SEATTLE – Every World Cup - men's, women's, youth - inevitably features a group that is deemed the Group of Death. The 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup is no different. But unlike previous tournaments when the phrase was overused and dramatic, this draw lives up to its hype.
Host Germany is easily the tournament favorite. The two-time defending Women's World Cup champions have shown no sign of letting up as they cruised to recent friendly victories over North Korea and fellow group participant Nigeria (to the tune of 8-0 in November).
Inka Grings and Birgit Prinz headline the stellar cast of Germans, but midfielder Fatmire Bajramaj is a player to watch along with young gun Alexandra Popp. The 20-year-old Popp won the Golden Ball and the Golden Show at the 2010 U-20 Women's World Cup, scoring 10 goals in six matches and purely outclassing the competition as Germany cruised to the crown in that tournament.
With young stars like Bajramaj and Popp already showing they belong among the world's elite, there is no generational cap for Germany. A tough group stage should prove as good preparation for a run to a third-straight title.
The Canadians enter the 2011 tournament at an all-time high having been crowned champions of CONCACAF, a Brazilian Four Nations Tournament and the Cyprus Cup all in the past eight months.
Canada finished fourth in the 2003 Women's World Cup but followed that up in 2007 with a group stage exit. But now in her prime, Christine Sinclair continues to prove her striking prowess at both the international and club level and will be the go-to player for Canada. This team has come a long way from the days of losing to neighboring United States 9-1 (which happened just 11 short years ago) to become a legitimate title contender.
Unfortunately, Canada's best team may not even get out of the group if it is not careful. Germany is a near-automatic qualifier for the knockout stage, leaving one spot for France, Nigeria and Canada.
Who will step up if Sinclair gets marked out of the game? Melissa Tancredi is the wild card for the Maple Leafs. If she finds success, Canada should, too.
Every Group of Death needs a dark horse and that is exactly what France provides. Much like Canada, the French are in danger of not making it out of the group with one slip up. Camille Abily and Sonia Bompastor are names familiar to WPS fans, but this team tore it up in qualifying and somewhat surprisingly looked like perhaps the best team in Europe outside of Germany.
Now ranked No. 7 in the world, many expect France to pull-off some upsets and make a run in the tournament. That likely means getting three points against both Nigeria and Canada.
Nigeria has qualified for every Women's World Cup but made its way out of the group stage just once. Every four years Nigeria, typically Africa's best team, is a team that nobody wants to draw. But every four years, the Super Falcons seem to perform below expectations.
Perhaps that can change this time around will all pressure off the team. Nigeria is the weakest team in this group, which says something about just how strong Group A is. Forwards Perpetua Nkwocha and Stella Mbachu led the way in qualifying and will have to continue to do so in Germany. Mbachu is the team's leader at 33-years-old. She has been through too many disappointing Women's World Cups and now faces her stiffest challenge yet in Group A.
Nigeria completes the perfect formula for a Group of Death. The Super Falcons are the 'weakest' team in the group but still a contender and potential dark horse. Add that to tournament favorite Germany, a powerful Canada and streaking France and Group A should prove to be the most entertaining.
Jeff Kassouf is a freelance writer and proprietor of Equalizer Soccer who will be contributing to FOX Soccer's coverage of the 2011 Women's World Cups. He is one the co-authors of The Complete Guide to the 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup.