World. Cup. Placed next to each other, can you think of two better words in the English language? Two words to make you go weak at the knees and feel like all your birthdays have come at once? Perhaps “Love” and “Island”, I’ll give you that, or “Dawson’s” and “Creek”. But no, it’s “World” and Cup”. Look, take a moment to feel what happens when I put them together: World Cup. Spooky, right?
Make no mistake, this means everything. By now we’re beyond the point where it feels necessary to explain why women’s football matters. Sorry to break it to all the sexists out there, but it’s here, it’s staying and it’s only going to get bigger from this point onwards. The interest in this tournament is going to be enormous, with coverage like never before, and a multitude of compelling storylines ought to attract even more fans to a sport growing in strength all the time. I’ll level with you, chums: I had a bit of a tear in the eye watching that Nike advert last night. That girl … she was just so … so … so … so inspiring!
Hopefully children everywhere will be watching, ready to be captivated and enthralled by a month of non-stop football, and thinking they can change the world for the better. This is expected to be the best women’s World Cup yet – you’d hope so given that almost one million tickets have already been sold – and rather brilliantly nobody seems to have any clue which team will achieve sporting immortality by lifting the trophy on 7 July.
Twenty-four countries have made it to France (six groups of four, in case you’re wondering), but there’s no widespread agreement on who’s going to win the thing. Our expert writers certainly can’t agree. Some went for England, glorious England, others went for those ominous Germans. Holland, the European champions, can’t be overlooked, and it’s going to take an almighty effort to stop the USA retaining their trophy. Australia are also tipped to go far.
Then there’s France, tournament hosts and perennial quarter-finalists. They begin their campaign against South Korea at the Parc des Princes and will be desperate to get off to a flyer. It’s unlikely to be straightforward, though. South Korea have the outstanding Chelsea forward Ji So-yun in their ranks and their squad is crammed with players who won the Under-17 World Cup and also reached the Under-20 World Cup semi-finals in 2010. No wonder Korea’s Golden Generation have designs on pipping Norway and Nigeria to a knockout spot.
All of which means it will be interesting to see whether it will help or hinder France to play in front of an expectant home crowd, not least because they can complete a historic double by emulating the success of the men’s team in Russia last year. No pressure. Just one of the many subplots to keep us occupied over the next month. Let’s play!
Kick-off: 8pm BST, 9pm CET.