The 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup Draw that concluded Saturday was the first ever to feature 24 teams. Eight countries will make their debut, possibly paving the way for new talent to make an impact, and four champions return to battle for the cup. Featuring an expanded field of 24 teams from 16 in previous cups, next year’s World Cup will be played in six Canadian cities from June 6 through July 5. Under the new format, the top two nations in each of six groups advance to the round of 16 along with the top four third-place teams.
The US drew the top seed in Group D, which includes Australia, Sweden, and Nigeria. This group is being called the Group of Death because it has the highest total of combined FIFA points, 7786, and includes three teams in the top 10 FIFA rankings. The No. 1-ranked U.S. will again face Sweden in group play. The Swedes defeated the Americans 2-1 in the 2011 World Cup group play and this time Sweden will be led by former U.S. coach Pia Sundhage.
The 24-team Women’s World Cup allows for slightly more wiggle room than the 32-team men’s World Cup. While the top two teams from each group will advance to the knockout round, the four teams with the best third-place finishes will also qualify to fill out the final 16-team bracket. If the Americans win their group, they would play a third-place team from Group B, E or F on June 22 in Edmonton, then be in position to go to Ottawa for a quarterfinal four days later and a semifinal in Montreal on June 30. The final will take place on July 5 at BC Place in Vancouver.
The World Cup will be played on artificial turf, which FIFA has never condoned at the men’s World Cup. A group of players, including U.S. forward Abby Wambach and German goalkeeper Nadine Angerer, brought a discrimination claim against FIFA and the Canadian Soccer Association before the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario. There is no timetable for a decision.
At a news conference before the draw, FIFA Secretary General Jerome Valcke dismissed claims that playing on an artificial surface amounts to gender discrimination. Valcke said FIFA is advancing the Women’s World Cup with increased prize money to $15 million and the use of goal-line technology, which was used in the men’s World Cup this year in Brazil.
Here is a breakdown of the Group of Death teams:
United States – FIFA Rank #1: The 2-time winners won their last World Cup in 1999 and finished in third place in both 2003 and 2007. The U.S., the No. 1-ranked team in the world, has won the last three Olympic titles. A coaching change and attack and back line that have been upgraded since the gutting 2011 final loss to Japan in Frankfurt has the US in prime form. The US Women didn’t concede a goal and scored 21 goals in their sweep during the CONCACAF tournament to qualify for Canada 2015. The Yanks beat Trinidad, Guatemala, Haiti, and Mexico on their way to the final, where they destroyed the Costa Ricans 6-0. The Americans will be the favorite next summer.
Sweden – FIFA Rank #5: The Swedes won against the U.S. in the group stage of the last World Cup in 2011 and are the only team in Canada 2015 that has beaten the Americans in the last two years. Currently ranked No. 5 in the world, the Swedes are led by former US head coach and Sweden native Pia Sundhage, who left the US team in September 2012 after four years on the job. Under Sundhage, the Swedes beat the Americans in the Algarve Cup earlier this year and tied them in the same tournament last year. The Swedes are led by Lotta Schelin, who has 73 goals in 141 international caps. Sweden is 6-20-9 against the US.
Australia – FIFA Rank #10: Australia is a World Cup regular with plenty of talent and several players who ply their trade in the NWSL. Australia is an athletic team that could give the U.S. and Sweden tough games, especially with explosive forward Lisa De Vanna leading the offense. Australia is 0-22-2 against the US.
Nigeria – FIFA Rank #35: Nigeria is Africa’s best team and recently reached the final of this year’s Under-20 World Cup. Nigeria should not be overlooked. Its young, talented team includes Asisat Oshoala, the winner of the 2014 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup Adidas Golden Ball. Nigeria is 0-4-0 against the US.
Groups for the 24-Team 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup:
Group A: Canada, China PR, New Zealand, Netherlands
Group B: Germany, Ivory Coast, Norway, Thailand
Group C: Japan, Switzerland, Cameroon, Ecuador
Group D: United States, Australia, Sweden, Nigeria
Group E: Brazil, Korea Republic, Spain, Costa Rica
Group F: France, England, Colombia, Mexico