PARIS: World champions the United States remain favourites to win a record fourth Women’s World Cup after the draw for next year’s finals in France.
Jill Ellis’s holders, who beat Japan 5-2 in the final in Canada three years ago, were drawn with Thailand, debutants Chile and 2016 Olympic silver medallists Sweden in Group F.
The US and Swedes have had tight battles over the years, more recently in the 2016 Olympics when the Europeans knocked out the Americans in the quarter-finals before going on to win silver.
This time their meeting will be in the last group match in Le Havre on June 20 when both may already have secured their passage to the round of 16.
Ellis said: “The draw is good for us, it pits us against a couple of teams that we’re not that familiar with which I like. And then of course Sweden and I like having Sweden as the third game, I think that allows us to settle in to the tournament.
“This is a completely different team playing a completely different style. So it’s not about defending the World Cup, it’s about attacking the World Cup.”
Hosts France play the opening match against South Korea in Paris on June 7. Les Bleuettes have never gone beyond the World Cup semi-finals, will also face 1995 champions Norway and Nigeria in Group A.
They were picked out in the draw at the in Paris’ Seine Musicale by the country’s World Cup-winning coach Didier Deschamps.
England, a finishing a best-yet third in 2015, face an opening Group D game against neighbours Scotland in Nice.
Phil Neville’s team will also face Argentina and Japan, who knocked the Lionesses out at the semi-final stage in Canada, in a tough pool.
Germany, the only country besides Norway, the US and Japan to have won a 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 will have to get the better of Canada, Cameroon and New Zealand in Group E.
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 in the 59,186-capacity 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.