One of the most influential figures in the history of women’s football, April Heinrichs, will be heading up the Technical Study Group for the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2019™, and she recently spoke to FIFA.com about her expectations ahead of the showpiece event in France.
"The women’s game is growing so quickly and it’s just perfect having the FIFA Women’s World Cup taking place in France, as we can expect plenty of fans from Europe and elsewhere, and the time zone is good for a large audience. France have such a strong team and they also won last year’s FIFA World Cup, so this is going to be massive.
"I’m sure that even people who don’t think that they will be following the action will turn on the TV or go to the games. The FIFA Women’s World Cup will grip France," says Heinrichs, who captained the USA to glory at the first FIFA Women’s World Cup in 1991 before taking the reins as the team’s head coach and leading them to Olympic gold and silver in 2004 and 2000, respectively.
What kind of football are you expecting to see?
I think this is going to be the fastest Women’s World Cup ever if you consider how transitions from defence to attack, or from in possession to out of possession, will be executed from a technical and tactical point of view. We can expect to see plenty of adjustments, and in the end I believe that tactical decision-making will be very important. The teams will be taking the initiative, playing proactive football, and trying to win and score as many goals as possible.
What will be the main differences compared to Canada 2015?
Canada was a fantastic Women’s World Cup. It was the first with 24 teams and we saw a little bit of everything. There were groups, like the Canada one, in which we didn’t see too many goals, but I do believe that this time in France, all coaches will be a bit more proactive in terms of looking for options to score.
With Chile, Jamaica, Scotland and South Africa, we have four newcomers heading to France. Is this confirmation that women’s football is continuing to develop, and what do you expect from them?
It does indeed confirm that women’s football is developing at a fast pace. For Chile, Jamaica, Scotland and South Africa, it will be a great experience that will benefit them back home. We can expect a cautious approach from some of the debutants and wide-open games from others. They all fully deserved to qualify.
Do you have any young players in mind who are set to shine in France?
Japan, Spain, Germany, France and the USA all have players who have come from their U-20 national teams from 2018 or 2016, and that will be fascinating to follow. I see that particularly Spain, Japan and perhaps Germany have freshened up their squads, which is quite remarkable when you consider that it’s extremely difficult for a young player to get a spot in her country’s “A” national team. All in all, we can expect a very exciting mix between well-established players and young talents.
What impact will VAR have on the game?
Generally, five to ten goals in every tournament are questionable. Now we will get them right. Even though, for the most part in the history of women’s football, we haven’t seen a lot of simulation with the exception of some league matches, having VAR is going to keep everyone honest. It’s very healthy and absolutely worth it. In the past, if you scored a goal at the Women’s World Cup and it was mistakenly disallowed, you would have been extremely disappointed, especially as it could even have been the only goal you ever scored at such a high level. Now we are happy that we have VAR to get those situations right.
You have been a team captain, a national team coach, and a technical director. How do you see your role as the Head of the FIFA TSG?
I’m incredibly fortunate and I see this as a professional honour. You never get tired of being involved in a Women’s World Cup because you get to experience a new host country, discover new players, and see new ways of defending and attacking – while working with some amazing and tactically great people from other countries. I can’t wait.
To what extent can the TSG’s technical report be beneficial for other coaches, and not just the 24 coaches who will take part in the competition?
I think it’s vital that we keep a record of every Women’s World Cup. This is about educational material that can be shared with coaches at all levels of the game. On the one hand, you can keep track of things like the number of goals scored, the average distance, position, etc., but what is also very important is that we produce high-quality clips that can serve as an inspiration in the years to come.