The defending women’s World Cup champion United States drew Sweden, Chile and Thailand in Group F for next summer’s World Cup in France at the draw in Paris on Saturday. It's an interesting group, where Jill Ellis's squad will have a chance for redemption against a familiar rival.
Here are my three thoughts on the draw:
Chile and Thailand shouldn’t pose a significant challenge for the U.S., but it’s hard not to laugh seeing Sweden yet again as a group-stage opponent. This will be the fifth straight World Cup that the U.S. and Sweden have met in the group stage, and it will also be a rematch of the 2016 Olympic quarterfinal in which the Swedes stunningly eliminated the U.S. on penalties. (You might also recall that being the game in which U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo famously called the Swedes “cowards” for their defensive-minded approach to the match.) The U.S. also gets to play its group games entirely in the north of France and starts with
two relatively easy ones, vs. Thailand on June 11 in Reims, vs. Chile on June 16 in Paris and then vs. Sweden on June 20 in Le Havre.
If the U.S. wins Group F, it could face a potential knockout-round path of Spain or Germany in the Round of 16, host France in the quarterfinals and England or Japan in the semifinals. But if the U.S. finishes second in Group F, the path would be potentially somewhat easier, with Canada or the Netherlands in the Round of 16, Germany or Spain in the quarterfinals and Australia or Brazil in the semis. You never know how the group results are going to break out, of course, and there’s no way the U.S. would try not to win the group, but the penalty for a hiccup against Sweden might not be that big at all.
The French probably have the most difficult group of the bunch, with South Korea, Norway and Nigeria, and having to potentially face the U.S. in the quarterfinals is no gift at all for them. The easiest group overall might just be the one the U.S. is in, though Thailand appears to have improved in the last four years since its World Cup debut in 2015. England and Scotland drawing the same group is intriguing, and the most balanced group overall might be the one with Canada, Cameroon, New Zealand and the Netherlands. In the big picture, though, FIFA has improved its draw process immeasurably on the women’s and men’s sides by making all the draw pots (not just the one with the top seeds) based on the FIFA rankings and not just by geography. That creates more balance, and that’s a good thing.