The 2019 World Cup in France opens Friday with many intriguing storylines.
Will powerhouse and defending champion United States win a fourth trophy?
Can host France repeat what their men’s team did in 1998 and win the World Cup on home soil?
Can Spain’s young team make a splash? How will England rebound from its heartbreaking exit four years ago?
Will Brazilian star Marta, a five-time World Player of the Year, finally win the one trophy that eludes her?
Here is a look at the 24 World Cup teams, divided into six groups for the opening three-game round-robin stage. The top two teams in each group advance to the knockout Round of 16, along with the next four-highest teams based on point totals (3 points for win, 1 point for tie, 0 points for loss).
(FIFA world rankings with team names)
FRANCE (4), NORWAY (12), SOUTH KOREA (14), NIGERIA (38)
Scouting report: The stylish French team is one of the favorites, and “Les Bleus” would love to win on home soil like the French men did in 1998.
France’s best finish was fourth in 2011, and the team is motivated after losing to Germany in the quarterfinals four years ago. Norway’s Ada Hegerberg, one of the top players in the world, quit the national team two years ago to protest inequality between men’s and women’s soccer; and is skipping the World Cup. Isabell Herlovsen and Caroline Graham Hansen will play bigger roles in Hegerberg’s absence.
Key game: France vs. Norway, June 12 in Nice
Likely to advance: France, Norway
GERMANY (2), SPAIN (13), CHINA (16), SOUTH AFRICA (49)
Scouting report: The Germans won the 2003 and 2007 World Cups and won gold at the 2016 Rio Olympics, but lost to the United States in the 2015 World Cup semifinals and lost in the quarterfinals at the 2017 European championship. Anything less than semis will be a disappointment. Young Spanish team, nicknamed “La Roja,” won all eight qualifying games and could surprise. Spanish defender Celia Jimenez studied aerospace engineering at the University of Alabama. Onetime-powerful China, led by Wang Shuang, trying to return to prominence. South Africa’s “Banyana Banyana” make their Cup debut and are led by Thembi Kgatlana.
Key game: Germany vs. Spain, June 12 in Valenciennes
Likely to advance: Germany, Spain
ITALY (15), BRAZIL (10), AUSTRALIA (6), JAMAICA (53)
Scouting report: Brazilian legend Marta, 33, will try to win the one trophy that has eluded her. Brazil breezed through qualifying and dominated Copa America with 31 goals and just two allowed. Australia poised to make a deep run. Matildas star Sam Kerr was candidate for Best FIFA Women’s Player in 2018. Italy is back in the Cup for the first time in 20 years. Win or lose, Jamaica’s Reggae Girlz will be the feel-good story of this World Cup as the first Caribbean team in the history of the tournament.
Key game: Brazil vs. Australia, June 13 in Montpellier
Likely to advance: Australia, Brazil
ENGLAND (3), SCOTLAND (20), ARGENTINA (37), JAPAN (7)
Scouting report: Third-ranked England — led by Nikita Parris, Lucy Bronze, and Fran Kirby — is looking for a happier finish after losing in the 2015 semis on a dramatic own-goal against Japan. The English defense is fierce, having allowed one goal or fewer in 11 of the past 12 matches. Never count out Japan, which won the 2011 World Cup and was runner-up in 2015. Argentina is back for first time since 2007.
Key game: England vs. Japan, June 19 in Nice
Likely to advance: England, Japan
NETHERLANDS (8), CANADA (5), NEW ZEALAND (19), CAMEROON (46)
Scouting report: Netherlands, led by FC Barcelona star Lieke Martens, has won a European championship since making its debut at the 2015 World Cup in Canada. The Dutch tied Canada 1-1 four years ago, and are eager to prove they can beat the world’s elite teams. Canada, host of the 2015 World Cup, is expected to go far. New Zealand’s Football Ferns have never reached the Round of 16.
Key game: Canada vs. Netherlands, June 20 in Reims
Likely to advance: Canada, Netherlands
SWEDEN (9), UNITED STATES (1), CHILE (39), THAILAND (34)
Scouting report: The defending champion United States breezed through five qualifying games, outscoring opponents 26-0. The American roster is stacked with veterans and favored to win a fourth World Cup title. Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe, Tobin Heath, and Carli Lloyd are back and blending well with younger players. As always, Sweden is dangerous and the June 20 showdown against the Americans in the final group match should be intense. Chile was the Copa America runner-up behind Brazil and makes its World Cup debut.
Key game: USA vs. Sweden, June 20 in Le Havre
Likely to advance: USA, Sweden