2015 FIFA Women's World Cup predictions: Who makes it out of the group stage, and, more importantly, who wins it all in Canada?
The 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup field is a record size and features a number of contenders to lift the trophy at BC Place in Vancouver on July 5.
There's host Canada, which has home support and an elite-level squad. There's defending champion Japan, with Homare Sawa set to play in her record sixth World Cup. There's top-ranked Germany and the second-ranked USA, both of which have won two World Cups and would love nothing more than to be the first to three.
Brazil still boasts all-world talent Marta. France, ranked third in the world, is poised to take the next step on the international level.
Former U.S. manager Pia Sundhage leads her native Sweden, ranked fifth in the world. Beyond them, there's an improving second tier of nations that are gaining ground on the upper echelon.
What that means is no road to the final is easy, and there really are no knockout round "gimmes" in this competition, the seventh of its kind and one that features every nation that has ever finished in the top four since the inaugural 1991 event.
So who does SI's Grant Wahl think will win it all? Let's just say he's not too bothered by the U.S. women appearing on the SI Cover:
In Wahl's scenario, Canada, Germany, Japan, USA, Brazil and France win their respective groups; Netherlands, Norway, Switzerland, Sweden, Spain and England go through as second-place finishers; and China, Australia, Costa Rica and Mexico advance as the four best third-place finishers.
If the USA were to not win its group, widely considered to be this tournament's Group of Death, then the road gets considerably more difficult. But presume Jill Ellis's side outlasts Sweden, Australia and Nigeria...
ROUND OF 16: Germany over China; France over Spain; Netherlands over Switzerland; USA over Costa Rica; Brazil over Sweden; Japan over Mexico; Norway over England; Canada over Australia
QUARTERFINALS: France over Germany; USA over Netherlands; Brazil over Japan; Canada over Norway
SEMIFINALS: USA over France; Brazil over Canada
FINAL: USA over Brazil
And the U.S. women party like it's 1999.