Draw offers US women’s soccer team straightforward path to unprecedented three-peat at World Cup

The US women’s soccer team may have a relatively straight path to a third straight World Cup title and fifth overall.

Drawn into Group E on Saturday for next summer’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, the Americans would not see European champions England, Olympic gold medalist Canada, two-time World Cup winners Germany or France. until the finals. Spain, who defeated the USWNT in a friendly earlier this month, and old foes Sweden are on the same side of the draw, but the Americans are unlikely to see either until the semifinals.

As long as the USWNT wins the group, i.e. it includes a rematch with the Netherlands, their opponents in the 2019 World Cup final.

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“We have a good draw, but a little difficult. I’m excited about it,” said USA coach Vlatko Andonovski in FS1 after the draw, which took place in Auckland, New Zealand.

The Americans open the tournament on July 22 against Vietnam, a team that has never played. They then face the Netherlands on July 27 and wrap up the group stage on August 1 against the winner of a February playoff involving Portugal, Thailand and Cameroon.

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The travel schedule is also supportive of Americans’ title hopes. The tournament is being played in both Australia and New Zealand, but American women can only have one game in New Zealand until the final in Sydney on August 20.

Vlatko Andonovski, 43, has never trained internationally before.

Vlatko Andonovski, 43, has never trained internationally before.

“We started preparing for the World Cup a long time ago. Now, when we know the opponents, we are digging deep, getting into the details,” said Andonovski. “It’s not just preparing for the World Cup, we’re preparing for the opponents too.”

This will be the first women’s tournament with 32 teams, a sign of the sport’s growing strength. But it will also cause some mismatches – think of the 13-0 thrashing of Thailand in the USWNT group stage opener four years ago – and some obvious choices to advance.

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In Group E, will be the North Americans and the Netherlands. In addition to beating the Netherlands 2-0 in the 2019 final, the Americans beat the Dutch on penalties in the quarterfinals of the Tokyo Olympics last summer.

“I don’t see this as a rematch of any of those matches,” Andonovski said. “We are bringing a different group, they will also have a slightly different lineup. Even if it is a good game, it will be a good match, it will be a good show, it will not be a rematch of any of the previous games.”

If the Americans win Group E, they will face the second place in Group G, probably Italy. This would set up a quarterfinal match likely against Japan or Norway, and a semifinal match possibly against Spain or Sweden.

But if the USWNT finishes second to the Netherlands in the group stage, the road to an unprecedented third championship is much more difficult. That would mean the Americans would likely face Sweden in the round of 16.

The USWNT have played Sweden more times at the Olympics and World Cup than any other opponent, including being in the same group at the last five World Cups and last summer’s Olympics. Sweden dominated the Americans 3-0 in their debut in Tokyo, setting the tone for shaky performances during the Olympics that resulted in a bronze medal.

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It was also Sweden that knocked the Americans out in the quarterfinals of the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, the USWNT’s first major tournament elimination.

“We have a lot of work to do next year,” Lindsey Horan said at the FS1 post-draw show. “Obviously we come out of those two (losses) against England and Spain (this month), and you see the competitiveness, you see the game changing and how the game is evolving.

“We lost two games,” he added. “Of course you can talk about all the missing players and whatnot, but we need to be better. We need to learn and grow from it.”

This article originally appeared in USA TODAY: USWNT has potentially clear path to third consecutive World Cup title


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