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Sweden, Netherlands & France play World Cup openers

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Day four of the Fifa Women’s World Cup features two countries who came close to glory four years ago and will be hoping to lift the trophy in 2023.

Netherlands, beaten 2-0 by the United States in the 2019 final, play in the second match on Sunday in Group E against tournament debutants Portugal.

Sweden lost to the Netherlands in the semi-finals four years ago before beating England in the third-fourth play-off and they start Sunday’s action with a Group G tie against a South Africa side aiming to win a game at a World Cup for the first time.

The third match comes in Group F, with Manchester City striker Khadija Shaw and her Jamaica side aiming to pull off a shock win over a France team that is fifth in the world rankings and which reached the quarter-finals four years ago.

Sweden v South Africa

Group G | Wellington | 06:00 BST | BBC

Sweden reached the semi-finals of the 2019 Women’s World Cup and last summer’s European Championship, so they will be determined to go at least one better this time.

Ranked third in the world, they have featured at every World Cup and have only lost three group games since 2003 – all of those coming against the USA.

Arsenal’s Stina Blackstenius has scored 28 goals for her country and will look to add to that against South Africa, who face a daunting task on Sunday.

South Africa are playing in only their second Women’s World Cup after failing to progress beyond the group stage in 2019 but have good tournament pedigree in recent years, winning the 2022 Women’s Africa Cup of Nations.

Thembi Kgatlana will be key for South Africa. She scored her country’s first – and so far only – goal on the World Cup stage when she put Banyana Banyana ahead against Spain in Le Havre in 2019.

Rachel Brown-Finnis’ prediction: Seven out of the eight quarter-finalists at the 2019 World Cup were European teams and it feels like this tournament could go a similar way.

Five of the top six-ranked teams in the world are from Europe, and Sweden are one of them.

We know how strong they are, and it’s hard to look past them in this game, as well as who will get out of this group. South Africa might struggle to keep them quiet. 3-0.

Key stat: Sweden have never won the World Cup, but lost in the 2003 final and have finished third three times – in 1991, 2011 and 2019.

Netherlands v Portugal

Group E | Dunedin | 08:30 BST | BBC

Netherlands reached the final of the 2019 Women’s World Cup – when they were beaten 2-0 by the USA – but they face a tough task to repeat that feat.

Andries Jonker’s side will hope to begin their campaign with a win against a Portugal team making their debut on this stage.

However they are without Vivianne Miedema – one of the best forwards in the world – because of an anterior cruciate ligament injury.

Portugal caught the eye in the build up to the World Cup by holding European champions England to a draw at the start of July.

The hope for the neutral is that this game ends up being similar to their meeting in Group C at Euro 2022. On that occasion the Netherlands claimed a narrow win in a five-goal thriller.

Rachel Brown-Finnis’ prediction: This is tricky. The Netherlands were runners-up in 2019 but their recent form is not very good at all.

Portugal are one of the new kids on the block who are looking to impress and they could make a big statement here with a win.

I don’t quite see it happening, though. Portugal have got a lot of attacking flair but they do leave themselves open at times.

I think the Dutch will find a way of picking up a point, and also of getting out of the group with the USA, too. 1-1.

Key stat: None of the Netherlands’ 11 games at the Women’s World Cup have ended goalless, while Portugal are one of eight teams making their debut this year, alongside Haiti, Republic of Ireland, Morocco, Panama, Philippines, Vietnam and Zambia.

France v Jamaica

Group F | Sydney | 11:00 BST | ITV

France have been their own worst enemy at recent tournaments as they struggled for unity under former boss Corinne Diacre – but there’s optimism they could finally end their wait for Women’s World Cup success.

Now managed by Herve Renard, who masterminded Saudi Arabia’s shock win against eventual champions Argentina at last year’s men’s World Cup, they are among the favourites to win the tournament in Australia and New Zealand.

Captain Wendie Renard, no relation to the coach, is taking part in her fourth World Cup and her experience will be vital for the French, while 19-year-old Paris St-Germain midfielder Laurina Fazer is an exciting prospect.

“Obviously France are one of the top three or four teams in the world, but our preparation has been good and we want to show fight,” said Jamaica manager Lorne Donaldson.

“We want to make our country proud and get something out of the game.”

Jamaica have had a disrupted build-up to the World Cup, with their players last month expressing their “utmost disappointment” in the “sub-par” support from the country’s football federation in the lead-in to the tournament.

They do, however, boast Shaw in their ranks.

The 26-year-old emerged as one of the best forwards in the Women’s Super League for Manchester City last season, scoring 31 goals in 30 matches across all competitions.

Rachel Brown-Finnis’ prediction: I am expecting Jamaica to blast out of the blocks, and they might give France an early scare here… but then peter out as the game goes on.

I still don’t think this France team have got everything in order after a difficult few months off the pitch but they are better than they were at last year’s Euros, when they reached the semi-finals, so they will be dangerous. 2-1.

Key stat: France have reached at least the quarter-finals in their last three World Cup appearances, with their best result being a fourth-placed finish in 2011.

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