By Paul Kennedy
A busy year of qualifying ended with 24 teams headed to Canada next summer
for the Women's World Cup. The top teams prepped for the tournament with an unprecedented series of friendlies, underscoring the seriousness with which they are taking the tournament.
Soccer America ranks the 16 teams that played five or more games in 2014 against other Women's World Cup finalists. There was not a lot separating the top five teams, all seeds. After that, England
and the Netherlands both demonstrated they have teams on the rise. The big disappointments were 2015 Women's World Cup host Canada and Sweden, third at the 2011 Women's World Cup.
eight unranked teams included Nigeria, the only finalist to go unbeaten and untied in 2014, and Spain. The Falcons did not play outside Africa, went 5-1-1, but lost the only game it played against a
Women's World Cup finalist, a friendly against Norway in January. 1. France (13-1-3 overall // 7-1-2 vs. World Cup finalists).
The Bleues beat
Germany for the first time in 13 meetings dating back to 1987 and also beat Brazil for the first time ever. Their only loss in 17 games was a 1-0 loss to the United States in Jill Ellis
' first game as U.S. head coach in June. France also won the Cyprus Cup in March. 2. Germany (12-1-0 // 6-1-0).
loss to France in Offenbach in October ended a 20-game winning streak dating back to the opening game of Euro 2013, which it won without giving up a goal. Germany won the Algarve Cup with a 3-0 win
over Japan in the final. 3. Brazil (12-3-8 // 5-2-6).
Brazil beat the USA, 3-2, at the Torneio Internacional da Brasilia for its first win over the
Americans since the 4-0 win in the semifinals of the 2007 Women's World Cup in China. Its only losses of the year were to Argentina in the South American Women's Championship and to Australia and
France in friendlies. 4. USA (16-3-5 // 10-2-5).
The USA played more games against Women's World Cup finalists (17 of its 24 matches) than any
other team. Besides the loss to Brazil, the USA lost to Sweden and Denmark (which did not qualify for the Women's World Cup) at the Algarve Cup, costing Tom
his job. It played every Women's World Cup seed except Germany, tying Japan at the Algarve Cup and beating and tying Canada and France in addition to the tie and loss to Brazil in
Brasilia. 5. Japan (14-2-3 // 6-1-3).
The defending Women's World Cup champions won the AFC Women's Cup to lead the five Asian teams headed to
Canada next summer. Japan's only losses of the year were to Germany in the Algarve Cup final and North Korea at a tournament in South Korea. 6. England
(10-2-1 // 2-2-1).
England won seven straight games to finish with a perfect record in Women's World Cup qualifying before losing to Germany, 3-0, in November before a record crowd of 45,619
for the first women's match at Wembley Stadium since it re-opened in 2007. The big English wins of the year were over Canada and Sweden. 7. Netherlands
(9-2-4 // 2-1-2).
After back-to-back losses to Scotland and France, the Dutch went unbeaten the rest of the year to qualify for the Women's World Cup for the first time. That included a pair of
wins over the Scots in the European playoffs. The Dutch also beat a pair of Women's World Cup finalists, Norway and Switzerland, on the road. 8. Australia
(5-4-2 // 2-3-2).
The Matildas lost to Japan in the final of the Asian Women's World Cup qualifying tournament. Its best win was a 2-1 victory over Brazil for a split of a two-game series in
Brisbane in April. Between then and qualifying, Hesterine de Reus
, Sermanni's successor, was fired and replaced by Alen
. 9. Canada (4-5-2 // 1-5-2).
A 1-0 win over Sweden in the first of a two-game series of closed-door matches in Los Angeles in
November ended an eight-month winless streak for the Women's World Cup hosts. All the losses came to Women's World Cup finalists: USA, England, Germany and Japan (twice). 10. Sweden (9-6-1 // 1-5-1).
Passed over by FIFA for Brazil as the sixth and final group seed at the Women's World Cup, the Swedes struggled in 2014. The only one of
seven matches against Women's World Cup finalists it won was a 1-0 victory over the USA at the Algarve Cup. Losses were to France, Japan, England, Germany and Canada. 11. China (14-8-6 // 5-5-3).
The Chinese beat Women's World Cup finalists Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Thailand and South Korea, but their best result of the year was
a 1-1 tie with the USA in the opening game in Brasilia. 12. Norway (8-5-2 // 2-3-2).
Norway's only wins over Women's World Cup finalists were in
the first and last games of the year against Spain and New Zealand, respectively. It lost all four games at the Algarve Cup, including defeats to Iceland and Russia, which did not qualify for Canada
2015. 13. Mexico (7-6-1 // 3-5-1).
El Tri Femenil struggled for much of the year and had to settle for third in Concacaf qualifying with a 4-2
overtime win over Trinidad & Tobago. 14. Colombia (9-3-3 // 2-2-2).
The Cafeteras finished second in South American qualifying, where they went
unbeaten in seven games with two wins over Ecuador and a draw with Brazil. Their losses were to Brazil, Mexico and Venezuela in friendlies. 15. South
Korea (12-3-4 // 3-2-2).
South Korea finished fourth at the AFC Women's Cup, losing to China in the third-place game. It was still good enough to advance to the Women's World Cup as five Asian
teams qualified to the expanded 24-team tournament. Its wins over teams headed to Canada were against Thailand (twice) and New Zealand. 16. New Zealand
(4-8-4 // 0-7-3).
Three of the Kiwis' four wins came in Oceania qualifying, where they finished with a 30-0 goal margin. Their only other win in 16 games was a 1-0 win over Finland at the
Cyprus Cup. New Zealand's best results were a pair of ties with Brazil. 2014 Records: PCT. TEAM
(W-L-T) 1.000 Nigeria
(8-0-0) .923 Germany
(14-2-3) .778 Costa Rica
(9-2-1) .762 Spain
(5-1-1) .736 USA
(16-3-5) .702 South Korea
(12-3-4) .690 Switzerland
(9-2-4) .667 Colombia
(9-3-3) .638 Brazil
.583 Ivory Coast
(5-4-2) .567 Cameroon
(5-4-2) .533 Ecuador
(5-4-1) .524 Mexico
(7-6-1) .433 Thailand
(4-5-1) .424 Canada
(4-5-2) .333 New Zealand