Here are my predictions for the Women’s World Cup, from the group stage through all the knockout rounds to the final.
The top two teams in each group qualify for the round of 16, as do the top four third-place teams across the field. My picks for the 16 teams that will advance are in bold.
3. South Korea
4. South Africa
3. New Zealand
1. United States
(Games are listed in the order in which they will be played, not in order of the bracket.)
1B. Germany over 3D. Scotland
2C. Brazil over 2A. Norway
1D. England over 3E. New Zealand
1A. France over 3C. Italy
1F. United States over 2B. Spain
2F. Sweden over 2E. Canada
1C. Australia over 3A. South Korea
1E. Netherlands over 2D. Japan
England over Brazil
United States over France
Netherlands over Australia
Germany over Sweden
United States over England
Netherlands over Germany
United States over Netherlands
Look around the women’s soccer world — in fact, look around just the American women’s soccer media - and you’ll find as many people who think the U.S. will repeat as champion as those who don’t.
The argument against is pretty simple: France will beat the Americans on home soil in that quarterfinal game, which might be the biggest game other than a final in all of women’s soccer history. It will be a changing of the guard as the stylish French outclass the Americans, punish coach Jill Ellis for not picking the right lineup, hit the U.S. Soccer Federation for not spending enough on women’s player development, etc. and so on.
And if the U.S. does beat France, the argument continues, England will take out the Americans in the semifinals and go on and win the whole thing.
Neither of those scenarios will be surprising, but I think the U.S. pulls it off.
First, I think it will benefit the U.S. to play France in Paris, site of that quarterfinal, instead of Lyon, which hosts the semifinals and final. There will be more Americans in a Paris crowd, and Lyon is the club home of many of the French squad’s top players.
Though the U.S. hasn’t beaten France since the 2016 Olympics, the American squad wasn’t at full strength in two of the three games since then — including the meeting in Le Havre this past January when Ellis started a lot of backups.
I’ll risk the bet that Ellis gets the lineup right this time, even if it ends up being by the theory of a broken clock being right twice a day. I’ll definitely bet that her players carve a mammoth chip on their collective shoulder when the media cast them as the underdog. (Eagles fans Julie Ertz and Carli Lloyd can give the locker room pep talk.)
As good as the Americans are when they’re confident, they’re even more dangerous when they’re angry. If Tobin Heath, Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan and Lindsey Horan play angry against France, they’re likely to be unstoppable.
From there, the U.S. will ride a wave of momentum over England, which is as good as advertised but still can’t stop the Americans in full flight. And the teams know each other from playing annually in the SheBelieves Cup, which benefits a U.S. side that wasn’t at full strength when the teams tied 2-2 this past March.
The final could actually be more dangerous. The Netherlands are the reigning European champions, with a dynamite attacking quartet of Lieke Martens, Daniëlle van de Donk, Shanice van de Sanden and Vivianne Miedema that can match the Americans’ firepower. And the Dutch will be playing with house money if they make the final. Beating Australia and Germany will crown a rise that has happened so fast that the last World Cup four years ago was their first ever.
Let’s not overlook Spain either, by the way. That team is another rising force in European women’s soccer, with the technical ability to keep the ball and pass it around that the country’s men have become famous for. But La Roja lack a quality striker to cap off all those attacks, while the U.S. has a fleet of finishers.
There will be good bounces and bad bounces along the way, perhaps a VAR review or two, and maybe even a yellow card suspension to add more drama. But the reigning champions simply have too much talent. As I’ve written a few times across The Inquirer’s World Cup preview series, the person most likely to screw things up is Ellis, not any of the players. (They rank second, third and so on, but Ellis is first.)