Women's World Cup Preview: Group F
United States: Crystal Dunn
For all the memories and joy created by the U.S. women’s national team back in 2015, one player was left with a bittersweet feeling: Crystal Dunn, who was infamously the final player cut from the roster prior to the World Cup. She admits to being “in a low place” after being informed of Jill Ellis’s decision, but she immediately bounced back and captured the NWSL’s MVP award later that year while scoring a league-leading 15 goals. Last season, she was the creative force on the league’s greatest-ever team. She notched eight goals and seven assists from the attacking midfield position for the North Carolina Courage, which tells you everything about Dunn’s versatility — because with the U.S., she’s the side’s starting left back. But she’s a left back with 24 international goals to her name, which is more than the majority of strikers you’ll see in France. All good things typically start with Dunn wreaking havoc from that left-side, and if there’s any chance of a U.S. goal celebration going viral, it’ll be because of her widely praised dance steps.
Thailand: Orathai Srimanee
Thailand made its World Cup debut in 2015, and the nation scored three goals at the event, all coming against the Ivory Coast. Two of those were scored by attacker Orathai Srimanee, who had to be substituted in the 73rd minute of that match. The reason? Srimanee made her way onto the national team as a standout futsal player in Thailand, and she said after the game that “the football pitch is much bigger than in futsal, and you need so much more energy.” More recently, she scored three goals at the 2018 AFF Women’s Championship, helping Thailand to a fourth title at the competition. Although she balances her football career with working at a university, Srimanee, who’ll turn 31 on June 12, approaches France as one of the team’s standout veterans.
Chile: Yanara Aedo
One of the greatest stories in football in 2018 was Chile qualifying for its first-ever Women’s World Cup after captivating the nation while hosting the 2018 Copa América Femenina. Although Brazil would triumph for the third straight time, Chile finished runners-up to earn direct qualification to France. The hero for Chile was 25-year-old attacker Yanara Aedo, who led her side with three goals, including a brace against Peru. She’s fearless on the pitch, and her desire to make it to the top has led her to play for Colo-Colo in Chile, the Washington Spirit in America and, currently, Valencia in Spain. The women’s league in Chile is run on an amateur basis, so Aedo is one of nine players on the team’s current squad that play in Spain. Aedo will be particularly motivated to stick it to the U.S.: she was a key player on a Spirit Reserves team that won the USL W-League championship in 2015, but she wasn’t rewarded with much playing time in the NWSL, a circumstance which drove her move to the Iberian Peninsula.
Sweden: Stina Blackstenius
The name should sound familiar to U.S. fans — it was Stina Blackstenius, then just 20 years old, who scored the goal that helped Sweden dump the U.S. women’s national team out of the 2016 Olympics en route to a remarkable silver medal at those Games. She also scored in the gold medal match against Germany. Now age 23, Blackstenius has enjoyed successful spells with both Linköpings FC in her native country and Montpellier in France, so she’ll be used to the territory when the World Cup kicks off for Sweden on June 11. She’s yet to match the heights she reached at the youth level — where she scored 53 goals in 50 matches for the U-17, U-19 and U-20 teams — but she represents the future of the Blue-Yellow’s attack, and this World Cup is another chance to both announce her talent on the world stage and break the hearts of Americans everywhere.