Group A is usually the hardest group to predict in a tournament like this since the home team gets priority placement at the top of the group. The end result of this procedure – designed to give the home squad the best possible chance of advancing for their fans – is that all four of the teams in Group A are quite evenly matched. The FIFA rankings and betting odds both bear out this analysis:
|Country||FIFA Ranking||Odds to Win Group|
|Netherlands||12||2.5 to 1|
|Norway||11||3.6 to 1|
|Denmark||15||5.5 to 1|
|Belgium||22||14 to 1|
As you can see, the teams are very evenly matched, although Belgium does fall a bit short of the rest of the group. Realistically any of these four teams could advance to the knockout stage.
Netherlands are the Favorites
If you are used to watching football or basketball you might find that homefield advantage exists but isn’t that influential on the standings. That isn’t true for soccer. If you take a look at the NWSL or MLS standings – or any other league across the world – there are almost no teams with winning records on the road. Of the 10 NWSL teams, none have won more than half of their road games and in the MLS there is just one out of 22 teams that has accomplished that feat. Thus, we should expect the Netherlands to hold a slight advantage in such an even group despite the equal competition.
The Netherlands have done a good job of picking quality, tournament-level teams to play against recently and they have mostly been successful. There are a few red flags, like the losses to France and Japan (numbers 3 and 6 in the world respectively) but they have been beating competition that they should beat if they want to win their group. Wins over Iceland, Russia, Romania, Austria and Wales show that they can beat second and third tier opponents with ease – none of those wins was by less than 3 goals. The biggest issue is that none of those teams are of the same quality as Norway or Denmark, but they do have a win over Sweden in the Algarve Cup to hang their hats on.
Norway is historically one of the best countries in the world in women’s soccer, but they have fallen off in the last decade or so. Norway won the very first official women’s championship in Europe and earned second in the first Women’s World Cup, but they haven’t had much success in 2017. They did notch victories over high-class opponents in England and Sweden, but they have a pile of losses to the USA, Japan, and Spain to weigh on their minds. The team has plenty of talented players, one of them being Ada Hegerberg who was recently named BBCs footballer of the year having scored 79 goals in her 65 appearances for Olympique Lyonnais over the last 3 years. If they can show up and play to their potential they might sweep the group, but they could also flame out by scoring just 5 points and leaving on goal differential with the Netherlands and Denmark squeaking through. I’d lean more towards the latter option based on their 2017 performance.
Denmark is in the opposite boat when compared to Norway. The haven’t had much success in their recent friendlies with losses to England and Austria, but they finished 3rd in the Algarve Cup – the same tourney that Norway finished second to last – with a +10 goal differential. Denmark can make it through by earning draws with the Netherlands and Norway while crushing Belgium. Unlike Norway they do have a tendency to blow out weaker opponents this year while tying teams that are ranked above them in the FIFA rankings. Denmark’s star player is Nadia Nadim, and while she doesn’t have the same pedigree as Hegerberg she is a solid player who puts her best effort forward every game. We have the pleasure of watching her play for the Portland Thorns in the NWSL, and I would love to see Denmark break through to the knockout stage, but I think they have slightly less than even odds to make it.
This Belgian team is just starting their journey to international relevance, so we don’t have much to go on when grading them out. What we do know is that they got crushed by Spain 7-0 and France 2-0 in the last 3 weeks, so they probably don’t have the offense or the defense necessary to compete realistically in this tournament. Belgium’s goal in this tournament would be to get a tie or two and maybe a win, but I don’t see that as a likely scenario for them. They just don’t have enough experience on the world stage, but at least they got put in the one group where they might have a realistic chance to compete. Being in Group B, C, or D would have been brutal.
Netherlands and Denmark move through in a tiebreaker over Norway.