High hopes and dreams of destiny

In the 16th century, French explorer Jacques Cartier set out across the ocean on a pioneering adventure that would culminate in the triumphant discovery of the land known today as Canada. Nearly 500 years later, 24 football teams from all over the globe will soon begin their own journey of discovery and potential glory in North America, at the FIFA Women’s World Cup Canada 2015™.

The principal objective of this quest? A dazzling silver and gold statuette that the captain of the most intrepid and resilient outfit will hold aloft in Vancouver on 5 July.

Brilliant winners at Germany 2011, Japan, propelled by the evergreen Homare Sawa, have their sights set on a second successive global crown, a result which would see them draw level with two of the three previous champions, United States (two titles) and Germany (two), and move ahead of the third, Norway (one).

That trio of powerhouses can all count on a core of players with significant experience of major international competitions. Christie Rampone may be the sole survivor from the American side that captured the World Cup in 1999, but many of her compatriots, such as Abby Wambach, Shannon Boxx, Carli Lloyd, Heather O’Reilly and Hope Solo, all have at least ten appearances at the illustrious tournament under their belts.

Germany’s formidable squad, meanwhile, features five players who brandished the trophy in 2007, including talented goalkeeper Nadine Angerer, who was named FIFA World Player of the Year in 2014.

Attempting to keep these various invaders at bay will be the host nation, Canada, for whom Christine Sinclair’s firepower and Erin McLeod’s safe pair of hands will be vital in their mission to provide their long-suffering fans with an unforgettable moment of joy.

To complicate matters for the hosts, there are also a handful of dangerous and ambitious outsiders who could realistically make waves at the contest.

France, who lost out to Canada in the bronze-medal match at the 2012 Women’s Olympic Football Tournament, are one such team, as are Nigeria, who, after reaching the final of the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup last year, now entertain hopes of becoming the first-ever African side to win a major international trophy in women’s football.

Asian nations also fitting the description of dark horse include Korea Republic, who have returned to the greatest stage in the women’s game after a 12-year absence, and 1991 finalists China PR, as well as an enterprising and confident Australia side.

Elsewhere, two fast-improving countries, New Zealand, the sole OFC representatives at the tournament, and CONCACAF qualifiers Mexico, will both get a chance to see how far they have come since failing to win a single group game back in 2011.

Numerous newcomers For their part, Sweden and Brazil, finalists in 1995 and 2007 respectively, must shake off their bridesmaid labels if they are to claim a maiden World Cup title.

The Scandinavians, third at Germany 2011, will have to negotiate a tough-looking group, while the South Americans will again look to five-time FIFA World Player of the Year Marta for inspiration as they attempt to make up for a disappointing defeat on penalties in their 2011 quarter-final clash with USA, having initially surged through the group stage unbeaten and without conceding a goal.

Last but not least, as a result of the competition expanding from 16 to 24 entrants, no fewer than eight teams will be making their Women’s World Cup debut in Canada, namely Cameroon, Costa Rica, Côte d’Ivoire, Ecuador, Spain, Netherlands, Switzerland and Thailand.

All told, 552 fearless footballers will show off their skills in six host cities (Edmonton, Moncton, Montreal, Ottawa, Vancouver and Winnipeg), while 54 of them, those aged 20 or under, will have the chance to pick up an individual accolade in the shape of the Hyundai Best Young Player award, which FIFA’s Technical Study Group will bestow upon one deserving winner after the Final.

At the other end of the age scale, fans will have the privilege of witnessing the last performances on the world stage of legendary veterans such as Sawa (Japan), Angerer (Germany), Rampone (USA), Perpetua Nkwocha (Nigeria) and Therese Sjogran (Sweden).

If, unlike the participants, you cannot actually be in North America to experience the seventh Women’ World Cup in all its glory, FIFA.com will help you follow every aspect of this exciting tournament and ensure that you do not miss a minute of the action.

Five centuries after the exploits of Cartier, there are still great discoveries to be made in Canada.