Wednesday, August 3, 2016

2016 Summer Olympics Prediction: Women's Soccer

Hot on the heels of the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup, the 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil bring us another women's soccer tournament. We won't have a fourth straight USA-Japan major final either, as Japan finished a surprising 3rd behind Australia & China. Only 12 teams can qualify for the Olympics because of the IOC limit on the number of athletes attending. The third place team from the 2015 Women's World Cup will not be there either. England finished 3rd and would've been Europe's #1 qualifier, but they compete as Great Britain at the Olympics, and the four nations don't send their soccer teams together as one.

The Olympic Men's tournament will be taking place as well, though they aren't allowed to use full national teams. Only three players on men's squads can be over the age of 23. I think Brazil will win their first Olympic gold in soccer this year, with the Men doing so. On to the predictions for the Women's tournament.

Group E:
1. Brazil   2. Sweden   3. China   4. South Africa.
This is a group filled with teams that rely on defense. What should give Brazil and Sweden the edge are the fact that they can attack as well. China have improved their attack, even beating the top ranked US 1-0 in a friendly, but might still struggle to score often. They will most likely pose a tough challenge for each team. Sweden had one of their worst World Cup performances ever, and will look to bounce back. I'll give Brazil the edge over them to win the group with that home field advantage. South Africa might be able to hand around, though finishing above 4th will be a struggle.

Group F:
1. Germany   2. Australia   3. Canada   4. Zimbabwe
Poor Zimbabwe. In their first major tournament, they should clearly finish last in the group and struggle. They are an unknown though, so they might be able to give some fits. Australia have been red hot as of late, but Germany should still take the group. Germany aren't unbeatable though, and it wouldn't be a total shock to see Australia or Canada above them. Canada are without their #1 goalkeeper, which is something to watch.

Group G:
1. USA   2. France   3. New Zealand   4. Colombia
Colombia have been getting stronger, and had a strong showing at the World Cup. However, they'll be missing their best player in Yoreli Rincon to injury, which should give New Zealand a slight edge for 3rd place. New Zealand have proven to be a tough opponent, specifically on defense. It might be difficult for either of them to grab one of the two 3rd place spots in the knockout round though. The battle for the top will be between the #1 ranked United States and #3 ranked France. The US doesn't have many weaknesses. France are also a strong side, yet they haven't been able to make it to the final of a major tournament yet. Will they finally take the next step, before hosting the 2019 Women's World Cup?

I'd pick Canada & China to take the two third place spots in the knockout round over New Zealand/Colombia.

Quarterfinals: Canada over Brazil, USA over China. France over Germany. Australia over Sweden.

Semifinals: USA over Canada. France over Australia.

Final: France over USA. Bronze: Australia over Canada. It's probably crazy to pick against the USWNT right now, but all streaks must come to an end at some point. They've won Gold at the Olympics in 1996, 2004, 2008 and 2012. If France finish second in the group, they'd have to prove themselves against Germany first. If they don't take that next step, then when? They have the Euro 2017 next year and the 2019 Women's World Cup with a home soil boost. The US will probably win, but they may get a stiff challenge from France, Germany or Australia in the final. Brazil & Sweden have an outside shot, with Canada being tough but probably not quite as good as in 2012 when they won bronze.

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