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U.S. women favored to end their 16-year World Cup drought

The United States' Morgan Brian, center, is congratulated

The United States' Morgan Brian, center, is congratulated by teammates Ali Krieger, left, and Tobin Heath, after scoring during the second half of an exhibition soccer match against New Zealand in St. Louis on April 4, 2015. Credit: AP / Jeff Roberson

The 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup starts Saturday in Canada, but the country clearly under the microscope will be the United States.

The U.S. is considered one of the heavy favorites. The Americans lost in the 2011 final to Japan on penalty kicks. In fact, the U.S. hasn't won the Cup title since 1999 in the famous final against China with over 90,000 fans watching in the Rose Bowl. Brandi Chastain converted the United States' fifth penalty kick, immediately took off her jersey and waved it above her head in celebration.

Remember that? It's been that long.

The U.S., currently second in the world rankings, is a heavy favorite to win the title in Canada and it will open against Australia on Monday in Winnipeg. It will take a healthy Alex Morgan, focused Hope Solo and determined Abby Wambach.

Morgan, the 25-year-old star forward, has missed the team's last three matches with a bone bruise in her left knee. The U.S. will need Morgan to provide offense. She has 51 goals and 32 assists in 84 international appearances.

The 33-year-old Solo, who is among the best goalkeepers in the world, has had to overcome a 30-day suspension by U.S. Soccer earlier this year related to the DUI arrest of her husband and former NFL player Jerramy Stevens. Domestic violence charges against her were dropped by a judge in January. But Solo is playing well heading into the tournament with five straight shutouts.

Wambach has made 242 international appearances with the U.S. She broke Mia Hamm's international scoring record in 2013 and currently has 182 career international goals. But the one honor that has eluded Wambach has been a World Cup title. Wambach, who recently turned 35, will try for the title in her fourth and final World Cup.

The U.S. will also need significant contributions from midfielder Carli Lloyd and forward Sydney Leroux.

Jill Ellis was named the national team head coach in May 2014 and will lead the U.S. into the World Cup for the first time.

Clearly, the pressure is on the Americans to not only make it to the final in Vancouver on July 5, but to finally end the title drought.


Other contenders

Germany: Germany is currently the top-ranked team in the world. The eight-time European champions will be making their seventh appearance in the World Cup and have won two titles (2003 and 2007). Goalkeeper Nadine Angerer, the reigning FIFA Women's World Player of the Year, anchors the strong German squad.

France: France will be a serious contender. The French finished fourth in the 2011 World Cup, losing to the U.S. in the semifinals. But expectations will be much higher this time. Striker Gaetane Thiney leads France with 14 goals in World Cup qualifying matches.

Japan: The reigning World Cup champions are back to defend the title they won in Germany in 2011 over the U.S. Japan won its first Asian Cup in 2014 to qualify for the World Cup. Star player Homare Sawa is also back and will be making her sixth World Cup appearance. Unlike 2011, Japan will be one of the targeted teams in Canada.

Sweden: Sweden will be making its seventh appearance in the World Cup but has never won the title. Sweden is one of the best defensive teams in the world but struggles scoring goals and will need a big tournament from midfielder Caroline Seger. Sweden is coached by former U.S. national coach Pia Sundhage, who knows the Americans well.


Teams to watch

Brazil: The reigning six-time Copa America champions will be making their seventh appearance in the World Cup. Five-time FIFA Women's World Player of the Year winner Marta and striker Cristiane give Brazil hope of winning its first World Cup title.

Canada: Hopes are high for the host nation after losing a heartbreaker to the U.S. in the 2012 Olympic semifinals and then winning the bronze medal with a win over France. Star forward Christine Sinclair, one of the most prolific goal-scorers in women's soccer history, leads the way.

England: Those representing Saint George, the patron saint of England, will be playing in its fourth World Cup after reaching the quarterfinals in its three previous appearances (1995, 2007 and 2011). England will have to face France in group play. New head coach Mark Sampson, just 32 years old, will be leading England in his first World Cup.


Toughest group

Group D, with the U.S., Australia, Sweden and Nigeria, is widely considered to be the toughest group. The U.S. and Sweden are serious threats to win the title. Nigeria is the best team in Africa and will be making its seventh World Cup appearance. Australia, which opens on Monday against the U.S., lost to Japan in the Asian Cup final and reached the quarterfinals of the 2011 World Cup.


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