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Women’s World Cup 2019: Group F preview

The United States and Sweden should fight it out to top a relatively weak group.

Mexico v United States Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

The heavy hitter in Group F is obviously the United States, who were handed what on paper looks to be just about the easiest draw they could possibly have managed. They will certainly be expected to top the group, with Sweden almost as universally tipped to finish second. But those expectations may take on a life of their own. It wouldn’t be the first time that teams got into their own heads over how things were ‘supposed’ to go. Meanwhile, Thailand and Chile will primarily be looking for a victory over the other. Those three points could just be enough to scrape through as a third-place team, as long as the goal difference can be kept reasonable against the two bigger sides.

UNITED STATES

Rank: 1

Recent record: The US snapped an 18-month unbeaten streak with a 3-1 defeat to France in January, but have mostly recovered since then—including reeling off six straight victories as they enter the tournament. There are some worrying signs in the results, particularly on the defensive side, which has been surprisingly leaky of late. But given their offensive talents and open style, that generally hasn’t been a problem. After all, you can afford to concede two or three if you score four or five. The team doesn’t look as dominant now as they did twelve months ago, but they’re ranked #1 in the world for good reason. With everyone reasonably healthy, and most of the team in midseason form, it’s going to be exceptionally tough for anyone to hang with them.

Odds of winning: Favorite/In the Running/Dark Horse

One to watch: The team is spoiled for riches, and you could probably pick five or six players as reasonable contenders for the Golden Ball at the end of the tournament, but there’s something about the way Tobin Heath is playing right now that lifts her that tiny bit higher than the rest. Her touch is dazzling, her footwork and dribbling off the charts, and she has now matured into a player who can also go direct when needed. She’s one of the key creative forces on the team, and also a dangerous goal-scoring threat. When she’s on her game—which is quite often—she is virtually unplayable.

THAILAND

Rank: 34

Recent record: This is Thailand’s second consecutive World Cup. They earned a win in 2015, but failed to advance to the knockout stage, a record they’ll hope to better this time around. They come into the tournament without much recent success, with a crushing ten losses in their past eleven games. That run of results puts their qualification into some perspective, and just clarifies how unequal the two pods were for the AFC tournament, with Thailand only needing victories over Jordan (ranked 54) and the Philippines (ranked 74) to advance – compared to the gauntlet of Australia, Japan, and South Korea on the other side.

But it’s not all doom and gloom for Thailand. While the results haven’t been there, the performances have been reasonably solid. They held off the potent French team for an hour in a recent friendly. And back at the Cyprus Cup in the spring they earned a smashing 4-0 victory over Hungary, as well as a close-fought loss against Mexico. They’ve also brought in Vera Pauw as a technical advisor, who has had quite a bit of success organizing technically-limited but energetic teams in the past, and may do a fair bit to help them batten down the hatches.

Odds of winning: Favorite/In the Running/Dark Horse

One to watch: Miranda Nild (Suchawadee Nildhamrong) is a recent graduate of UC-Berkeley (Go Bears!), where she scored 13 goals over four seasons. She made an immediate mark after joining the national team, grabbing 12 goals in her first 17 games. With a group draw that includes the United States, Nild will have the opportunity to play against her home country in the World Cup, something that few ever get a chance to accomplish. For more on her story, check out this excellent article at Equalizer.

CHILE

Rank: 39

Recent record: 2019 has not been particularly kind to Chile, who are on a run of ten consecutive winless games, dating back to November of last year. However, there are signs of light in there. Their last win, after all, came against Australia. And they have also managed draws in that run against Scotland and Colombia—hardly two pushovers. And while they suffered an embarrassing 7-0 thrashing at the hands of the Netherlands, most of their other games have been close affairs, including their recent 2-0 defeat to Germany.

Chile play an exciting brand of soccer. Despite their physical limitations and a relative lack of training compared to the big players in the sandbox, they do not shy away from playing soccer. That’s a credit to them, and means there is some potential here to accomplish more than scrape a lucky 0-0. If everything goes well, Chile have the resources to score. The problem is that playing an open style also exposes them to risk. And as space opens up, their inability to knock opponents off the ball, or to win the 50/50 chances that emerge when the ball does come lose, will likely leave them permanently chasing the game.

Odds of winning: Favorite/In the Running/Dark Horse

One to watch: Christiane Endler is their most important player. The goalkeeper plies her trade at club level with Paris Saint-Germain, and has both the experience and the skill to make a big difference for Chile. They’ll need her to put on a show if they hope to find some results in this group.

SWEDEN

Rank: 9

Recent record: There was supposed to be a youth revolution in Sweden, but it never quite seemed to take. Look at their roster and you’ll still see some familiar names—Lindahl, Fischer, Seger—all pushing their mid 30s. Meanwhile, some of the younger generation have not quite grabbed hold of the reins. Still, with the old guard still contributing, there’s time yet to make the transition. And there certainly is some history of countries squeezing one last big tournament from their veterans. That could be Sweden’s story this time around.

It’s hard to tell if that will happen because, as always seems to be the case with Sweden, you can make a strong argument in almost any direction. In the past year, they’ve beaten England and Norway, played Switzerland off the pitch, and closed out their qualification by knocking out Denmark. Those all suggest a team prepared to pick up where they left off in the Olympics—where they beat the US and Brazil on penalties before losing to Germany in the final. But over that same period, Sweden have also lost to Portugal, struggled to create anything against Canada and South Africa, and lost to Italy. That suggests a team likely to wither in the face of a sustained attack.

In either case, they ought to have enough to beat Thailand and Chile. But can they hang in there against the US? That seems much less clear.

Odds of winning: Favorite/In the Running/Dark Horse

One to watch: It’s not even certain that Lina Hurtig will be able to play significant minutes, since she has struggled constantly with injuries. But if healthy, she might be the difference-maker. Sweden have long needed a creative wide player who can stretch the opposition and develop more sophisticated attacks. That’s Hurtig. If they get the best from her, they will likely also get much more from their strikers like Blackstenius, Rolfö, and Asllani.