While walking down the red carpet at La Seine Musicale in Paris prior to the Women’s World Cup draw Saturday, a television crew asked U.S. national coach Jill Ellis about the possibility of her team playing Sweden.
“Oh, we will,” she replied.
A couple of hours later, the Americans discovered they will play their long-time rival and sometimes nemesis in France in June.
“At last, I am prophetic about something,” Ellis quipped.
For the fifth consecutive major women’s tournament, the Americans and Swedes were together in the same group.
Sweden played the USA to a scoreless draw at the 2015 World Cup in Canada and eliminated the Americans in the quarterfinals at the 2016 Olympics in Brazil, the first time they failed to reach the semifinals of a FIFA tournament.
Still, the Americans like their chances in France where Long Islander Crystal Dunn will likely be part of the team.
“Pretty confident, I must say,” said Carli Lloyd, who was called on to bring out the WWC trophy during the draw ceremoines. “This squad is as talented as can be, we’ve got the depth and a great coaching staff in place.”
Added defender Kelley O’Hara: “I would never put ‘favorites’ on us, but we do hold ourselves in a very high standard and expectation. Yeah, we want to win. Who doesn’t want to win the World Cup? Being the defending champions, I absolutely want to go back to back.”
With their sights set on becoming only the second team to defend a Women’s World Cup crown, the U.S. could not have asked for an easier group stage at France 2019.
The three-time champions kick off the month-long competition against No. 29 Thailand in Reims on June 11, followed by No. 38 Chile in Paris on June 16 before finishing the group against the No. 9 Swedes in Le Havre on June 20.
If the USA wins its group, it would play the Group B second-place finisher — most likely Germany, China or Spain — in Reims on June 24.
The goal is the final in Lyon on July 7.
“There’s no easy path,” Ellis said.
“I feel good about the order of the games, feel good about the logistics of the group in terms of where we are and travel in between, and the fact we start later in the tournament [day five],” she said. “All of those things are positive.
“The masterstroke here is we have got to execute.”
The Germans won back-to-back titles in 2003 and 2007.
While the USA should have an easy time in the group stage, goalkeeper Nicole McClure and her Jamaica teammates will face some stiff challenges in Group C. McClure, a Jamaica, Queens native who played for the East Meadow Shooting Stars (Long Island Junior Soccer League) and Reggae Girlz will face off against Brazil in Grenoble on June 9, Italy in Reims on June 14 and Australia in Grenoble on June 18.
“My initial reaction is bring it on!” she said. “We’re in a really, really tough group. Brazil and Australia are two of the powerhouses of women’s football so it’s going to be a challenge. I know Italy is good, too. I’m not sleeping on them at all. I’m super excited. Bring it on!”