US women set for smooth start in Cup defence

PARIS • Six months from the start of the Women's World Cup, the United States national team received favourable bounces when balls were selected at the draw on Saturday.

Aside from yet another meeting with ninth-ranked rivals Sweden, the top-ranked Americans and reigning champions were placed in Group F with two lightweight opponents, world No. 29 Thailand and debutantes Chile.

The only previous game with the Thais resulted in a 9-0 victory to the US in 2016, while the 38th-ranked Chileans were thrashed 3-0 and 4-0 in their past two meetings in September.

However, US national coach Jill Ellis objected to the framing of her squad as the tournament favourites, despite their 28-match unbeaten run, saying: "For us, it's not about defending a World Cup.

"This is a completely different team, playing a different style, a different system.

"It's about attacking a World Cup. There is no easy path.

"But I feel good about the order of the games, feel good about the logistics of the group in terms of where we are and travel in between, and the fact we start later in the tournament (day five).

"All of those things are positive."

But defender Kelley O'Hara was more bullish about their chances, declaring that it was her aim "to go back to back".

The Americans will open their campaign against Thailand in Reims, France, on June 11, then play Chile five days later in Paris.

Their final group match against Sweden will be on June 20 in Le Havre, by which the Americans' advancement to the knockout stages could already be secured.

Before the draw, Swedish reporters asked Ellis about the potential of facing Sweden again and having prophetically claimed it was inevitable, both teams will now clash for the fifth straight World Cup.

The 24-team tournament will commence on June 7 in Paris with hosts France taking on South Korea.

NYTIMES, WASHINGTON POST

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 10, 2018, with the headline 'US women set for smooth start in Cup defence'. Print Edition | Subscribe