What to look out for at the FIFA Women's World Cup 2019

Everything you need to know for the 2019 edition, as the United States defend their title and hosts France kick things off in Paris on 7 June.

By Rory Jiwani ·

Along with the Olympic Games, the FIFA Women's World Cup is the pinnacle of women's football.

The eighth edition of the tournament is France 2019, taking place from 7th June to 7th July.

There are 24 countries competing in the event, which also doubles as an Olympic qualifying tournament for some.

Here's the full Olympic Channel guide to the teams, players, groups, venues, and rule changes to look out for.

Who are the nations hoping to make World Cup history

Hosts France kick off proceedings against South Korea in the Parc des Princes on 7 June.

They have a good chance of making it to the final a month later, but several other teams have a realistic aim of lifting the trophy too.

The United States are favourites. They won their third World Cup in Canada in 2015, and the world's number one team have high hopes of retaining their crown with Carli Lloyd spearheading their title defence.

Carli Lloyd congratulated after scoring her third goal in USA's 5-2 win over Japan in the 2015 Women's World Cup Final in Vancouver

The 2015 bronze medallists England also laid a marker by winning the prestigious SheBelieves Cup round-robin competition in Philadelphia ahead of the USA, Brazil, and Japan.

Germany are two-time women's world cup winners and the defending Olympic champions, after they beat Sweden 2-1 in the final at Rio 2016.

Women's football gold for Germany

Germany win the final women's football match 2-1 against Sweden, taking gol...

The Swedes stunned the United States on penalties in the quarter-finals, and they will hope to go one better than their second place to Germany at the 2003 World Cup.

More information on all the teams and their France 2019 chances below, but first...

Tokyo 2020 Olympic places are up for grabs

This World Cup carries even more importance for the European teams, with the competition doubling up as UEFA's sole Olympic qualifying event.

Only the top three sides from Europe will make it to Tokyo 2020, to join hosts Japan, Copa America winners Brazil, and OFC Nations Cup victors New Zealand already in the 12-strong line-up.

The competition for Europe's three Olympic berths is a genuine tournament within a tournament.

England coach Phil Neville during the home World Cup qualifier against Wales in April 2018

For the first time, a women's team from Great Britain and Northern Ireland could appear at an Olympic Games after by qualifying.

Britain competed at London 2012 as hosts, and did enough to qualify for Rio 2016 but decided against taking the spot.

This new development comes after FIFA and the four football associations in the United Kingdom (England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales) agreed that their qualification would follow similar procedures to those of Team GB's hockey and rugby sevens teams.

British Olympic qualification hopes depend on the women's world cup performance of England, the highest-ranked team from the United Kingdom's four nations.

December's draw provided a twist in the tale with Scotland, playing in their first World Cup, drawn alongside England in Group D.

It means, somewhat ironically, that Scottish players could wreck their own chances of playing in an Olympic Games by beating England in their opening game.

That will be no easy feat with England, coached by former Manchester United men's team defender Phil Neville, firmly established as one of Europe's top sides.

But England were surprisingly beaten at home by Canada in April with the prolific Christine Sinclair scoring the only goal of the game.

And the Netherlands defeated the English on the way to claiming the 2017 European Championship on home soil, with Denmark runners-up.

The Netherlands celebrate beating Denmark 4-2 in the final of Women's Euro 2017 in Enschede

Striker Vivianne Miedema scored the opener in their 3-0 semi-final win over England and twice in the final to fire the Dutch to victory.

She will be key to Netherlands' hopes this time after a spectacular season with English side Arsenal, scoring 31 goals in 27 matches in all competitions.

At just 22, Miedema is already one of the most feared attackers in world football having won two Bundesliga titles with Bayern Munich before joining Arsenal in 2017.

Dutch striker Vivianne Miedema in action for Arsenal against Manchester United

Despite being reigning Olympic champions, Germany will need to be one of the three best European teams at France 2019 if they're to defend their title at Tokyo 2020.

Norway's hopes were dealt a massive blow when Ballon d'Or winner Ada Hegerberg ruled herself out of the competition.

Olympique Lyonnais (OL) striker Hegerberg, who hit the headlines with her put-down of an awards host who asked if she knew how to twerk, quit international football after Euro 2017 citing a lack of respect for female players in Norway.

Coach Martin Sjogren told the BBC World Service, "We tried to solve it, we had meetings, but she decided not to play."

Ballon d'Or winner Ada Hegerberg will not play for Norway at the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup

France expects

As hosts, France will be one of the favourites to claim not only Olympic qualification, but also a first World Cup triumph.

Their form has been impressive too, with a 4-0 victory over Denmark making it 11 wins in their last 12 matches.

Their squad features a number of players from OL, arguably the strongest club side in the world, including captain Wendie Renard.

Born in Martinique, the 28-year-old is a commanding presence in central defence.

She is also dangerous from set-pieces with 20 goals in 108 appearances for the national side.

Olympique Lyonnais captain Wendie Renard reacts during the 2018 UEFA Champions League Final win over Wolfsburg in Kiev

France's main goal threat is Renard's OL team-mate Eugenie Le Sommer who has 74 goals from 159 caps.

She will be supported by PSG's Kadidiatou Diani who scored twice in January's 3-1 win over the United States in Le Havre.

Non-European nations focus purely on World Cup success

Away from Olympic qualifying berths, there's a World Cup to be won. And several of the main contenders come from outside Europe.

North American strength

Despite losing a number of players after the 2015 World Cup, and goalkeeper Hope Solo after Rio 2016, the United States are still one of the best sides in women's football.

Their strength lies in attack with Carli Lloyd (105 goals in 266 games), Alex Morgan (98 in 155) and Megan Rapinoe (41 in 146) among the survivors from their 2015 triumph.

Lloyd is definitely a woman for the big occasion, scoring that hat-trick in the 2015 World Cup Final, and both goals in the London 2012 final victory over Japan.

USA win third consecutive women's football gold

Carli Lloyd scores twice as the United States beat Japan 2-1 in the final a...

But Morgan provided one of the most dramatic moments in recent American football history, heading home in the last minute of extra-time to secure a 4-3 win over Canada in the semi-finals at London 2012.

That 3-1 defeat to France last month may have served as a wake-up call, and all eyes will be on the USA in the SheBelieves Cup.

Neighbours Canada can never be underestimated.

Christine Sinclair, now 35, was the topscorer at London 2012 and only retired American striker Abby Wambach has scored more international goals.

Canada have taken bronze at the last two Olympic Games, and will be hoping to reach their first World Cup Final in France.

Canada wins bronze in Women's Football

Canada defeat Brazil in the women's football bronze medal match.

The Asian Challenge

Having been runners-up four years ago, Japan are seeking to regain the title they won in Germany in 2011.

But their best days look to be behind them.

Captain and star player Homare Sawa retired after the 2015 World Cup with Shinobu Ono and Aya Miyama among those calling it quits when the team failed to qualify for Rio 2016.

Japan have slipped to eighth in the world rankings, but they did claim both the Asian Cup and Asian Games titles last year.

Japan's Kumi Yokoyama during the 2018 Asian Cup Final against Australia in Amman

Striker Kumi Yokoyama is a prolific goalscorer but Japan lost all three matches in the Tournament of Nations in the United States before the Asian Games, going down to the USA, Brazil and Australia.

Asako Takakura's youthful squad for the SheBelieves Cup performed well in Philadelphia, drawing with the hosts before beating Brazil and then going down to England in their final match.

After that, they were beaten 3-1 by France in Auxerre before drawing with both Germany and Spain.

At six, Australia are currently Asia's highest-ranked team after showing great improvement in recent years.

'The Matildas' reached the quarter-finals at Rio 2016, going out on penalties to hosts Brazil.

And in 2017, they scored their first win over the United States in 27 attempts in Seattle on their way to taking the inaugural Tournament of Nations title.

But their preparations were rocked by the dismissal of coach Alen Stajcic in January based on confidential surveys which highlighted "workplace" and "player welfare" issues.

Replacement Ante Milicic started well with wins over trans-Tasman rivals New Zealand, South Korea and Argentina before a 5-3 defeat to USA in Colorado.

Their last warm-up game saw them go down 3-0 to the Netherlands in Eindhoven.

Completing Asia's five-strong contingent are South Korea, 1999 World Cup runners-up China and Thailand.

All three will find it tough to get out of the group stages.

Veterans lead Brazil bid

Brazil continue to set the standard in South America, winning their seventh Copa America Femenina in eight competitions in Chile last year.

Marta captained the side and her performances helped her secure a sixth FIFA Player of the Year award.

Marta: every Olympic goal

Watch every goal scored by Brazilian star Marta at the Olympics from Athens...

Striker Cristiane, the topscorer at both Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008, is also still around with 40-year-old midfielder Formiga returning to the squad having retired after Rio 2016.

Formiga has appeared at every Olympic Games women's football tournament since its debut at Atlanta 1996 and she is in line to take part in a record seventh Women's World Cup.

South Korean-based attacking midfielder Beatriz is perhaps the best recent addition, but Brazil's hopes will largely rest on the shoulders of their veteran players.

Argentina and debutantes Chile are the other teams from South America.

Nigeria spearhead African hopes

Nigeria have appeared at every World Cup including the first in 1991.

They have made it out of the group stages just once, in 1999, going out in the quarter-finals to Brazil.

But the 'Super Falcons' will be hopeful of reaching at least the second round this time, having been drawn in Group A with hosts France, South Korea and Norway.

Diminutive playmaker Francisca Ordega is a key part of their plans.

The 25-year-old helped Washington Spirit to their first NWSL title, but she has since had loan spells at Sydney FC in Australia, and Spanish side Atletico Madrid.

Asisat Oshoala is perhaps the best known player in the squad.

Asisat Oshoala hugs Francisca Ordega after her goal against Sweden in the 2015 FIFA World Cup

Nicknamed 'Seedorf', after former Dutch midfielder Clarence Seedorf, the 24-year-old is currently on loan at FC Barcelona from Chinese side Dalian Quanjian.

After being the topscorer and best player at the 2014 FIFA U-20 World Cup, Oshoala had stints at English clubs Liverpool and Arsenal.

African sides have usually struggled in the Women's World Cup with Cameroon and South Africa, making their first appearance, facing an uphill battle to make the knockout stages.

The debutants

Scotland, Chile, Jamaica, and South Africa are the four teams making their first World Cup Finals appearances in France.

Scotland won seven games out of eight to win their group from 2015 finalists Switzerland.

They rely heavily on Arsenal playmaker Kim Little who is currently in her second stint in North London having had successful spells with Seattle Reign and Melbourne City.

Kim Little in action for Arsenal against WSL rivals Brighton

This will not be Little's first taste of global competition as she was one of two Scots in Great Britain's team at London 2012.

Chile qualified thanks to a 4-0 win over Argentina which clinched second place in the 2018 Copa America Femenina on home soil.

Argentina later secured entry to their first World Cup since 2007 by beating Panama 5-1 on aggregate in a playoff.

Jamaica, dubbed the 'Reggae Girlz', took third place in the CONCACAF Women's Championship courtesy of a penalty shoot-out victory over Panama.

Their topscorer in the competition, Jody Brown with four goals, was just 16 at the time and named best young player of the tournament held in the United States.

That breakthrough came a year after she left Lime Hall in Jamaica to study in Florida.

Chelsea fan Brown led Montverde Academy to their second consecutive state title in February.

She received the prestigious Victoria Mutual YOUTH Award for an outstanding Jamaican young talent in March, donating the US$ 180,000 prize to her old school and the St Ann Football Association back home.

Brown, now 17, missed Jamaica's 1-1 draw against South Africa in Johannesburg due to her studies but will return for the rest of their warm-up matches ahead of France.

Fellow debutantes South Africa had lost their previous three matches, going down to North Korea, Czech Republic and Finland in the Cyprus Women's Cup.

'Banyana Banyana' qualified by reaching the final of the Africa Women Cup of Nations where they were beaten on penalties by Nigeria.

Rio 2016 Olympian Thembi Kgatlana was the competition's topscorer with five goals before she left Houston Dash for Chinese side Beijing BG Phoenix along with compatriot Linda Motlhalo.

Thembi Kgatlana playing for South Africa at Rio 2016

Ode Fulutudilu has returned to the squad with her journey to the World Cup worthy of a Hollywood movie.

She became a refugee aged three, her family forced to flee their homeland of DR Congo for Angola.

With Angola also ravaged by civil war, they moved further south to South Africa before settling in Cape Town.

There, Fulutudilu started playing football and eventually worked her way up to the country's semi-professional league and the national team.

Her dream was to play abroad and last year she joined Finnish club ONS Oulu.

The forward scored 15 goals in 23 games to lead ONS to safety before signing for Spanish side Malaga in January and finding the net in just her second game.

While she has struggled to pin down a first-team place since, Fulutudilu hopes to keep Malaga in the top flight before focusing on spearheading South Africa's challenge in France.

What are the France 2019 groups?

Group A: France, South Korea, Norway, Nigeria

Group B: Germany, China, Spain, South Africa

Group C: Australia, Italy, Brazil, Jamaica

Group D: England, Scotland, Argentina, Japan

Group E: Canada, Cameroon, New Zealand, Netherlands

Group F: United States, Thailand, Chile, Sweden

What is the format for FIFA Women's World Cup France 2019?

The top two sides in each group will qualify for the last 16, along with the four third-placed teams with the best records.

In the knockout stages, teams are permitted to make a fourth substitution if that match goes to extra time.

The final takes place in Lyon's Parc Olympique Lyonnais on 7 July.

The venues for FIFA Women's World Cup 2019

Nine cities across France will host matches at the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup, with the final at Lyon's Parc Olympique Lyonnais which holds close to 60,000 spectators.

Lyon is the home of women's football in France with Olympique Lyonnais (OL) bidding for a third consecutive UEFA Women's Champions League title.

They have also won 12 French titles in a row, but Paris-Saint Germain (PSG) are hot on their heels this season.

The Parc des Princes is the venue in the capital Paris. It was home of French football and rugby before the Stade de France was built for the 1998 FIFA World Cup, which France's men won.

The seven other locations are Nice, Reims, Rennes, Montpellier, Valenciennes (close to the Belgian border), Le Havre, and Grenoble, host city of the 1968 Olympic Winter Games.

Le Havre's Stade Oceane is perhaps the most spectacular. Completed in 2012, it boasts impressive eco-friendly credentials with all its energy provided by a roof-mounted solar panels and has a bright blue exterior when lit up at night.

What else to look out for

Rule changes

The headline introduction for this Women's World Cup is that a Video Assistant Referee (VAR) system will be used for the first time with the video review technology in operation at all nine venues.

All 27 referees and 48 assistants selected to officiate in France took part in VAR training sessions in Qatar in February.

The innovation was first used in a global competition at last year's FIFA World Cup for men in Russia.

Referee Nestor Pitana reviews VAR footage during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Group F match between Mexico and Sweden

Updated laws of the game were ratified at the International Football Association Board (IFAB) meeting in March to take effect from 1 June, in time for the tournament in France.

The four main changes are:

  • If the ball finds the net via a handball by an attacking player, the goal will not stand even if the handball was accidental.
  • Players being substituted will no longer need to come to the halfway line to be replaced, instead leaving the field at the nearest possible point in order to stop time-wasting.
  • At free-kicks, attacking players are no longer allowed to stand in a defensive wall
  • Coaches can now, like players, receive yellow and red cards for misconduct.

Stay with Olympic Channel for more FIFA Women's World Cup news and previews in the lead-up to the event.