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What is at stake for USWNT heading to final group match vs. Sweden



LE HAVRE, France – United States coach Jill Ellis and her players have heard variations of the same question again and again over the past few weeks. Asked with varying degrees of diplomatic wording, the queries all revolved around a central tenet: Would not it be better in the long run if the U.S.

Ellis offered what has become a consistent refrain

"I struggle to tell my team not to tackle each other in training the day before [games]"Ellis said.

Winger Crystal Dunn was even more direct

"We want to freaking play France," Dunn said Tuesday. "Fingers crossed, obviously, but at the end of the day, it's mind-boggling that people would think we would actually want to lose a game going into the knockout rounds."

Projecting possible paths through the knockout rounds is a time-honored tradition during any World Cup, but it's especially tempting now for US fans because it is not clear that winning Group F comes with a lot of a reward.

We know the US (1

9659011) First Scenario: United States Wins Group F
First Scenario: United States Wins Group F
First Scenario: United States Wins Group F
] Franck Fife / AFP / Getty Images

How this happens: The US needs a win or a draw against Sweden. All those goals in the Americans' 13-0 opening game against Thailand make the goal-differential tiebreaker almost a moot point, so even if the teams draw and each finish with seven points, the first place goes to the US

What's next next: We know the US would play Spain in the first round of the tournament's knockout phase in this scenario. That game will take place in Reims, where the US (1965) The Spaniards have so far demonstrated that they are still a consistent finisher – they have secured their first game and have enjoyed considerable fan support (the city is less than an hour by train from Paris, making it easily accessible for Americans abroad) and second-place finish behind Germany only on goal difference after a 0-0 draw with China. But Spain tested the U.S. before losing at home in a pre-World Cup match in January. This would be a more difficult game for the US compared to its 2015 round of 16 matchup against Colombia.

Wins by USWNT and Group A winners France would lead to a quarterfinal clash in Paris, leading some to wonder if the US Would you like to choose what's behind the next door. But that's now a legitimate "if," because French will almost certainly have a more difficult game in the round of 16 than anybody envisioned, courtesy of Brazil finishing third in Group C. While these teams will probably meet.

Beyond that, there are almost too many possible permutations to ponder. But the big takeaways are Australia and England would be potential semifinal opponents for the US, if the English win or draw their final group game against Japan

Second scenario: United States finishes second in Group F

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Crystal Dunn insisted USWNT wants to beat Sweden and finish top, and carry its momentum when Americans face the best teams in the world

How this happens: The US loses to Sweden. The Americans are the favorites, but the upset has happened before in a major tournament. Japan beat the U.S. in the 2011 World Cup, and Sweden eliminated the US in the quarterfinals of the 2016 Rio Olympics via a shootout. Overall, the U.S. is a modest 5-3-6 against Sweden over the past decade.

What happens next: In the fourth quarter of the year, would get a place in the marquee round of 16 games against the runner-up of Group E – either Canada or the Netherlands, the teams currently tied atop the group. (19659005) This game will be in Paris, continuing the Americans' minimal travel burden this will be a draw when the teams play Thursday. tournament.

The primary allure of this scenario is a more manageable quarterfinal. But more manageable does not mean easy. The probable match for that June 29 game in Rennes would be against Germany, which won Group B and will be a heavy favorite against one of three third-place teams in the round of 16, probably Argentina, Nigeria or Scotland. Compare that to four years ago, when the US played China in the quarterfinals, and it's clear this route is hardly a dream draw, either.

The most likely semifinal opponent here would be whichever team in the U.S. did not make it in the round of 16 (Canada or the Netherlands). It's also possible England could drop into this half of the bracket if it loses its group finale against Japan

And, under this scenario,


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