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1. United States
The defending champions — and FIFA’s top-ranked team — will look to add an unprecedented fourth world title in France this summer. For all the talk about how other nations have caught up to the U.S., what sets Jill Ellis’ side apart is depth. No other team in the tournament can summon game-changers like explosive youngster Mallory Pugh or 2015 Golden Ball winner Carli Lloyd from the bench.
Tough, technically gifted and almost as athletic as the Americans, the hosts pose the biggest threat to the USA’s hope’s of repeating. Although France lacks experience, it also boasts top 10 talents in the Lyon trio of forward Eugenie Le Sommer, midfielder Amandine Henry and defender Wendie Renard. Les Bleues also trounced the Yanks 3-1 in La Havre in January.
Don’t sleep on the Germans. A fashionable pick to win it all in 2015 before being eliminated by the U.S. in the semifinals four years ago in Canada, Germany — the 2003 and 2007 champion and the only nation besides the U.S. to win multiple titles — will arrive in France with a deep and battle-tested roster and as FIFA’s second-ranked team.
The Lionesses came close to reaching the final four years ago, eventually finishing third in Canada. With stout defenders Lucy Bronze and captain Steph Houghton anchoring a stingy backline, six capable forwards to choose from up front, and a good mix of youth and experience, England, which is managed by former men’s World Cup player Phil Neville, is one of the most balanced teams in the tournament.
Led by all-planet captain Sam Kerr, the wonderfully named Matildas head to France will a real chance to advance past the quarterfinals, where they went out at the last three World Cups, for the first time.
The losing finalist four years ago after winning it all in 2011, Japan hasn’t quite replaced its golden generation. But with tons of technical ability and defensive organization, they’ll be a tough out for any of the more fancied sides in the knockout phase.
Somehow, the 2017 European champion nearly missed out on this World Cup. They beat Switzerland and Denmark in UEFA’s playoffs to claim the continent’s final berth in the end, and boast two of the game’s most dangerous attackers in Barcelona forward Lieke Martens and in-form Arsenal striker Vivianne Miedema.
The Canucks may have disappointed on home soil in 2015, getting bounced by England in the quarters, but they did take home the bronze medal in each of the last two Olympic tourneys. They’ll be hoping to replicate that success this summer through Christine Sinclair’s goals; with 181 career strikes, the veteran forward is just three shy of American legend Abby Wambach’s all-time international record.
The Swedes shocked the United States at the 2016 Rio games, and will have a chance to do it again as the teams square off to close out the group stage. This is a rebuilding squad, though. Peter Gerhardsson replaced Pia Sundhage as manager in 2017, and all-time top scorer Lotta Schelin retired last year.
Talented enough to win it all, Brazil steamrolled the competition at last year’s Copa America Femenina, which serves as South America’s World Cup qualifying tournament, outscoring foes 31-2 along the way. Legendary striker Marta, playing in her fifth and likely final World Cup, will look to add to her record 15 goals in France.
A dispute with the Norwegian federation will keep FIFA’s reigning World Player of the Year, Ada Hegerberg, out of France 2019. That’s a shame for fans and her national team alike, as Norway, the World Cup winner in 1995, isn’t a top 10 team without the deadly 23-year-old finisher on the field.
Regarded as one of the world’s up-and-coming nations, the slick-passing Spanish won all eight of their 2019 qualifiers. La Roja will look to build on their first tournament appearance in 2015, when they failed to emerge from the group stage.
The former power has fallen on hard times since outplaying the U.S. in the 1999 final only to succumb on penalties against the host nation. They were unlucky to draw the Americans in the quarterfinals four years ago, narrowly losing again.
14. New Zealand
Despite participating in the inaugural Women’s World Cup in 1991 and at three subsequent tourneys, New Zealand has never made it out of the first round. Led by Los Angeles native Ali Riley and former U.S. coach Tom Sermanni, they’ll look to break that streak next month.
Despite participating in all seven previous Women’s World Cups, Nigeria has reached the knockout stage just once. With little firepower up front, it’s hard to see them doing much better in France.
The never-say-die Scots reached their first Women’s World Cup (and first for either gender since 1998) with comebacks in four of their seven qualifying wins. If former NWSL MVP Kim Little and Co. upset rival England in the opener, Scotland’s summer can be considered successful.
FIFA’s No. 15 team probably isn’t that strong. The Azzurri lost to Belgium in their final qualifier, and although the match was meaningless at that point, that’s the same Belgian squad a U.S. B-team routed 6-0 in a friendly in April.
That South America’s second-place team is ranked 39th by FIFA shows how far that futbol-crazy continent has to go when it comes to the women’s game. That’s not a knock on Chile, which earned its first World Cup berth with a 4-0 thrashing of Argentina backstopped by elite goalkeeper Christiane Endler.
In their third Women’s World Cup trip, the Argentines will be looking to emerge from group play for the first time. That won’t be easy given La Albiceleste shares Group D with Japan, England and Scotland.
Africa’s third-place side returns after reaching the quarterfinals (where it lost to China) in its debut four years ago. That experience should help this summer.
21. South Africa
Long filled with potential, South Africa will finally take part in its first Women’s World Cup after finishing second behind Nigeria in CAF qualifying.
The Reggae Girlz debut as the lowest-ranked team in the 24-nation field and they face daunting first round matches vs. Brazil and Australia. But they have a budding star in 17-year-old forward Jody Brown.
23. South Korea
The Taegeuk Ladies are back for their second consecutive tournament and are ranked 14th by FIFA. On the other hand, they could only manage a fifth-place finish in Asian qualifying behind China, Thailand, Australia and Japan.
Thailand is back in the fold after reaching its first World Cup, men’s or women’s, four years ago. But they’re probably the weakest team in the field, with the U.S., Sweden and Chile to face in the first round, it’s impossible to see them advancing this time around, either.
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