December 6, 2014
By Michael Lewis
THE GROUP OF DEATH
USA women face first-round challenges vs. tough foes at Women's World Cup
The United States might be the top-ranked women's team in the world, but they will have their work cut out for them in the group stage of next year's FIFA Women's World Cup.
|US Soccer Female Athlete of the Year Lauren Holiday and the US WNT will face Sweden, Australia and Nigeria in the group round of next year's FIFA Women's World Cup.
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
They were drawn Saturday into what is being called the tournament's Group of Death -- Group D -- with along Sweden (Europe), Australia (Asia) and Nigeria (Africa), who are considered top sides in their confederations.
The draw was held in Ottawa, Canada Saturday afternoon.
USA coach Jill Ellis called it "the toughest group... a physically challenging group. Our depth is going to come into play for us."
Ellis said that her players would rise to the occasion.
"I haven't obviously spoken to the team but I can just tell their reaction," she said during a conference call. "It is motivating that we want to continue to get better. We want to hit the ground running. There's no slow introduction to this World Cup. They will be fired up. They will be excited."
The two-time world champion USA will open the competition against Australia in Winnipeg on June 8, followed by Sweden there on June 12 before finishing up against Nigeria in Vancouver on June 16. The top two teams in each of the six groups of the 24-team tournament will book automatic spots in the Round of 16. The next four teams with the highest points qualify for the second round. The final is in Vancouver July 6.
"We've played Australia many times and I know we've played Nigeria in the World Cup," Ellis said. "They're all presenting slightly different challenges. The next six months of our preparation will get us ready for this. We historically have tough games in the first round in major competitions. It will prepare us for the knockout stages."
Sweden is coached by Pia Sundhage, who directed the Americans to back-to-back gold medals in the 2008 and 2012 Summer Olympics and to a third-place finish at the 2011 WWC in Germany.
Ellis told Sundhage prior to the draw, "Ah, we're going to be in the same group."
"It turned out to be prophetic," she said. "For me, it is easier playing a friend. I have tremendous respect for her and just know it's going to be a great game."
The Americans certainly have great incentive to finish first because they would not have to meet another first-place side until the semifinals while getting an extra day of rest.
"We want to be tough in our group for those reasons," Ellis said. "Psychologically, you want to be tough in your group, so you feel good about going into the knockout stages. The advantages of finishing first, hopefully that they play out. But again, you never know what happens in the other groups."