U.S. gets a tough draw in women's World Cup

U.S. gets a tough draw in women's World Cup
U.S. midfielder Tobin Heath, left, heads the ball next to Mexico's Liliana Mercado during the women's CONCACAF semifinals in Chester, Pa., on Oct. 24. (Steven M. Falk / MCT)

If the U.S. women's team is intimidated by the difficult World Cup draw it got Saturday, it's doing a good job of keeping that a secret.

"Bring it on," forward Sydney Leroux tweeted moments after the Americans were placed in Group D alongside Sweden, Australia and Nigeria for next summer's tournament in Canada.

With the U.S. ranked first in the world ahead of No. 5 Sweden and No. 10 Australia, Group D is the only one of the tournament's six four-team groups to feature three top-10 teams.

"Certainly we're in the toughest group," U.S. Coach Jill Ellis said. "It's going to be a physically challenging group. They all present slightly different challenges.


"Having tougher games … will prepare us for the knockout stages."

The World Cup kicks off June 6 with Canada taking on China in Edmonton and will conclude July 5 in Vancouver. The Americans will play their first two games in Winnipeg, opening against Australia on June 8 before meeting Sweden four days later. The U.S. will close group play June 16 against Nigeria in Vancouver.

"I think it is motivating," Ellis said of the tough draw. "We've got to hit the ground running. There's not any slow introduction to this World Cup. So I think that [the players] will be fired up. I think they will be excited."

The World Cup field expanded from 16 to 24 teams for the 2015 tournament, so each country will play three games in group play with the top two teams from each group and the four best third-place teams advancing to the single-elimination knockout stages.

"To win this thing, you're going to have to play good teams," Ellis said. "Psychologically you want to finish top in your group so that you feel good going into the knockout stages."

The US. has won two World Cup titles and is the only country to have reached the semifinals in all six tournaments, going 27-4-5 overall. The Americans' only loss in group play came against Sweden in 2011, when the U.S. was coached by Pia Sundhage.

But Sundhage, who led the Americans to two Olympic titles and a second-place finish in the last World Cup, returned to her native Sweden two years ago to coach the national team there. That sets up an interesting reunion in group play next summer when Sundhage and the U.S. meet again — a matchup Ellis said her predecessor greeted with a "colorful" Swedish expression.

"Pia and I kind of had a laugh," Ellis said. "We both recognize and acknowledge it's going to be tough. It's a challenge."

Group A: Canada, China, New Zealand, Netherlands

Group B: Germany, Ivory Coast, Norway, Thailand

Group C: Japan, Switzerland, Cameroon, Ecuador

Group D: U.S., Australia, Sweden, Nigeria

Group E: Brazil, South Korea, Spain, Costa Rica

Group F: France, England, Colombia, Mexico