The US women’s soccer team will face the Netherlands, Vietnam and an as-yet-unknown winner of the qualifiers at next year’s Women’s World Cup – a lucky draw for the Americans, even if the Dutch team includes the team they beat in the final. Winning their most recent world title in 2019.
The Americans learned their first-round opponents in Saturday’s tournament draw, and will enter the tournament in Australia and New Zealand – the first co-hosts in World Cup history – as two-time world champions.
But they will arrive amid tectonic shifts in the women’s game including Unsatisfactory Bronze Medal At the last Olympics. Generations shift on their list; And the rush of investment and interest that led to the emergence of new competitors such as England and Spain and the revival of old competitors such as Canada, France and Germany.
Vlatko Andonovsky, the US coach, said this month, after setbacks in high-profile matches against England and Spain left the Americans. Hanging on the losing streak for the first time in more than five years.
He and his players have long admitted that the world was closing the gap in Americans’ dominance of women’s football – Megan Rapinoe essentially admitted that the gap no longer existed before the England game – and that the task of staying at the top would only get tougher. They won the World Cup for the third time in a row next year. But draws always bring hope, and the mood on Saturday was, momentarily at least, buoyant.
“Today is a good day,” said USA midfielder Lindsey Horan. “It’s exciting.” She said the opening match against Vietnam “given us a great opportunity to go into the tournament”.
Americans will also see a geographic advantage in their New Zealand-based group. They will open against Vietnam in Auckland (July 22), face the Netherlands in Wellington (July 27) and then close out the first round against play-off qualifiers – either Portugal, Cameroon or Thailand – in Auckland (1 August).
If they finished first and second in the group – an almost certain result – then only would they risk going to Australia in the Round of 16. (First place in the group will be seen as vital to both the Americans and the Dutch, because the second-placed team can expect to face Sweden in First knockout round.)
Some of the US’s biggest rivals would love to be tied, too: Sweden, the world’s second-largest team, joined a group that includes world number three South Africa, Italy, Argentina and runner-up Germany – at last summer’s European Championships, they will face Morocco, Colombia and South Korea.
Fresh European champions England will face a European opponent (Denmark), a lackluster former power (China), as well as the United States, a playoff winner whose identity won’t be confirmed until February. For England, it will be either Senegal, Haiti or Chile.
New Zealand will meet Norway, the former champion, in the opening match of the tournament next July, and its host, Australia, will begin its quest against newcomer, Ireland, before matches against the World Cup mainstays, Nigeria and Canada.
But the expanded field means there are so many new faces – he could play a quarter-court in his first World Cup – that the favorites don’t have much trouble in the group stage. The stakes are still high, especially for a group like the one that includes the United States and the Netherlands, two potential title contenders. This will make early success vital to positioning, as faltering in the group stage could mean facing the toughest opponents too early in the playoffs.
However, even when former England men’s player Ian Wright declared his country the favorites, saying their players had a “goal on their back” as European champions, Andonovsky knew his side would, as usual, be a target for him. anyone else.
“For a team that has always done historically well, the pressure will always be there,” Andonovsky said.
The 2023 World Cup will be the first since FIFA expanded the stadium to include 32 teams. This produced a draw full of familiar faces and first-timers: higher-ranked competitors and former champions such as Sweden, Germany, Spain, France and the Netherlands from Europe; Regional powers such as Brazil, Japan and Nigeria. And a handful of starters – Zambia, Morocco, Ireland, Vietnam and the Philippines.
Americans? They qualified in July with the help of a mix of old and new: veterans like Alex Morgan, Rose Lavelle, Horan and Becky Sauerbrunn, but also newer faces like Sophia Smith, Trinity Rodman and Naomi Girma.
Andonovski’s side is still a mixture of past and present: Rapinoe will likely make the roster next summer, but another longtime mainstay, Carli Lloyd, spent this weekend helping make the draw, without impatiently waiting for its results.
For Andonovsky, the hard work is still ahead. By next summer, he hopes to reimagine his roster, a new blend of experience and youth, and his celebrity months Strict Scouting, will give the United States their best chance in their first World Cup with a treble. He wasn’t always so sure.
“I have to say, if you ask me if we are ready to go to the World Cup and compete in the World Cup tomorrow, we are probably not ready for that,” Andonovsky said. reporters After the Americans qualified in July. “But will we be ready in a year? Definitely.”
Others are uncertain: The United States lost to England and Spain this month, their first consecutive loss in five years, and face another uphill challenge next month with Two friendly matches against GermanyWomen’s Euro Championship runner-up.
England, currently the best team in Europe undefeated in the last 24 matches, and Canada, who defeated the United States on their way to the gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics, will be waiting. But the same will be done by the Germans, the Dutch, the Swedes, the Spaniards, and others.
The World Cup will open on July 20, with New Zealand and Australia playing home matches, and conclude with the final on August 20 at the Sydney Olympic Stadium.
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