Conventional wisdom said that the Women’s World Cup expanding to 24 teams for the first time in 2015 would create some lopsided results in the group stage. That is sure to happen — likely in Group B, where clinical Germany will play minnows Ivory Coast and Thailand in addition to Norway — but it will not happen in Group D, where the U.S. will play Sweden, Australia and African champion Nigeria in a disproportionately tough group.
The United States opens the World Cup on June 8 against Australia in Winnipeg, and then plays again in Winnipeg against Sweden on June 12 before finishing group play against Nigeria on June 16 in Vancouver.
2015 WWC groups by avg rank (seed in parentheses):
A (CAN): 14.0
B (GER): 26.25
C (JPN): 30.25
D (USA): 12.75
E (BRA): 19.75
F (FRA): 16.75
— Paul Carr (@PCarrESPN) December 6, 2014
The Americans, ranked No. 1 in the world for six years running, will make it out of the group. Let’s get that straight right away. With 24 teams and a round of 16, the four best third-place teams in the group stage even go through to the knockout stage.
But what this tough group could do is beat-up the Americans ahead of the grueling knockout stage — especially on the artificial turf in Canada. USA-Sweden is a major, longstanding rivalry that typically produces physical matches. Nigeria is always physical, and Australia could choose to mix things up as well as they fight for what could be one of three spots to advance out of this group.
Winning the group would mean facing a third-place finisher from Group B, E or F, in the Round of 16, but finishing second in Group D means a Round of 16 matchup with the Group E winner — likely to be Brazil.
The United States has never finished worse than third at a Women’s World Cup in six appearances. The Americans have not won the competition since 1999, that famous triumph on home soil.
Hypothetically — and assuming that things play to form in other groups — the Americans road to a World Cup title beyond the group stage could be:
WINNING GROUP D:
Round of 16: 3BEF (Possible: South Korea, Mexico, Costa Rica, Ivory Coast, Thailand)
Quarterfinals: 2A or 2C (Possibly New Zealand or Switzerland)
Semifinal: Likely Germany as Group B winner or France as Group F winner
Final: Possibly against Japan
So, hypothetically, the knockout stage could be a minnow team in the Round of 16, very beatable opponent in the quarterfinals and then things get tough in the semifinals, which will be the case no matter what. That path to the semifinal is much preferable for the Americans.
SECOND IN GROUP D:
Round of 16: Group E winner (Very likely Brazil)
Quarterfinal: Likely Japan as Group C winner
Semifinal: 2B, 2F, 1A or 3CDE (Possibly: Canada, England, Sweden)
Final: Germany, France…maybe Sweden
The second-place finisher could have a brutal road, clearly. Brazil –> Japan –> a semifinal likely easier than that quarterfinal –> likely France or Germany in the final.
The Americans will surely welcome the challenge, and to the best they will truly need to beat the best in 2015.
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