There’s a clear top and bottom in Group G. Sweden is No. 3 in the world and has every bit of skill needed to win the whole tournament. It’ll be a minor miracle if South Africa picks up a point before a return flight to Johannesburg. The most important game of Group G will be contested by the two teams in the middle, Italy and Argentina. Two world powers that played on the men’s side in the 2022 Finalissima will re-engage in the Women’s World Cup, likely with a spot in the knockout stages on the line. It’s the opening game of the tournament for both teams, making the clash even more interesting.
Neither Italy nor Argentina can tinker with lineups or adjust to what they’ve seen from their opponents already in Australia and New Zealand prior to the July 24 clash. Italy is a dozen spots ahead of the Argentine, but once leaving the top dozen, the teams are a lot closer. The main difference between Italy and Argentina? International experience. Italy’s Valentina Cernoia is the team’s most-capped player with 61 appearances for Le Azzurre. The rest of Italy’s outfield roster has 73 total caps with defender Valentina Bergamaschi being the second-most experienced with 25 caps and they’re the only two non-goalkeepers above 10 all-time appearances at the international level.
In all three past appearances at the Women’s World Cup, Argentina didn’t get out of the group stage. The South Americans absolutely have a chance to buck that trend at this tournament. Italy has two quarterfinals appearances on its resume, including four years ago in France. Holding serve against South Africa will be key and seeing whether either country can take points off Sweden would be an unexpected bonus. But the latter isn’t likely, let me explain why.
If Sweden is the team to dethrone the United States from the World Cup helm, no one will be shocked. The Swedish are deep and experienced at every position minus goalkeeper, where the three players called in have a combined 26 caps with Hedvig Lindahl being left off Sweden’s squad for the last year or so. She is 40 after all. Sweden’s midfield for my money is the best in the entire tournament, led by Caroline Seger and Kosovare Asllani, who have a combined 405 caps for the Swedish.
The South Africans are entering the tournament as the Group G longshots, combined with horrible form. A tie against Slovenia, which won’t be in Australia and New Zealand, as well as losses to Serbia and Botswana, the latter of which is ranked No. 150 in the world, represents a majority of the preparation for the World Cup. Oh, and No. 150-ranked Botswana was a 5-0 loss. What’s the route for South Africa to advance beyond thoughts and prayers? Just try your best I guess.
I’ll take the minor upset of Argentina defeating Italy to kick off both teams’ World Cup campaigns and the Argentines to finish as Group G runners-up. What prize will Paulina Gramaglia and friends get in its first-ever World Cup knockout round match? I’ll be shocked if the United States doesn’t win Group E and isn’t waiting in that position. And that will be the end of Argentina’s run. If Sweden wins Group G as expected, the high-profile showdown with the USWNT would likely take place in the semifinals. And that would be must-see television.