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World Cup draw pits U.S. women’s soccer vs. old foe Sweden but on a friendly path


The 24 Women’s World Cup head coaches, including U.S.’s Jill Ellis (front row, fourth from right) pose for photos before the draw. (Anne-Christine Poujoulat/AFP-Getty Images)

Six months from the start of the Women’s World Cup, the reigning champion U.S. national soccer team received favorable bounces Saturday when balls were selected from glass bowls at the FIFA draw outside Paris.

Aside from yet another meeting with frenemy Sweden, the top-ranked Americans were placed atop Group F with two lightweight opponents, Thailand and Chile.

Because the Sweden showdown is last, Jill Ellis’s squad will know in advance whether it needs a victory or draw to win the group.

Finishing first would almost certainly allow the United States to dodge the high-powered host team until the July 7 final.

The geography was also good news for U.S. fans, who are expected to flock to France by the thousands for what they hope will be a fourth trophy celebration.

All three U.S. first-round matches will be played in northern France, either in Paris or within a short distance. By topping the group, the Americans would play in Paris again. And a potential quarterfinal against No. 2 Germany would take place in the northwest region. The semifinals and final will be staged in Lyon, a 2½-hour train ride from Paris.

“There is no easy path,” Coach Jill Ellis said. However, “I feel good about the order of the games, feel good about the logistics of the group in terms of where we are and travel in between, and the fact we start later in the tournament [day five]. All of those things are positive.

“The masterstroke here is we have got to execute.”

The Americans will open June 11 against No. 29 Thailand in Reims, then play No. 38 Chile five days later at Parc des Princes in Paris. The match with No. 9 Sweden will be June 20 in Le Havre.

The only previous game with the Thais, in 2016, resulted in a 9-0 victory. In the first meetings with the Chileans, this fall at California venues, the outcomes were 3-0 and 4-0 victories.

Thailand made its World Cup debut in 2015. Chile qualified for the first time this fall.

Unfamiliarity with those teams contrasts with the fellowship with Sweden as they clash for the fifth consecutive World Cup. The teams also met in the 2016 Olympic quarterfinals, a penalty-kick victory by the defensive-minded Swedes.

Before the draw, Swedish reporters asked Ellis about the potential of facing Sweden again.

“Oh, we will,” Ellis said she responded.

“At last, I am prophetic about something.”

Although the Americans lead the all-time series 21-6-11, Sweden has almost always been competitive and, in the group stage of the previous two World Cups, it earned a 0-0 draw in 2015 and 2-1 victory in 2011.

The tournament, expanded to 24 teams from 16, will commence June 7 in Paris with France facing South Korea. The top seeds are the United States, Germany, France, England, Canada and Australia.

Unbeaten in 28 matches since July 2017, the Americans will have to accept the role of favorites, whether they like it or not.

“I would never put ‘favorites’ on us, but we do hold ourselves in a very high standard and expectation,” defender Kelley O’Hara said. “Yeah, we want to win. Who doesn’t want to win the World Cup? Being the defending champions, I absolutely want to go back to back.”

The U.S. team will begin preparations next month with difficult friendlies at third-ranked France and No. 12 Spain. It will then play eight consecutive home games leading to the World Cup, including assignments against No. 8 Japan, No. 4 England, No. 10 Brazil and No. 6 Australia.

“It’s so different than it was even two World Cups ago in terms of the depth and talent,” Ellis said of the true contenders. “Someone asked if this is going to be the hardest World Cup to win. I kind of said that last time. Every World Cup should be better than the one before — bigger in terms of media and quality of teams. It’s going to be a spectacular World Cup.”

World Cup 2019 groups

(FIFA world ranking in parentheses)

Group A: France (3), Norway (13), South Korea (14), Nigeria (39). Ranking total: 69.

Group B: Germany (2), Spain (12), China (15), South Africa (48). Ranking total: 77.

Group C: Australia (6), Brazil (10), Italy (16), Jamaica (53). Ranking total: 85.

Group D: England (4), Japan (8), Scotland (20), Argentina (36). Ranking total: 68.

Group E: Canada (5), Netherlands (7), New Zealand (19), Cameroon (46). Ranking total: 77.

Group F: United States (1), Sweden (9), Thailand (29), Chile (38). Ranking total: 77.

More soccer coverage:

U.S. women’s soccer team will take on tough schedule before World Cup

Maryland soccer is taking its redemption tour to the NCAA championship game

With MLS Cup, Atlanta United caps an overnight success 50 years in the making

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