The Dark Horses: Predicting Third-Place Knockout Qualifiers For 2019 Women's World Cup

Who will they be? How how far will they go?

Since there are 24 teams participating in the 2019 Women’s World Cup, the knockout format is slightly different than the men’s format. To ensure 16 teams make it to the knockout stages, out of the six groups, four of those groups have three out of the four teams in the group go through the to the knockout stages. The way these four teams are chosen is simple: The third-place teams with the most points out of the six move on to the knockout stages.

Here are my predictions for who those teams will be and how far they will go in the knockout stages.

Women's World Cup Dark Horses

South Korea

Group: A (France, Norway, South Korea, Nigeria)

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South Korea is a team built entirely around its midfield. The team is spearheaded by midfielder Cho su-Hyun who is the most-capped player on the squad and recently joined West Ham this season where she helped them to a respectable mid-table finish.

When it comes to goals, the squad will likely look to her midfield counterpart Ji so-Yun. The Chelsea player is the all-time leading goal scorer for South Korea and never seems to run out of energy on the pitch. While this duo is certainly menacing, an error-prone defense and under-producing front-line will likely keep this team from competing with the likes of group favorites France or European juggernaut Norway, placing them in a comfortable third place ahead of Nigeria.

Knockout Prediction: While South Korea has some impressive players, it doesn’t have the depth to compete with any of the group toppers they would likely be matched with. I predict their World Cup will end after the first round.

Spain

Group: B (China, Germany, Spain, South Africa)

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It was hard to pick who would finish third in the group between Spain in China. I gave China the edge to finish second due to its lethal attack and the advantage that gives the team if it comes down to goal difference.

Spain, while having a tenacious defense, really only has one serious attacking threat, Atletico Madrid striker Hermoso, who notched a respectable seven goals and six assists in World Cup qualifying. While this team may not look too impressive on paper, it makes up for it in chemistry, with 10 of the 23 players playing on Barcelona.

Knockout Prediction: Although knocking out one of the top teams would be a tall task for Spain, it definitely has the potential to make it to the quarterfinals if it can manage to squeak out a 1-0 win in the first round. However, if that does manage to happen, I predict that is as far as they will go as even its defense will crumble against some of the super-powered offenses in the Round of Eight.

Italy

Group: C (Brazil, Australia, Italy, Jamaica)

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This will be Italy’s return the World Cup after two decades of absence. While the team is by no means world-class, it has two dangerous attacking threats in Juventus winger Barbara Bonesa and Serie A goal leader and AC Milan striker Valentina Giancinti, who should both help keep them competitive in their group matches.

A high scoring victory against Jamaica should secure them a space in the knockout round.

Knockout Prediction: While fans should be happy with making it out of the group stage, their expectations should end there, as the Azzura will not be able to compete with the quality the would face in the first round of knockouts.

Scotland

Group: D (England, Japan, Scotland, Argentina)

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What this team lacks in World Cup experience, it makes up for in talent.

This is Scotland’s first year competing in the Women’s World Cup and, despite that, expectations are high. Arsenal defenders Jennifer Beattie and Emma Mitchell will cement the backline, while world-class playmaker Kim Little, who was the catalyst to Arsenal’s league title, will facilitate the offense. One to watch out for is 20-year-old Erin Cuthbert, who has shown flashes of top-tier talent while playing midfield at Chelsea. Despite all this talent, however, I think they will still finish behind England, which has even more talent, and Japan, which has a wealth of World Cup experience.

Knockout Prediction: This team is special, and if they can get past the initial World Cup nerves, I feel comfortable saying they are a Women's World Cup dark horse candidate to make it to the semifinals this year. Their group-stage match against England should be a good indicator of how the rest of their World Cup will pan out.

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