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Women’s World Cup Group F preview: Thailand, Chile, Sweden await US in France

The Americans and Swedes are expected to compete for first-place in the group.

Teammates celebrate after United States midfielder Julie Ertz (facing camera) scored a goal during the first half of a CONCACAF women's World Cup qualifying tournament soccer match in Frisco, Texas, Sunday, Oct. 14, 2018. (AP Photo/Andy Jacobsohn)

To win the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup and repeat as champion, the United States women’s national team first must navigate through Group F with Thailand, Chile and Sweden.

The U.S. should be confident in its opening game against Thailand Tuesday, June 11, and again versus tournament debutants Chile Saturday, June 15. A tougher challenge will come Thursday, June 20, against Sweden, which knocked the Americans out of the 2016 Olympic tournament.

The following is a guide to the competition in Group F:

Thailand

FIFA rank: 34

World Cup experience: Thailand is making its second World Cup appearance.

Key Player: Suchawadee Nildhamrong — though at the University of California, Berkeley, she goes by Miranda Nild. A California native, the 22-year-old was the offensive MVP for the Golden Bears and seems to have seamlessly translated her skills to the international game. Nildhamrong made her competitive debut for Thailand in 2017 and has since scored 12 goals in 17 appearances.

Overview: Thailand takes a five-game losing streak to France and its prospects of getting out of the group stage are bleak, even though the tournament allows the top four third-place group finishers to advance into the knockout stage. The realistic hope for Thailand is a victory over Chile in its final group game and to keep its goal differential low by frustrating the U.S. and Sweden attacks. However, the Thai back line hasn’t shown many signs of being resilient. The team is coming off a 6-1 loss to Belgium on June 1 and has allowed at least three goals in each of its last four contests.

Group schedule: June 11 vs. USA (Reims), June 16 vs. Sweden (Nice), June 20 vs. Chile (Rennes).

Chile

FIFA rank: 39

World Cup experience: Chile is playing in its first World Cup.

Key Player: María José Rojas. The 31-year-old striker from Czech side Slavia Praha is the most lethal scorer on Chile’s roster. She enters the tournament with 12 international goals and could be the veteran that puts the Ladies in Red on her back in their World Cup debut.

Overview: Chile has not won a game this calendar year and is likely just happy to be in France for its World Cup debut. The Chileans’ FIFA ranking is fourth lowest in the tournament, and and the team si winless all-time (0-2-0) against the U.S. Chile has never played Thailand or Sweden.

Chile’s most realistic chance of making the knockout rounds also rests in keeping respectable score lines against Sweden and the U.S. and then taking three points against the group’s other weak team, Thailand. The Chileans haven’t been blown out of many games despite their losing record this year. They were competitive in a May 30 friendly loss to Germany, which enters the tournament as a contender, and kept things tight in games against fellow World Cup entrants Italy, Jamaica and Scotland.

Group schedule: June 11 vs. Sweden (Rennes), June 16 vs. USA (Paris), June 20 vs. Thailand (Rennes).

Sweden

FIFA rank: 9

World Cup experience: Sweden has appeared in all eight FIFA Women’s World Cups.

Key Player: Sweden captain Caroline Seger is 34 and likely playing in her last World Cup, but she will be expected to lead her teammates deep into this tournament. Seger has been close to glory with the Blågult before — she’s been either a runner-up or semifinalist in the European Championship, World Cup and Olympics — but has not lifted any major silverware.

Overview: Sweden eliminated the U.S. in the quarterfinals of the 2016 Olympics and will be eager to shock the Americans again. The Swedes are expected to cruise past Thailand and Chile en route to a pivotal final group game against the U.S., though their prospects of doing damage in this tournament are decent regardless of whether they finish first or second Group F. Seger highlights the list of veterans on a team that is well balanced between experience and rising talent. The Swedes boast a decades-old reputation for competing well against all teams, even title contenders.

Group schedule: June 11 vs. Chile (Rennes), June 16 vs. Thailand (Nice), June 20 vs. USA (Le Havre)

Knockout-round paths

Barring a host of major upsets, the U.S. and Sweden will finish Group F in the two top spots. Both nations will likely keep an eye on Group B (Germany, China, Spain, South Africa) and Group E (Canada, Cameroon, New Zealand, Netherlands).

The second-place finisher in Group F plays second place in Group E, which is highly competitive easily qualifies as the tournament’s Group of Death. The first-place finisher in Group F plays the runner-up in Group B.

Thailand and Chile’s chances of getting out of the group are slim. But, if either the Chileans or the Thai make the knockout round as a third-place qualifier, they’ll face the winner of either Group C or Group D – which could be one of England, Japan, Brazil or Australia.

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