Football Watch: Women's World Cup in full flow with favourites in action

The England football team with manager Phil Neville at the Women's World Cup in France. (PHOTO: Reuters/Jean-Paul Pelissier)

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SINGAPORE — The Women’s World Cup has kicked off with a bang as hosts France thrashed South Korea 4-0 in the opening match on Friday (7 June).

Now the group-stage games are coming thick and fast through the next couple of weeks. Will there be any upsets by the lower-ranked women’s teams during this opening round?

Meanwhile, the Copa America is set to begin this week in Brazil. The hosts, naturally and perennially favourites to win, open the South American tournament against minnows Bolivia.

The competition promises to be packed with entertainment football from the gifted players, but can anyone dislodge two-time champions Chile and earn the right to be called the best South American team?

Women’s World Cup: England v Argentina (14 June)

One of the fun things about the Women’s World Cup is to see if traditional rivalries in men’s football are transplanted into women’s football too. And the group stage throws up one of the most intense rivalries in football – England against Argentina.

Football fans will remember how Diego Maradona single-handedly destroyed England at the 1986 World Cup, or how Michael Owen glided through the entire Argentinian defence to score one of the greatest World Cup goals in 1998. Hopefully the women’s edition will throw up an equally memorable affair.

On paper, England are favourites to beat Argentina. Semi-finalists four years ago, the current English side boast terrific players such as Fran Kirby, Toni Duggan and Lucy Bronze, and are tipped to go all the way to win the Cup.

Argentina, on the other hand, are in their first Women’s World Cup since the 2007 edition, and they reportedly had little preparation before coming to the tournament. However, they caused a little surprise in their opening match, holding 2015 runners-up Japan to a goalless draw.

Can England live up to their reputation as Cup favourites? Or will Argentina cause an even bigger upset?

Women’s World Cup: USA v Chile (16 June)

This is the classic David v Goliath scenario: three-time World Cup winners United States against first-time qualifiers Chile.

The US boast a formidable strike force with the likes of Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan and veteran Carli Lloyd. Coming into this World Cup, they had lost just once in 38 matches. No doubt, they are the hot favourites to win their fourth title.

Yet, this is not the same dominant US team as before, and their defence has been leaking goals in recent matches. It is a weakness that could give their opponents hope in somehow getting a win against the defending champions.

Or in Chile’s case, an equally creditable draw. They had played the Americans in two friendlies last year and were easily brushed aside 0-3 and 0-4 in those matches. So the gulf in class is very evident in this latest match-up.

Yet, they have one of the world’s top goalkeepers in Christiane Endler, who is well-known for her incredible reflexes and penalty-stopping ability. If she is in inspired form, the Chileans could be able to frustrate the Americans and grind out a low-scoring draw.

Will we see a surprise result? Or will the US be too much for the inexperienced Chileans?

Copa America: Brazil v Bolivia, Argentina v Colombia

Ah, South American football. It conjures images of wonderfully-skilful players with outrageous ball skills, dribbling past defenders with ease and scoring jaw-dropping goals with aplomb.

Which is why the Copa America tournament is so highly anticipated by football fans, as they anticipate plenty of entertaining matches in the premier South American international competition.

As usual, this year’s edition will feature all 10 South American countries, with two invited nations from Asia: Japan and Qatar. Host Brazil will open the tournament on 15 June against minnows Bolivia, eager to get off on the right foot in search of their ninth Copa America title.

They will have to manage with superstar Neymar, who is out after rupturing his ankle ligaments in a recent friendly against Qatar. Even so, they should have few problems defeating Bolivia, with their star-studded squad boasting the likes of Roberto Firmino, Gabriel Jesus and Philippe Coutinho.

Brazil superstar Neymar is out of the Copa America tournament after an injury during a recent friendly against Qatar. (PHOTO: Buda Mendes/Getty Images)

A day later, 14-time champions Argentina will face Colombia in what promises to be an exciting match between two sides with plenty of flair and firepower. Argentina, as usual, will rely on the incomparable Lionel Messi for inspiration, although Sergio Aguero and Angel di Maria are also key to the team’s success.

Meanwhile, Colombia are going through a transitional period, with long-time manager Jose Pekerman stepping down and being replaced by former Manchester United assistant manager Carlos Queiroz.

Even so, they are still call upon gifted players to lead the charge for their first Copa America title since 2001. James Rodriguez remains their key players, the one person capable of moments of sheer magic. But they also have new threats such as striker Duvan Zapata, who has had a stellar season in the Italian Serie A with 23 goals for third-placed Atalanta.

Can favourites Brazil and Argentina open their Copa America with victories?

Concacaf Gold Cup: Mexico v Cuba

The biennial Concacaf World Cup, featuring 16 teams from North and Central America, also opens on the same day as the Copa America, primarily played in the United States with Costa Rica and Jamaica hosting a couple of matches each.

Along with the US, Mexico are the perennial favourites for this competition. They should have little trouble in advancing from the opening group stage, with Group A rivals Canada, Martinique and Cuba unlikely to offer too many surprises.

They boast an in-form striker in Raul Jimenez, who has had a great season with English Premier League side Wolverhampton Wanderers. Other players who are expected to shine for the Mexicans include Los Angeles Galaxy’s Jonathan dos Santos and captain Andres Guardado of Spanish side Real Betis.

Cuba are ranked a lowly 174th in the Fifa World Rankings, and are unlikely to cause many problems for Mexico. Still, they have an exciting young striker in Luis Paradela, and the 22-year-old could make a name for himself with a good performance in the Gold Cup.

Will Mexico justify their tag as Gold Cup favourites with a resounding victory against the Cubans?

Want to play along with your own football results predictions? Try the You Predict app on iPhone or Android.

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