The pop-narrative that the United States Women’s National Team is too good for its competition to muster a fair fight betrays a lack of historical perspective and wide-lens analysis on behalf of the sports media.
Just look at some of the final scores, winning times (relative to silver and bronze-medal times), and team dominations of various events at early 20th-century editions of the Olympic Games, prior to the modern age of athletic competition. Compared to the USSR’s monopoly on Men’s Ice Hockey gold, for example, the USWNT getting favored by (-1.5) goals over England or Brazil in 2021 is practically an even-up scenario, historically speaking.
The actual test of parity in a sport (or a gender-division at the Olympics) is how Goliath reacts when David successfully chucks a stone. Can the favorites afford to be philosophical and grateful for having won so many titles prior to losing a contest, like UConn women’s basketball at the tail end of a triple-digit win streak? Sore feelings after a rare loss are a better sign of competitive balance, as the so-called “prohibitive” favorites know the grail of their sport is very hard to earn and regret lost opportunities all the more.
After the Soviet Union lost to the USA in 1980’s “Miracle on Ice,” it’s said that the Soviet president put his arm around head coach Viktor Tikhonov and said, “Don’t worry, I know you can beat that team.” An example of the same psychology from an odds-on favored golfer occurred when Tiger Woods, at the peak of his powers circa Y2K, lost a PGA Tour title to the aging Hal Sutton. Sutton shed tears and launched into an impromptu religious sermon at his press conference, while Tiger laughed and joked with beat reporters about the loss. Woods went on to beat Sutton (and just about everybody else) by a million shots in the Masters Tournament weeks later.
If a small-time French team upsets Paris Saint-Germain, even some employees of PSG will agree that it’s good for European football. Then, Neymar goes out and scores another hat trick 3 days later. Everyone can afford to be good-natured when the game’s hierarchy isn’t in doubt.
But when Sweden snapped a 3-time USWNT gold medal streak at the 2016 Summer Olympics, the defending champions didn’t smirk, scoff, or joke around. They were mad as hell about it.
Hope Solo, the brilliant but controversial American goalkeeper, took time in interviews to suggest Tre-Kronor was ruining women’s soccer with cautious tactics that slew the favored Yanks in 2016. Alex Morgan, ever the girl scout, stepped in to defend Team Sweden, in an example of Solo’s trademark friction with her teammates.
Does the viewing public really prefer the new USWNT incarnation, with its slicker offense, steadier back line, and lack of parallel rivals? After all, the Hope Solo era – with all of its dangerous Team USA opponents and boatloads of adversity for an under-funded squad – produced the national team’s most dramatic, suspenseful, and pivotal moment to date.
"When that PK didn't go in, I said to myself, 'we're going to win the World Cup.'"
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) May 25, 2019
If readers detect any skepticism of the USWNT’s world dominance, or overwrought hype on behalf of any Women’s Football underdog at the
2021 2020 Summer Olympics, it’s not because WagerBop isn’t cheering for Red, White, and Blue along with every other company based in the United States, or for the USWNT to become as ridiculously rich and famous as its players deserve to be. Whatever heights are scaled by women’s soccer in the next decade, Team USA will be standing on the summit.
For now, though, the lazy narrative of a “division killing” United States Women’s National Team (which spent over 50% of its last World Cup semifinal defending without the ball vs Britain) is an important angle for Olympic soccer gamblers to pay attention to. What underdog odds on football squads at the Tokyo Olympics could shine in betting value thanks to the myth of a top-heavy and preordained Women’s Football event?
Gold Medal Odds: Women’s Football at the Tokyo Olympics
United States (-125)
Great Britain (+500)
New Zealand (+15000)
The USWNT is in a rare position as minus-odds gold medal favorite. Not rare for Megan Rapinoe and 12+ decorated veterans wearing the Stars & Stripes, of course, but uncommon among national teams which did not play in the gold medal game at the previous Summer Olympics. Then again, since 2016 the distaff Yanks have put together an all-competitions record that’s about as spotless as you would imagine, before and after the COVID-19 lockdown.
In fact, an 0-1 loss to Australia in the 2017 Tournament of Nations was the last time the Americans lost a non-friendly match. Since then, the USWNT has lost exactly once (in a 2019 friendly vs France) and has failed to win in regulation an astounding 7 times in more than 50 fixtures.
You wouldn’t be alone in thinking that the United States sounds more like a 1-to-2 gold medal favorite than a 1/1 favorite. But unlike the USWNT’s cushy placement in the 2018 World Cup Group Stage, the Tokyo Olympics place the United States in Group G, which might as well stand for “Godawful memories.” Sweden and Australia, 2 of the lonely teams which have indeed victimized Team USA over the past 5 years, are in the group of 4. Bookmakers are concerned that the USWNT could find trouble right out of the gate, leaving the team to cope with a disadvantaged medal round seed. (As if overcoming adversity isn’t 200% in the squad’s wheelhouse.)
I’ve got a different angle to take on the Women’s Football odds for Tokyo. The United States hovering near 1/1 (for the time being, anyway) opens the door to a combination bet based on an easy principle.
It isn’t easy to beat the USWNT in a gold medal game or a semifinal, let alone in Group Stage. If we surmise that the U.S. women will escape 3 round-robin matches without a serious scratch, then the road to a gold medal will most likely go through the USWNT with only a couple of worthy opponents in the medal round posing any kind of threat. Not that the Americans have an easy row to hoe, but setbacks are far less likely to occur in Group Stage no matter how chilling the words “Sweden” and “Australia” look on paper.
Las Vegas’ bias toward vacuous state-side soccer reporting is playing out in the DraftKings odds in a more subtle way than if the United States were a (-500) type of favorite like Team USA women’s basketball. The unexpected presence of so many gold-medal contenders in the 3 and low-4-digit odds range has to stem from the provisional forecast of a sloppy, injured USWNT giving-away another elimination match, helping lead to a chaotic outcome in which anyone could win gold. It’s much more likely that a Team USA loss would come from an opponent’s inspired and tricky form in the medal round than any serious downturn in the United States’ level of play, given the 5 years the USWNT has had since Rio de Janeiro.
That means a combination wager could be as simple as figuring out which of 11 teams can beat a strong United States squad with a corker of an appearance in Tokyo, and which teams (a greater list, surely) cannot beat a USWNT that’s firing on all cylinders even if the football bounces funny.
Let’s narrow our focus to the 12 Summer Olympics rosters and cull-out some of the immaterial gold-medal betting markets. Feel free to peruse in my shared scouting notes on the dozen squads below, or scroll for recommended futures-prop wagers for each Group Stage quartet, in addition to more info on WagerBop’s recommended combination-pick in gold medal odds.
Women’s Football at the Summer Olympics: Group Stage Lineup Notes and Recommended Picks
Japan has traditionally had trouble tallying enough goals to stay in the medal chase, but a lack of scoring has not been an issue in 2021. Nadeshiko has outscored opponents 22-0 in a series of friendlies, giving the Japanese confidence on the attack going into the Olympics.
Mana Iwabuchi is the most notable scoring threat with 4 goals in 2021 and Japan’s only 2 goals in the 2020 SheBelieves Cup. However, Yui Hasegawa is 24 years old and another dangerous attacking option for Japan alongside Iwabuchi and Yuika Sugasawa, who also has scored 4 times in 2021.
The Tokyo tourney could come down to a question of defense for its host women’s team, which has had a negative goal differential in each of its last 3 major international tournaments. Just 2 defenders who have played in a friendly this year for Japan are older than 25 years old and only 2 – Risa Shimizu and Saori Takarada – have played more than 1 match.
Loud supporters’ crowds can help with defending or at least with taming an opposing attack, but there isn’t likely to be a fantastical roaring crowd for Group Stage fixtures given the restrictions that the Tokyo Olympics are operating on.
There are many exciting youthful players on the Canadian squad, but none to outshine the 2 wily veterans still playing a major impact for Canada.
Christine Sinclair has played in just 2 of Canada’s 6 matches in 2021, but the world’s all-time leader in international goals-scored isn’t done just yet. She’s captained the Canadians in both of her appearances and is still a dangerous hand (or foot) in the opposing box.
On the other end of the pitch, 34-year-old goalkeeper Stephanie Labbe has 4 clean sheets in 5 starts for the Canadians, building off of her 7 shutouts in 8 club appearances in the Swedish top division.
What makes Canada exciting to watch is how much depth there is among the other nine players. 5 different footballers have scored goals for Canada this year. Evelyne Viens (and I’m enough of a Curb Your Enthusiasm aficionado to ask “Aren’t you Evelyne?” if I ever meet her) is a 24-year-old midfielder who scored 11 goals in 14 matches for Paris during the 2020-21 season and made her maiden appearances for the national team this year.
Midfielder Sarah Stratigakis scored Canada’s only goal at the 2021 SheBelieves Cup, and at just 21 years old, is another one of the rising stars for the Canadians.
Chile has 1 of the world’s best goalkeepers between the sticks, easily the biggest strength of this year’s team. Christiane Endler, who captains the Chilean team for most matches, has kept 19 clean sheets in 22 league matches for PSG this season, helping Parisians win league honors with an unbeaten record. She allowed just 4 goals across the entire season, backstopping the French champs to 20 wins and 2 draws.
Outside of Endler’s accomplishments, though, it’s been a rough past few years for Chile on the international scene. The Chileans have scored just 8 goals in their last 13 games against non-South American teams, and have come out with just 1 win and a draw in those matches. María José Urrutia scored Chile’s only offensive goal at the 2019 World Cup as Chile benefitted from a Thailand own goal in their one win over non-South American foes over the past 2-plus years. Karen Araya scored Chile’s only goal in its two friendlies since 2020, leaving Chile with very few proven attackers to rely upon for this tournament.
This is a heavily-English side as England is the highest-ranked of the 4 national teams who combine to form Great Britain. There are just 3 top 11 players and 4 reserves who are not tied to England on the international level. The most impressive of the latter group is Scottish midfielder Caroline Weir, who scored 8 times and assisted on 3 goals in 20 appearances for Manchester City this season. She provides the British team with a strong left-footed option that would otherwise be missing from a traditional all-England side.
Welsh midfielder Sophie Ingle is also on the list after helping lead Chelsea to the English title this past season, and rounding out the trio of non-English players is Scottish midfielder Kim Little, who also represented Britain in 2012. The squad features 4 other players who returned from the 2012 squad that played on home soil, most notably striker Ellen White. England’s best attacking option scored 10 goals this year for Manchester City and has 20 career goals for the English national team, including 6 in the 2019 World Cup. Among the notable newcomers is striker Fran Kirby, who scored 16 goals this season for Chelsea in helping them claim its title.
The team will be coached by Norwegian legend Hege Riise, who won 1995 World Cup and 2000 Olympic gold as a player for Norway. The interim England boss was also a USWNT assistant from 2009-2012.
Group Winner Pick: Canada
If history is any indication, Brazil ought to wind up playing in the gold-medal match at this year’s Olympics. Coach Pia Sundhage has been a manager in each of the past 3 Olympic gold-medal matches, leading the United States to the gold medal in 2008 and 2012 before navigating her native Sweden to the silver medal in 2016. Sundhage is one of the most respected coaches in women’s soccer and she’s already led the Brazlians to 12 wins in 13 competitive matches while in charge.
Brazil’s most dangerous attacker is Debinha, who has scored 15 goals in 32 caps, 11 of which have come since Sundhage took over in July 2019 after the World Cup. Debinha has been playing her club soccer with the North Carolina Courage of the NWSL, and she’s scored once and assisted on 2 other goals in 4 matches this season.
Of course, it is hard to forget about Marta, who is still one of world’s best at the age of 34. Marta isn’t the same dominant force of the past with just 2 goals in 11 matches since the 2019 World Cup, but she’s still someone teams must fear with the ball at her feet.
The Tokyo Olympics will be a big test for the Brazilian defense, but the unit was stout in the 2021 SheBelieves Cup. The United States scored twice, but the Brazil allowed just 1 goal in the other 2 matches and pitched a shutout in its only other friendly of 2021.
Barbara will likely start in goal for the Brazilians, an Olympic veteran who was in goal for the national team when it lost to the U.S. in the 2008 gold-medal match then again was in goal for the 2016 Olympics.
The distaff Chinese squad has played just 2 matches since the pandemic began, but those were the 2 particular matches in April that booked China’s “Steel Roses” a spot in the Olympics. Wang Shuang scored 3 of China’s 4 goals in a thrilling 4-3 aggregate win over South Korea, and is by far the most dangerous attacking threat for the Chinese. She has 30 career goals for the national team, and is aided up top by Tang Jiali, who scored 4 times in 3 games in the 3rd round of Asia’s Olympic Qualifying Tournament in February 2020.
China will need all the attacking prowess it can muster to help a defense that struggled in the qualifying tournament. The Chinese held just 1 clean sheet in 5 matches at the qualifying tournament and have struggled in previous competition against non-Asian teams. China has 2 wins, 6 losses and 3 draws in its last 11 matches against non-Asian sides and kept a clean sheet in just 4 of those matches while allowing 10 goals in the other 7.
It’s a Summer Olympics debut for 2019’s World Cup bridesmaid, but a youthful Dutch side should still make plenty of noise in 2021.
The star of the show is Vivianne Miedema, who scored 15 goals in 2019 for the national team, and has a goal and 3 assists in 4 caps in 2021. The 24-year-old scored 18 times in 22 matches for Arsenal, for which she has played the last 4 seasons with 56 goals over the last 3 years. The veteran of the group is 31-year-old midfielder Sherida Spitse, who has 8 goals and 5 assists in 8 games in the qualification for Euro 2022. She had 4 assists in the Netherlands’ run to the World Cup Final in 2019 and scored 6 times in the qualification run for that tournament.
The Dutch are captained by keeper Sari van Veenendaal, who was the 2019 FIFA Goalkeeper of the Year and was named the best goalkeeper at the 2019 World Cup. The 29-year-old kept 5 clean sheets in 7 appearances for Arsenal during the 2018-19 season then won 11 of her 17 appearances for PSV this past season. On the international level, van Veenendaal has kept 21 clean sheets in 36 caps for the national team, but the Dutch have had just 1 shutout in their 5 friendlies this year.
Though the Zambian national team has no experience playing at a major international tournament like the Olympics, they do have a former Olympian on the roster. Midfielder Rachel Nachula was a 2008 semifinalist in the 400-meter dash and returned to soccer last year when she signed for Spanish club Real Zaragoza last June.
Nachula scored in her first appearance with the national team in a 2-1 win over Chile last November, making an instant impact on top of the formation for the Zambians. The 34-year-old is one of 3 players on the likely Olympics roster who plays professionally outside of Zambia along with Real Zaragoza teammate Hellen Mubanga, who also signed in Spain last June.
However, the real star for the Zambians is 21-year-old Barbra Banda, who lifted the Zambians in the Olympics qualifying tournament. She had a loan spell in Spain’s top division, scoring 16 times in 28 games before returning to China where she led the league in goals with 18. Banda has scored in each of her last 2 appearances for the national team and will be the most dangerous weapon up top for the underdogs.
Group Winner Pick: Brazil
The depth of the USWNT is unrivaled around the world, and 11 players have already scored at least once for the Americans in 2021. Rapinoe has scored a team-high 7 goals in 8 appearances this year for the United States. Morgan is still playing a full club-schedule with Tottenham, and the ageless Carli Lloyd is still a dynamic goal scorer at the age of 38. Not to mention a dominant midfield led by Rose Lavelle, who has blossomed over the past 2 years, and Sam Mewis, who scored 7 times in 17 games as Lavelle’s teammate at Manchester City this year.
Alyssa Naeher is the clear No. 1 choice in goal for the Americans with 19 clean sheets in her 28 starts since the start of 2019, including 4 during the United States’ World Cup victory. In front of her is a veteran backline captained by Becky Sauerbrunn, whose 185 caps provide a wealth of experience that has helped protect the Americans’ box. Crystal Dunn is an explosive fullback who is a threat on the outside in terms of setting up the attack, and Sauerbrunn is joined in the middle by Abby Dahlkemper, another saavy veteran who knows how to clear the danger.
The Swedes are always a tough team to play against, grinding out points in low-scoring matches with the best sides in the world. Tre-Kronor is led on the attack by Kosovare Asllani, who has already scored a goal and assisted on 2 others in 3 friendlies this year. She was Sweden’s leading scorer at the 2019 World Cup with 3 goals and 2 assists, and has continued to be the team’s best attacking threat in the 2 years since that tournament.
Asllani is helped up top by Stina Blackstenius, who has 3 goals in 5 appearances this year for Sweden. The 25-year-old scored twice at the 2019 World Cup and had 2 goals as a 19-year-old at the 2016 Olympic Games.
Tre-Kronor’s question marks are on the back line. Head coach Peter Gerhardsson has used 3 and 4 across the back at times this year with varying results. Sweden has only kept 2 clean sheets in 5 friendlies this year with a rotating group of defenders on the back line in front of 3 different goalies who have made appearances this year for the Swedes. The assumption is 38-year-old Hedvig Lindahl, a veteran of 3 prior Olympics, will be the Swedish goalkeeper, but Jennifer Falk has also impressed in her time in net for the Swedes.
It’s been a rough 2021 for the Australian defense, which has allowed 13 goals in 3 friendlies so far this year. There is some uncertainty in goal where Lydia Williams is the incumbent, but has played just once in the cycle while Mackenzie Arnold has started twice for Matildas.
Either way, the back line must improve after allowing Germany and the Netherlands 5 goals in friendlies in April, then allowing 3 tallies vs Denmark. There aren’t many alibis for the unit other than relative youth with 3 of 8 defenders on the roster born after 2000, but Clare Polkinghorne has 125 caps and 2 others have made at least 80 appearances for Australia.
Where Australia certainly doesn’t lack talent is on the attack, spearheaded by Sam Kerr. Kerr has scored at least 13 goals in her last 4 full club seasons, including scoring 21 times in 22 matches this past season to lead Chelsea to the English title. On the international level, Kerr scored 5 times in 4 matches at the 2019 World Cup to bump her total to 42 goals in 88 caps for Australia.
Emily van Egmond is the midfield leader and often captains the Matildas when Kerr isn’t on the pitch. The 27-year-old has scored 23 times in 97 appearances for Australia and her leadership will be vital for Australia to survive a tough group.
Football Ferns have not played a match for more than 15 months, and haven’t won a match in nearly 2 years. While the New Zealanders have been dominant in Oceania regional tournaments, WagerBop must point out that
Eurasia has always been at war with Oceania such success has not translated onto the pitch at the international level just yet.
New Zealand has a veteran coach in Tom Sermanni, who was longtime coach of the Australian national team and also served briefly as the United States’ head coach. He’s had plenty of time to help get the team prepared for Tokyo. On the attack, New Zealand is led by Rosie White and Hannah Wilkinson, the only 2 players on the squad with at least 20 career goals at the international level.
Arguably the most solid international footballer on the team is goalkeeper Erin Nayler, who has 71 caps for New Zealand and plays her club fixtures with Reading in England.
Group Winner Pick: Team USA (No bet unless parlayed due to thin odds)
Recommended Gold Medal Bets for Women’s Football
USWNT (-125) (5-10 units)
Great Britain (+500) (2-4 units)
Brazil (+1100) (1-2 units)
Canada (+1500) (1-2 units)
Kurt has authored close to 1000 stories covering football, soccer, basketball, baseball, ice hockey, prize-fighting and the Olympic Games. Kurt posted a 61% win rate on 200+ college and NFL gridiron picks last season. He muses about High School football on social media as The Gridiron Geek.