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USWNT road to World Cup title: Projected bracket for knockout stage

Sophia Smith is looking to lead the USWNT to a third consecutive World Cup title. (Lynne Cameron/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

The 2023 World Cup is just getting started, but it’s never too early to look at the possible path to the title for the U.S. women’s national team.

What opponents could the USWNT face on its route to a third consecutive World Cup championship? Just Women’s Sports used the FIFA world rankings to pick projected winners for each group and then for each match in the knockout stage, all the way through to the World Cup final on Aug. 20.

Check out the projected bracket and the USWNT’s projected opponents.

Round of 16: Italy

As the No. 1 team in the FIFA rankings, the USWNT would be expected to advance as the top team out of Group E. After starting the tournament with a 3-0 win against Vietnam, the U.S. still has to face the Netherlands and Portugal to close out the group stage.

The winner from Group E will face the runner-up from Group G in the first round of the knockout stage. Based on FIFA rankings, No. 16 Italy would be expected to finish second to No. 3 Sweden in Group G. Striker Cristiana Girelli could be dangerous for Italy, but the multifaceted USWNT would be a tough draw.

Quarterfinals: Japan

Japan sits at No. 11 in the FIFA world rankings, which puts them as the projected runner-up out of Group C behind Spain. But after a 5-0 win in their World Cup opener, the 2011 World Cup champions are ahead of every team in chaotic Group A, which could open a path to the quarterfinals.

Japan and the USWNT have recent World cup history, facing off in back-to-back championship matches in 2011 and 2015. But this year’s younger Japan squad is relatively unknown to the USWNT — and the same could be said in reverse, as the USWNT features 14 World Cup debutantes itself. Japan does have urgency on its side, as the players want to provide a clear path forward for women’s soccer in their country.

Semifinals: Sweden

Sweden gave the USWNT its toughest match in the group stage at the 2019 World Cup, then reached the tournament semifinals before falling to runner-up Netherlands. The squad also has had good Olympic luck against the USWNT, winning 3-0 in the group stage in 2021 and winning 4-3 on penalties in the semifinals in 2016.

Barcelona star Fridolina Rolfö headlines a group of world-class players for Sweden, which also features Sofia Jakobsson, Anna Sandberg, Stina Blackstenius and Kosovare Asllani. Sweden has all the tools to beat the USWNT — it’s just a question of whether the team can put all the pieces together.

Final: England or Germany

England and Germany met in the 2022 Euros final. The teams could be headed for a rematch at the 2023 World Cup, and the projected quarterfinal clash between the heavyweights would hold the import of a tournament final. Certainly, the winner of a match between world No. 4 England and No. 2 Germany would emerge as the favorite to reach the championship from that half of the bracket.

Both teams bested the USWNT in friendlies last fall. England scored a 2-1 against the USWNT at London’s Wembley Stadium in October, and then Germany and the USWNT split a pair of friendlies stateside in November. Germany had the more impressive start to the World Cup, but the Sarina Wiegman-led Lionesses are just as formidable.