Women's World Cup 2015: Singing manager & a female Messi

By Catherine EtoeWomen's football reporter
Asisat Oshoala, Marta and Christine Sinclair
Asisat Oshoala, Marta and Christine Sinclair are expected to star in Canada
Women's World Cup on the BBC
Dates: 6 June - 5 July. Coverage: Every match live on the BBC. All games online with selected matches on BBC Two, BBC Three and Red Button. Catch-up via BBC iPlayer. Every England game on BBC Radio 5 live. Live text commentary of every England game via BBC Sport website.

The Women's World Cup gets under way in Canada on Saturday and is poised to be the biggest edition of the competition yet.

The tournament has been expanded to 24 teams and will last almost a month, with record crowds expected and every game shown live on the BBC for the first time.

Here, we look at the some of the personalities and plotlines to watch out for over the next four weeks.

Group A: English friends turned managerial foes

Group A graphic

It is four years since diehard Newcastle fan John Herdman and former AFC Wimbledon defender Tony Readings last stood on the touchline together at a Women's World Cup.

Then, Herdman was head coach of New Zealand and Readings was his assistant, but when the two 39-year-olds walk out in Edmonton on 11 June they will be rivals.

In 2011, Herdman swapped the Football Ferns for the Maple Leaf of Canada and Readings stepped into his old boss's shoes.

Fate has thrown the two sides together in Group A and Consett-born Herdman was delighted when he heard the draw.

John Herdman watches on before a game at the 2011 World Cup
John Herdman (left) worked alongside Tony Readings with New Zealand at the last World Cup

The former Sunderland youth coach flourished with New Zealand, taking them to two Women's World Cups and the Olympics after becoming head coach in 2006.

Herdman began well after switching to Canada, picking the Canucks up after a disastrous 2011 World Cup to win Pan American Games gold and Olympic bronze.

Readings, who initially moved to New Zealand to play for North Shore United, made his tournament debut as Herdman's assistant and since stepping up has taken his Haka-dancing Ferns to their first Olympic quarter finals.

New Zealand have yet to reach the knockout stages of a World Cup, though, so Readings will make history if he gets the Ferns, ranked 17th, out of a group that also includes debutants Netherlands (12th) and tournament regulars China (16th).

Success for Canada, ranked joint-eighth with North Korea, is nothing less than the world title. Herdman believes it is possible, and the home nation will certainly be willing the Englishman on.

Group B: World Cup debut causes stir in Thailand

Group B graphic

Taking over as head coach of a national side weeks before they are due to make a bid to qualify for a major tournament is brave.

But Thais were grateful that former assistant women's coach Nuengruethai Sathongwien accepted the challenge when she secured her nation's first place at a senior World Cup, men's or women's.

The first female head coach of Thailand's women delivered when her side beat rivals Vietnam 2-1 in a play-off for the last of five Asian places on offer.

It was a pressured match in Ho Chi Minh City, but star midfielder Kanjana Sung-Ngoen kept her composure to score two goals and a ticket to Canada 2015.

That victory ensured women's football dominated the media spotlight in this football-mad country in the weeks that followed the squad's return to Thailand.

Indeed, when they touched down in Bangkok the players were presented with garlands of flowers, serenaded by drum-banging fans and swamped by television crews, photographers and journalists.

Schoolchildren in Thailand learn a song to support their team at the World Cup
Schoolchildren in Thailand learn a song to support their team at the World Cup

The women were front-page news and many have gone on to become role models to boot - their talismanic player Sung-Ngoen receiving Facebook messages from girls inspired to take up the sport.

Thais will watch with interest to see if the sister of one of their more familiar role models, striker Teerasil Dangda, gets playing time in Canada.

Taneekarn Dangda, whose brother once trialled with Manchester City and played in La Liga, was on the bench against Vietnam.

The 22-year-old has some way to go before she can rival her brother's average of a goal every two games for his country.

But she and Thailand, ranked 29th in the world, will reach a World Cup before him.

Ivory Coast, ranked 67th, have no such bragging rights over their men, but they made history when they booked their place in Canada via the play-offs.

It will take even greater efforts to beat the world's top side Germany and 11th-ranked Norway, the clear favourites to progress.

Group C: 1995 to 2015 and still going strong

Group C graphic

When it comes to legends, the women's game has several, but when World Cup holders Japan defend their title in Canada, their squad will include one of the greatest.

Delicately featured but tough as old boots, free-scoring 5ft 4in midfielder Homare Sawa made her debut in this competition in 1995.

Twenty years on, Sawa will be at the party again, joining Brazil's Formiga as the only players to be picked for six consecutive finals.

Injuries meant it was touch and go for 36-year-old Sawa this time and she was included in the squad despite not having played for the Nadeshiko since May 2014.

Coach Norio Sasaki had watched the former women's world player of the year return for club side INAC Kobe Leonessa, though, and knows the difference Japan's number 10 makes.

Homare Sawa embraces coach Norio Sasaki during a World Cup warm-up game.
Homare Sawa was the first Asian player to lift the World Cup

"With Sawa's essence added, the team becomes more powerful," he said of the player who won the Golden Ball and Boot as she captained a humble and much-admired Japan side to the world title in 2011.

Sawa, who has twice played professionally in the United States, said she almost cried after being included in the squad for Canada.

The veteran swiftly repaid her coach by scoring in a warm-up win over New Zealand, her 83rd goal in 198 appearances.

The Asian Football Confederation Hall of Fame inductee will play a crucial role as world number four side Japan face debutants Switzerland, ranked 19th, Ecuador (48th) and Cameroon (53rd).

Group D: The guitar-playing, singing manager

Group D graphic

They call it the 'Group of Death' because it features three top-10 ranked nations and African champions Nigeria, but at least guitar-playing Sweden head coach Pia Sundhage might lighten the mood with a burst of song.

Team dinners, interviews, even the gala Fifa ceremony when she was crowned 2012 women's coach of the year; no matter the situation, Sundhage sings.

It was Bob Dylan's 'If Not For You' at the Ballon d'Or, Simon & Garfunkel's 'Feelin' Groovy' for the press at the 2011 World Cup when she was USA boss. All was not so great in the end - the USA lost to Japan on penalties in the final.

In 2012, however, they beat the Nadeshiko at Wembley to win a second Olympic title under her. It was fitting; in 1989 Sundhage scored for Sweden at the old Wembley, the first woman to do so.

The 55-year-old left Team USA shortly after London 2012 to become head coach of Sweden and a nation rejoiced at the return of a former striking legend who hit 71 goals in 146 appearances, including the winner to beat England to the 1984 European title.

Pia Sundhage talks after the 2012 Olympics
Pia Sundhage led the United States at the London 2012 Olympics

World number five side Sweden meet the USA on 12 June and among the many familiar faces for Sundhage will be the Americans' new head coach, English-born Jill Ellis.

The 48-year-old former college player was once Sundhage's USA assistant, but their friendship will take a back seat in Canada; the world number two side are under pressure to win the title in their neighbour's back yard.

Both coaches will need to be on song, though, with world number 10 side Australia and 33rd-ranked Nigeria, featuring 2015 BBC Women's Footballer of the Year Asisat Oshoala, completing the group.

Group E: Ji Messi v Marta: A battle of superstars

Group E graphic

They call her "Ji Messi" in her homeland but now the world can judge whether South Korea starlet Ji So-Yun is worthy of comparison with the Barcelona legend.

On 9 June 18th-ranked side South Korea play their first World Cup match since 2003.

The stage is set for the battle of the number 10s, with Ji in the Taeguk Ladies' corner and superstar Marta in seventh-ranked Brazil's.

If awards are a guide, five-time world player of the year Marta will trump four-time Korea player of the year Ji.

Marta, runner-up for the women's Ballon d'Or award in 2014, poses for a selfie with men's winner Cristiano Ronaldo
Marta was runner-up for the women's Ballon d'Or award in 2014

But Emma Hayes, Ji's manager at Women's Super League side Chelsea Ladies, believes the PFA player of 2015 can hold her own.

"The world will see at this tournament what a top talent she is," says Hayes.

The youngest woman to score for her country (aged 15), Ji had been playing for top Japan side INAC Kobe Leonessa before Hayes snapped her up.

It was a canny move - the 5ft 2in tall 24-year-old is a family girl at heart but she settled immediately at Chelsea and was instrumental in the Blues' agonisingly close title tilt of 2014.

Ji, who honed her early skills playing football with boys, is on form again this season and scored to seal Chelsea's place in August's showpiece FA Women's Cup final at Wembley.

"One moment, one goal, and that's what the best players do," says Hayes. "She needs to be more tenacious defensively to become a complete player, but she's a fantastic learner."

Arsenal Ladies supporters, meanwhile, will be looking out for their own overseas import in Group E, Natalia Pablos, playing for 14th-ranked Spain, who make their debut along with Costa Rica (37th).

Group F: England v France: Bitter grudge match

Group F graphic

As grudge games go, England's opener against France on 9 June will be one of the most bitter.

In the last four years, Les Bleus have been the architects of the Three Lionesses' biggest tournament heartaches.

Chief among them was the crushing 2011 World Cup quarter-final penalty shootout defeat.

Equally humbling was the 3-0 Euro 2013 group stage annihilation that sent England home and effectively ended Hope Powell's 15-year tenure as manager.

England players react after losing to France at Euro 2013
England have suffered at the hands of France on numerous occasions, including Euro 2013

Rewind to 2002 and you find France ending England's hopes of even reaching the World Cup after play-off wins home and away.

England's most capped player Fara Williams was there, once saying of the away tie in St Etienne: "Their fans were jumping on cages when they beat us. It was horrible."

It was formative, though, because as a consequence Powell called for - and won - resources for her team, such as conditioning experts, a psychologist and technical analysts.

Four years later England were fit for purpose, avenging 2002 by pipping France to a spot at the 2007 Women's World Cup courtesy of a tense 1-1 draw in Rennes.

That was the first time England had qualified in 12 years; they are now ranked sixth in the world and entering their third consecutive finals.

Head coach Mark Sampson, whose England lost to France in the 2014 Cyprus Cup final, needs his players to kick on in Canada and get beyond the quarters for the first time.

The Welshman admits that overcoming a world number three side that is ever improving under former France goalkeeper Philippe Bergeroo will be "a real tough challenge".

His players are ready. "I know all eyes are on France," says defender Alex Scott. "But these are the games you want to be in, so bring it on."