Photo: Daniel Mihailescu (Getty)
2019 Women's World CupPlayers to watch, dark horses, upset opportunities, and everything else you need to know for the 2019 Women’s World Cup in France.  

Most countries making their debut in a tournament like the World Cup are just happy to be there. Implied in a country making it to its first major tournament is that the country in the very recent past was not very good, and its soccer infrastructure is at an incredibly early stage of its development. For most debutants, the true feat of heroism is the simple act of qualifying. Anything good that comes after in the tournament itself is purely a bonus.

The 2019 Women’s World Cup is the first World Cup for four countries: South Africa, Jamaica, Chile, and Scotland. Three of those four qualify as “just happy to be here” teams with small dreams and even lower expectations. Scotland are the exception. This might be Scotland’s first rodeo, but the isn’t a bull in the field that should scare them.

Scotland might not have any appreciable history in women’s soccer, but their present is as good as almost anyone’s. Their starting lineup is full of players who are key pieces at clubs like Arsenal, Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea—some of the best clubs in England, which is home to one of the better leagues in the world. Their star player—Kim Little, an all-action midfielder with a game of such breadth and impressiveness that the term “all-action” can’t even begin to adequately describe it—is one of the best in the tournament. Their top-to-bottom quality, as their 20th place in the FIFA rankings demonstrates, is exceptional, and is far greater than most first-timers.

Most teams in their first World Cup would be happy with a couple goals and a couple points, would be ecstatic with a single win, and would consider it an honor to qualify for the first knockout round for the right to get run over by one of the true favorites. Not Scotland. Scotland, even in a tough group alongside England and Japan, should see qualifying for the knockout rounds as the minimum. And should they get that far, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t treat the knockouts as just the start.

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Roster

Goalkeepers: Lee Alexander (Glasgow City), Shannon Lynn (Vittsjö), Jenna Fife (Hibernian)

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Defenders: Kirsty Smith (Manchester United), Nicola Docherty (Glasgow City), Rachel Corsie (Rachel Corsie), Jennifer Beattie (Arsenal), Hayley Lauder (Glasgow City), Chloe Arthur (Birmingham City), Sophie Howard (Reading), Joelle Murray (Hibernian)

Midfielders: Joanne Love (Glasgow City), Kim Little (Arsenal), Caroline Weir (Manchester City), Leanne Crichton (Glasgow City), Christie Murray (Liverpool), Lizzie Arnot (Manchester United)

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Forwards: Lisa Evans (Arsenal), Jane Ross (West Ham), Claire Emslie (Orlando Pride), Lana Clelland (Fiorentina), Fiona Brown (RosengĂĄrd), Erin Cuthbert (Chelsea)

Nickname

SWNT (Scotland Women’s National Team)

FIFA World Ranking

20

Manager

Shelley Kerr

How They Play

This is all about Kim Little. Little is a unique player in that she is a true central midfielder who puts up the scoring stats of a center forward and the assist numbers of a No. 10, sort of the Scottish Carli Lloyd. Wherever she has played, be it with Arsenal in the Women’s Super League or a two-year stint with the Seattle Reign in the NWSL (where she was among the league’s leading scorers and assisters in both of her two seasons, and was named league MVP once and on the team of the season twice) or with the national team, she has scored goals.

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Little prefers to start moves deep in the heart of midfield, and, using her nifty dribbling and wide passing range and uncanny sense of timing her runs forward into the box, to progress the ball forward until she sends it into the goal from there. Watching her pull the strings to get the ball from the middle of the park into the back of the net, at all moments clearly the architect of the move even when she’s not touching the ball herself, is mesmerizing.

Scotland have good players everywhere, and have an entertaining, free-flowing style that often results in loads of goals. But even with that all-encompassing talent, Little is far and away their most important player as she is simultaneously the team’s key organizer, creator, and scorer. This team will go as far as Little can take them, and that could be much farther than many expect.

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Group D Fixtures

June 9, 12 p.m.: England vs. Scotland at Stade de Nice

June 14, 9 a.m.: Japan vs. Scotland at Roazhon Park

June 19, 3 p.m.: Scotland vs. Argentina at Parc des Princes

All times Eastern