"It's not about defending a World Cup," U.S. coach Jill Ellis said. "It's about attacking a World Cup." The defending champion Americans will get Sweden, Thailand and Chile in Group F.
PARIS — No matter what took place at the draw for the 2019 Women’s World Cup on Saturday night, one thing was never going to change: the U.S. women’s national team would be widely regarded as the favorite to win, with all the hope and expectation and pressure that comes with that.
After all, the Americans are the defending champions, having beaten Japan to win the previous edition of the tournament in Canada and take home the trophy for the third time.
But Jill Ellis, coach of the U.S. team, objected to that framing of her squad.
“For us, it’s not about defending a World Cup,” Ellis said. “This is a completely different team, playing a different style, a different system.
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“It’s about attacking a World Cup.”
To that end, Ellis was pleased with the outcome of the draw, which placed the United States in Group F with Sweden, Thailand and Chile.
Thailand and Chile, the Americans’ first two opponents, are relatively unaccomplished on the international stage. And the Americans do not play Sweden, with whom they have a history of tough battles, until the third game, by which point their advancement to the knockout stage could already be secured.
José Antonio Letelier, coach of the Chilean national team, said it could be a scramble for second place in the group.
“It doesn’t matter who the opponent is, all of the groups would have been tough,” Letelier said. “Of course, we got the toughest because we got the world champion.”
At a glitzy ceremony Saturday night at La Seine Musicale, a performing arts venue in the western suburbs of Paris, the tournament’s 24 teams were placed into four pots based on their world rankings and then drawn into one of six groups. With the exception of Europe, which has the most teams in the field (nine), countries from the same confederation could not be drawn into the same group.
France, the host and another one of the favorites to win the tournament, learned it would play South Korea on June 7 in Paris to open the World Cup. Their other opponents in Group A will be Norway and Nigeria.
Germany, another favorite, will meet China, Spain and South Africa in Group B. England, headlining Group D, drew its neighbor, Scotland, as well as Argentina and the 2011 champion, Japan. Australia and Brazil feature in Group C, and Canada drew the European champion, the Netherlands, in Group E.
The United States will open the tournament against Thailand (the 29th-ranked team in the world, according to FIFA) in Reims on June 11 and then face World Cup newcomers Chile (No. 38) on June 16 in Paris. Their game against Sweden (No. 9) is on June 20 in Le Havre.
“I like having Sweden in the third game,” Ellis said. “I think that allows us to settle into the tournament.”
That third game will be a rematch of the teams’ meeting in the 2016 Olympic quarterfinals. The Swedes, then led by former U.S. coach Pia Sundhage, won that day, a humbling defeat for the Americans and the first time they had failed to medal in the World Cup or the Olympics.
The United States and Sweden have met five previous times in World Cup group stages (never in a knockout game), with the Americans holding a 3-1-1 record in those contests.
Peter Gerhardsson, Sweden’s coach, tried to put a personal, positive spin on drawing the three-time world champions. For all the history between the two teams, Gerhardsson, who took over for Sundhage in 2017, noted that he had not had the chance to coach against the Americans.
“Going through my whole life as coach for Sweden and not meeting the USA?” Gerhardsson said. “Now I meet them. That’s nice.”
The semifinals and final, which will take place July 7, will be played in Lyon. And along with Paris and Reims and Le Havre, five other cities — Grenoble, Montpellier, Nice, Rennes and Valenciennes — will also help play host to the tournament’s 52 games.
The 2019 champion will win $4 million in prize money, double the share from 2015. The prize money for the 2018 men’s World Cup champion, France, was $38 million.
The Americans will prepare themselves to hunt for that prize with a recently announced schedule of 10 games in 10 cities heading into the tournament next summer.
“We’re going to get a lot of answers, a lot of vetting, and try a lot of different things,” Ellis said. “So I feel like we’re going to be battle-tested going into this World Cup with the schedule we’ve planned.”