By Christian Radnedge
PARIS (Reuters) – The United States will be favourites to lift a record fourth Women’s World Cup following the draw for next year’s tournament on Saturday, while hosts France play the opening match against South Korea in Paris on June 7.
Jill Ellis’ U.S. side, who beat Japan 5-2 in the final to win the World Cup in Canada three years ago, were drawn with Thailand, debutants Chile and 2016 Olympic silver medallists Sweden in Group F.
France, who have never gone past the semi-finals, will also face 1995 champions Norway and Nigeria in Group A of the eighth edition of the tournament.
Having recorded their best World Cup finish of third in 2015, Phil Neville’s England may find it challenging to repeat that feat after being drawn with Scotland, Argentina and Japan, who knocked the Lionesses out at the semi-final stage in Canada, in Group D.
That looks the toughest group, bringing a wry smile from draw conductor and former England defender Alex Scott alongside former Manchester United and France striker Louis Saha in Paris’ Seine Musical venue.
“I know Phil Neville is here tonight and I’m sure he’ll be telling his players ‘bronze medal is good, but it’s about turning that bronze medal into a gold one’. You want to make sure you’re on the podium,” Scott told the packed auditorium including coaches and players from all 24 participating nations.
Germany, the only country besides Norway, the U.S. and Japan to win the World Cup, face a resurgent China in their Group B opener before taking on Spain and South Africa.
Group C sees Australia face Brazil, once again spearheaded by former player of the year Marta, along with Italy and tournament debutants Jamaica.
European champions the Netherlands may have high hopes of reaching the latter stages from Group E but will have to get the better of Canada, Cameroon and New Zealand.
Fifty-two matches will be played across nine stadiums in France, the first time the country has hosted the tournament, from June 7 to July 7 with the final set to take place in the Stade de Lyon.
FIFA said almost 200,000 tickets have been sold for the event. World football’s ruling body is aiming to have a record one billion viewers for next year’s tournament.
(Reporting by Christian Radnedge, editing by Ed Osmond)