The U.S. will face Vietnam, the Netherlands and the winner of a playoff between Cameroon, Thailand and Portugal in group play at next summer’s Women’s World Cup, where it will be seeking to become the first country to win the tournament three times in a row. It was a particularly soft draw for the U.S., which will face only one team ranked in the top 22 in the FIFA rankings.
The monthlong competition, to be co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand, will kick off July 20 in Auckland and in Sydney.
The U.S., which has won 12 consecutive World Cup games, hasn’t lost in the tournament since its final group-play game in 2011. But the rest of the world is catching up. The Americans lost back-to-back games in England and Spain this month, their first losing streak since 2017. And they have just a bronze medal to show from their last two trips to the Olympic Games.
“This will be the most competitive Women’s World Cup in history,” said Jill Ellis, who coached the U.S. in the last two tournaments and never lost a World Cup game.
The top-ranked U.S. will open against Vietnam, which will be playing in the World Cup for the first time. But things will get tougher after that with a rematch against the eighth-ranked Netherlands, the team it beat in the 2019 final. The other group-play match will come against the winner of a three-team playoff involving Thailand, Cameroon and Portugal.
The top two teams from each four-team group will advance to the knockout rounds.
At the draw, held Saturday night in Auckland, No. 7 Canada, the reigning Olympic champion, was placed in a group with Australia, Ireland and Nigeria while fourth-ranked England, the European champion, was paired with No. 15 China, No. 18 Denmark and the winner of a playoff involving Senegal, Haiti and Chile.
Only two groups will have two teams ranked in the world’s top 10: group E, with the U.S. and the Netherlands, and Group F, with fifth-ranked France and No. 9 Brazil.
Next summer’s World Cup will be the largest women’s sporting event in history with 32 countries, double the number in 2011. Twenty-nine teams have already qualified with Morocco, the Philippines, Ireland and Zambia joining Vietnam in making their tournament debuts. Ten others will be competing in three intercontinental playoffs in February, when the last three invitations will be handed out.
The U.S. is one of seven teams that has qualified for all nine Women’s World Cup, winning it four times.
Next summer’s tournament will be the first Women’s World Cup played in two countries, with the 64 games shared among five cities and six stadiums in Australia and four cities and stadiums in New Zealand. It will also be the first Women’s World Cup to be played in the Southern Hemisphere, the first senior FIFA event staged in Oceania and the first FIFA competition to be hosted by multiple confederations. Australia is a member of the Asian confederation, New Zealand in the Oceania confederation.
FIFA, the governing body for global soccer, said a record 1.2 billion people watched the 2019 Women’s World Cup on TV, with the final between the U.S. and the Netherlands drawing more 82 million viewers. But broadcasters fear poor ratings next summer since many of the matches will be played before dawn or in the early morning hours in Europe and North America.
Group A: New Zealand, Norway, Philippines, Switzerland
Group B: Australia, Ireland, Nigeria, Canada
Group C: Spain, Costa Rica, Zambia, Japan
Group D: England, winner of playoff between Senegal, Haiti and Chile, Denmark, China
Group E: U.S., Vietnam, Netherlands, winner of playoff between Cameroon, Thailand and Portugal
Group F: France, Jamaica, Brazil, winner of playoff between Taiwan-Paraguay, Papua-New Guinea and Panama
Group G: Sweden, South Africa, Italy, Argentina
Group H: Germany, Morocco, Colombia, South Korea
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.