the Football Ferns but if they can play their usual tough defense and score goals, especially against Colombia, they can find themselves in the third spot in the group.

NWSL Connection
Abby Erceg (Western New York Flash), Katie Bowen (FC Kansas City)

Roster

Goalkeepers

  • Erin Nayler (Norwest United)
  • Rebecca Rolls (Three Kings Utd)

Defenders

  • Abby Erceg (c)  (Western New York Flash)
  • Anna Green (Malbackens IF)
  • Ria Percival (FC Basel)
  • Ali Riley (FC Rosengard)
  • Rebekah Stott (SC Sand)

Midfielders

  • Katie Bowen (FC Kansas City)
  • Katie Duncan (vc) (FC Zurich)
  • Betsy Hassett (Werder Bremen)
  • Meikayla Moore (Norwest United)
  • Kirsty Yallop (Malbackens IF)

Forwards

  • Sarah Gregorius (Speranza FC Osaka-Takatsuki)
  • Amber Hearn (USV Jena)
  • Annalie Longo (Cashmere Technical)
  • Jasmine Pereira (Three Kings United)
  • Rosie White (Liverpool FC)
  • Hannah Wilkinson (University of Tennessee)

Alternates
Catherine (CJ) Bott, Daisy Cleverley, Victoria Esson, Paige Satchell

United States

FIFA Rank: 1st
Head Coach:
Jill Ellis

Olympic History
The United States has appeared in all Olympic competitions held in women’s soccer to date. The U.S. has won one silver medal (Sydney 2000) and four gold medals (Atlanta 1996, Athens 2004, Beijing 2008, London 2012).

Road to Rio
The U.S. qualified through the 2016 CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying Tournament.

Outlook

Really good. This is a team that saw retirements and pregnancies after winning the 2015 World Cup and is better than last year’s team. It might be one of the best teams the U.S. has ever had. This is a deep team, which is going to make a difference in such a compact playing schedule.

The introduction of younger players and tactical adjustments has infused energy into an already fearsome side. So where to critique? Pre-Olympic friendlies laid out the blueprint for beating the U.S., or at least making it very difficult for the reigning World Cup champs: press high, make the flanks defend, and attack the center backs.

Going into the World Cup, much was made of the attacking options head coach Jill Ellis had. But it was the defense that kept the U.S. in matches until the offense unlocked opposing defenses. The defense has been changed since then, and to help a midfield that despite its ability to dominate, struggles to possess and generate chances at time.

Ellis has transitioned the team into what is basically a two-back system. A two-back system that has shown cracks in the armor of Becky Sauerbrunn and Julie Johnston. Ellis can get away with it since the number of teams that can press correctly, and punish and capitalize off U.S. mistakes and overrun the center backs is still small.  This isn’t to diminish what this team has accomplished; it’s a smart move by Ellis. A better balance might be to restore Ali Krieger (an unattacking defender all of a sudden?) and switch Kelley O’Hara to the left back position for the time being. Unlikely, however.

In the midfield, and really, in every position, there’s an embarrassment of riches. A healthy Morgan Brian is key here, and she’ll be needed to help cover for teams like France that can get in behind the gaps in front of the center backs as well as to stifle counterattacks. Tobin Heath has been terrific and her creativity will be needed to unlock defensive-minded teams such as New Zealand. On the other side, Mallory Pugh has the speed and technique; the teenager should start. Truth be told, she’s an excellent central player, too, but it’s crowded there with and an advanced Carli Lloyd and Alex Morgan up top. Ellis had Allie Long behind Brian in friendlies; switch them (and sit Horan).

(The question here is about development given the willingness to bring in younger players – and, hey, maybe veterans, too. Is the senior team environment the place for it? And what does it look like? Are players being given the opportunity to show their versatility? A question for another time.)

The U.S. can’t overlook anyone in this group. France’s speed can give this defense trouble, Colombia’s physicality can get under their skin, and New Zealand can frustrate them.

With all that said, the gold medal is theirs to lose. The positive to this is the team hasn’t even hit its peak yet. There were stretches of free-flowing soccer against Japan in two pre-Olympic friendlies. And the defense, looking shaky and beatable earlier this year, is settling down. It will be up to Ellis to use the insanely talented bench and make adjustments quicker, but this team is going to be fun to watch.

Roster

Goalkeepers

  • Alyssa Naeher (Chicago Red Stars)
  • Hope Solo (Seattle Reign FC)

Defenders

  • Whitney Engen (Boston Breakers)
  • Julie Johnston (Chicago Red Stars)
  • Meghan Klingenberg (Portland Thorns FC)
  • Ali Krieger (Washington Spirit)
  • Kelley O’Hara (Sky Blue FC)
  • Becky Sauerbrunn (FC Kansas City)

Midfielders

  • Morgan Brian (Houston Dash)
  • Tobin Heath (Portland Thorns FC)
  • Lindsey Horan (Portland Thorns FC)
  • Carli Lloyd (Houston Dash)
  • Allie Long (Portland Thorns FC)
  • Megan Rapinoe (Seattle Reign FC)

Forwards

  • Crystal Dunn (Washington Spirit)
  • Alex Morgan (Orlando Pride)
  • Christen Press (Chicago Red Stars)
  • Mallory Pugh (Real Colorado)

Alternates
Heather O’Reilly, Ashlyn Harris, Emily Sonnett, Samantha Mewis

 

 

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