The United States will be favourites to lift a record fourth Women’s World Cup after the draw for next year’s tournament, as hosts France will play the opening match against South Korea on June 7.
Jill Ellis’ U.S. side, who beat Japan 5-2 in the final to win the 2015 World Cup in Canada, were drawn with Thailand, debutants Chile and 2016 Olympic silver medallists Sweden in Group F on Saturday at a gala event in Paris.
The No. 1-ranked U.S. team landed in the same group with Sweden for the fifth straight World Cup and the sixth time overall.
They will meet for the second time since Sweden eliminated the U.S. in the 2016 Olympic quarterfinals, after which U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo famously called the Swedes “cowards” for their defensive tactics.
The United States will open the tournament against Thailand in Reims on June 11. Sweden, ranked No. 9 in the world in the latest FIFA rankings, will face their American foes on June 20 in Le Havre in the final group match for both teams.
“The draw is good for us, it pits us against a couple of teams that we’re not that familiar with, which I like. And then of course Sweden and I like having Sweden as the third game, I think that allows us to settle in to the tournament,” Ellis told reporters.
“This is a completely different team playing a completely different style. So it’s not about defending the World Cup, it’s about attacking the World Cup,” she added when asked about the pressure on the U.S., who have never won the tournament in Europe.
France, who have never gone past the semifinals, will face 1995 champions Norway and Nigeria as well as South Korea in Group A of the eighth edition of the tournament.
Having recorded their best World Cup finish of third in 2015, Phil Neville’s England may find it challenging to repeat that feat after being drawn in Group D with Scotland, Argentina and Japan, who knocked the Lionesses out at the semifinal stage in Canada.
That looks to be the toughest group, bringing a wry smile from draw conductor and former England defender Alex Scott alongside former Manchester United and France striker Louis Saha in Paris’ Seine Musical venue.
“I know Phil Neville is here tonight and I’m sure he’ll be telling his players ‘bronze medal is good, but it’s about turning that bronze medal into a gold one.’ You want to make sure you’re on the podium,” Scott told the packed auditorium including coaches and players from all 24 participating nations.
Germany, the only country besides Norway, the U.S. and Japan to win the World Cup, face a resurgent China in their Group B opener before taking on Spain and South Africa.
Group C sees Australia face Brazil, once again spearheaded by former player of the year Marta, along with Italy and tournament debutants Jamaica.
Netherlands, the European champions, may have high hopes of reaching the latter stages from Group E but will have to get the better of Canada, Cameroon and New Zealand.
“There are quite a few nations here that could win it, and Canada are certainly one of them,” Canada coach Kenneth Heiner-Moller said.
Fifty-two matches will be played across nine stadiums in France, the first time the country has hosted the tournament, from June 7 to July 7 with the final set to take place in the Stade de Lyon.
FIFA said almost 200,000 tickets have been sold for the event. World soccer’s ruling body is aiming to have a record 1 billion viewers for next year’s tournament.
The full draw:
Group A: France, South Korea, Norway, Nigeria Group B: Germany, China, Spain, South Africa Group C: Australia, Italy, Brazil, Jamaica Group D: England, Scotland, Argentina, Japan Group E: Canada, Cameroon, New Zealand, Netherlands Group F: United States, Thailand, Chile, Sweden
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