Soccer – Champions U.S. get favorable draw in Women’s World Cup

By Christian Radnedge

PARIS (Reuters) – World champions the United States will be favorites to lift a record fourth Women’s World Cup following the draw for next year’s tournament on Saturday, while hosts France play the opening match against South Korea in Paris on June 7.

Jill Ellis’ U.S. side, who beat Japan 5-2 in the final to win the World Cup in Canada three years ago, were drawn with Thailand, debutants Chile and 2016 Olympic silver medallists Sweden in Group F.

The U.S. and the Swedes have had tight battles over the years, more recently in the 2016 Olympics when the Europeans knocked out the Americans in the quarter-finals before going on to win silver.

However, their meeting will be in the final match of the group in Le Havre on June 20, meaning both teams may have already secured their passage to the round of 16.

“The draw is good for us, it pits us against a couple of teams that we’re not that familiar with which I like. And then of course Sweden and I like having Sweden as the third game, I think that allows us to settle in to the tournament” Ellis told reporters.

“This is a completely different team playing a completely different style. So it’s not about defending the World Cup, it’s about attacking the World Cup,” she added when asked about the pressure on the U.S., who have never won the tournament in Europe.

France, who have never gone beyond the World Cup semi-finals, will also face 1995 champions Norway and Nigeria in Group A of the eighth edition of the tournament.

As hosts, they automatically earned the first slot and were picked out by France coach Didier Deschamps who got a rousing reception from the crowd in Paris’ Seine Musicale having led the men’s side to World Cup triumph in Russia this year.

OPENING GAME

After recording their best World Cup finish of third in 2015, Phil Neville’s England face an opening Group D game against neighbors Scotland in Nice.

They will also face Argentina and Japan, who knocked the Lionesses out at the semi-final stage in Canada, in a tough pool.

Germany, the only country besides Norway, the U.S. and Japan to win the World Cup, face a resurgent China in their Group B opener before taking on Spain and South Africa.

Group C sees Australia face Brazil, once again spearheaded by former player of the year Marta, along with Italy and tournament debutants Jamaica.

European champions the Netherlands will have to get the better of Canada, Cameroon and New Zealand in Group E.

“There are quite a few nations here that could win it and Canada are certainly one of them,” Canada coach Kenneth Heiner-Moller said.

Fifty-two matches will be played across nine stadiums in France, the first time the country has hosted the tournament, from June 7 to July 7 with the final set to take place in the 59,186-capacity Stade de Lyon.

FIFA said almost 200,000 tickets have been sold for the event. World soccer’s ruling body is aiming to have a record one billion viewers for next year’s tournament.

(Reporting by Christian Radnedge, editing by Ed Osmond)

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