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  • Sophie Lodes

Raising The Level: Group G Preview


With No. 3 world-ranked Sweden as a dominant force likely to qualify for the round of 16, Italy, Argentina, and South Africa will battle it out for a chance to move on. Italy bears talent that could bring the squad through, while Argentina and South Africa are each up-and-coming groups with the drive and aptitude for anything to happen. Group G could be full of surprises, but there’s certainly a chance that some underdogs will produce unexpected results if they can match the level of their opponents.

Argentina

Argentina doesn’t have an easy draw—facing off against Italy and Sweden, as well as South Africa, but La Albiceleste have quietly been rounding into form over the last two years. In February, the team beat World Cup co-hosts New Zealand 2-0 and 1-0 in a pair of friendlies. This tournament, Argentina will lean heavily on their defense, looking to defender Aldana Cometti and goalkeeper Vanina Correa to keep La Albiceleste organized under pressure. When it comes to offense, Argentina has an array of threats, including Cometti, but the closest the offense comes to a consistent threat is Mariana Larroquette. What’s important to note is that La Albiceleste have never won a World Cup match. Their best results were in the 2019 group stage: a 3-3 tie against Scotland and a 0-0 draw against Japan. Picking up a win in the group stage would help to prove the team is building towards their breakthrough moment.


Player to Watch: Yamila Rodríguez

To really break through on the world stage, Argentina needs a reliable goalscorer who can find a way to finish no matter the opponent. In that vein, where Yamila Rodríguez goes, La Albiceleste will follow. The forward had four goals in last year’s Copa América, including a hat trick performance against Uruguay. If Rodríguez can find the back of the net consistently and allow the backline to prioritize defending, then Argentina will be a difficult team to get past.



Italy

Everyone loves a good comeback story—at least that’s what Italy will be hoping for after some mixed results to lead up to the World Cup. In this calendar year, Italy has defeated Colombia (2-1) and South Korea (2-1), but have also recently lost to England (1-2) and Belgium (1-2). One thing Italy doesn’t have to worry about is chemistry, with most of its roster playing in Italy’s domestic league and therefore Italy’s players being familiar with their national team teammates. The team plays with cohesion and has star power up top with the likes of Cristiana Girella, who reached 100 goals for her club Juventus this year. Head Coach Milena Bertolini has been at the helm for six years, meaning both players and fans know exactly what to expect from this Italy side. Italy is likely to escape the group, with how they fare against Sweden being the true test of where their mentality stands.


Player to Watch: Laura Giuliani

With a team that could come out swinging or potentially flat, an important player to watch will be goalkeeper Laura Giuliani. With a style of play that focuses on prevention and communication with her defenders, look to Giuliani to help Italy settle into World Cup play. A veteran goalkeeper with the 2019 World Cup under her belt and the lingering taste of 2022’s crash and burn, Giuliani is the player who can keep Italy in the game long enough for the rest of the team to catch their breath.



South Africa

In their second World Cup, South Africa has drawn a tough group opening with heavyweights Sweden, before facing both Argentina and Italy, both of whom will likely need points against Banyana Banyana to keep their own World Cup hopes alive. The good news is South Africa won the African Cup of Nations tournament in 2022, providing a boost of confidence that allows the team to be underdogs, but underdogs with the experience of winning a major tournament. With 2019 under their belt and proven goal scorers Thembi Kgatlana and Linda Mothlalo, Banyana Banyana have plenty of exciting soccer to offer Group G. Experience has shown that goals can come from any of their experienced players and a diverse attack will help keep opponents on their toes. If South Africa can get an early result to boost confidence, expect their strikers to come alive and make things interesting for everyone.



Player to Watch: Thembi Kgatlana

It might seem obvious, but sometimes the best player to watch is the one that’s the heart and soul of the team—in South Africa’s case that’s Thembi Kgatlana. Whether it’s with her pace, her technical skill with the ball, or through her leadership, where Kgatlana goes the rest of the team will follow. With the recent mixed results, South Africa will need Kgatlana’s confidence, as well as her goal scoring ability, to steal points from other Group G teams.



Sweden

The undisputed powerhouse of the group and clocking in at No. 3 in the FIFA world rankings, Sweden are also coming off a tie to Norway (3-3) and a loss to Denmark (0-1). That might be bad news to opponents, as the team will enter the tournament hungry and knowing their offense is capable of racking up three or foul goals in a match. Sweden thrives on exploiting the gaps in other team’s defensive coverage, but in that vein recent opponents have exposed Sweden’s own defensive lapses, giving the competition a blueprint for what risks to take against the perennial powerhouse. The key for Sweden will be defensive discipline that relies on the experience found throughout the squad. Recent fixtures have proven Sweden isn’t invincible, but the team will be looking for winning results in all three of their group stage matches to provide confidence for advancing to the knockout rounds.


Player to Watch: Hannah Lundkvist

Sweden’s defense is the key to how deep their run in the World Cup is, and 20-year-old Hannah Lundkvist as a versatile substitute will be a player to watch. She started against Denmark as the right back and subbed on against Norway as a center back, meaning she can slot into Sweden’s defense when needed, or start, depending on the game plan for the day. How the youngster slots in and gels with the more experienced and established defense will reveal a lot about Sweden’s plan for both the World Cup and beyond.


GROUP SCHEDULE



Sun, Jul 23


Sweden vs South Africa


⏰ 1:00 AM


🏟 Wellington Regional Stadium


📍 Wellington, NZ


📺 FS1



Mon, Jul 24


Italy vs Argentina


⏰ 2:00 AM


🏟 Eden Park


📍 Auckland, NZ


📺 FS1



Thu, Jul 27


Argentina vs South Africa


⏰ 8:00 PM


🏟 Forsyth Barr


📍 Dunedin, NZ


📺 FS1



Sat, Jul 29


Sweden vs Italy


⏰ 3:30 AM


🏟 Wellington Regional Stadium


📍 Wellington, NZ


📺 FS1



Wed, Aug 02


Jamaica vs Brazil


⏰ 3:00 AM


🏟 Waikato Stadium


📍 Hamilton, NZ


📺 FOX



Wed, Aug 02


Panama vs France


⏰ 6:00 AM


🏟 Wellington Regional Stadium


📍 Wellington, NZ


📺 FS1

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