As the U.S. women’s national team prepares for the 2023 World Cup, Just Women’s Sports is taking a look at its opponents — including its three group-stage adversaries and its likely matchups in the knockout rounds.

Next up is a team the U.S. is on a crash course to facing in the Round of 16: Italy.

Manager: Milena Bertolini

Milena Bertolini, 57, has helmed the Italian squad since 2017, helping the team to its third World Cup in 2019 and its first in 20 years. An accomplished player, Bertolini was inducted into the Italian Football Hall of Fame in 2018.

Key Player: Cristiana Girelli

Cristiana Girelli is one to watch. A striker for Juventus, the 33-year-old is one of the few high-powered goal scorers on the Italian squad. Back in February, she became the first Juventus player to reach 100 goals for the club.

“Besides (being) a technical player on the pitch, in my opinion when you see that you have a striker like her, you feel more at ease playing,” Juventus and Italy teammate Barbara Bonansea said of Girelli. “She makes all her teammates more at ease.”

Notably, longtime captain Sara Gama was left off the squad after leading Italy to the World Cup quarterfinals in 2019. The roster does, however, feature 16-year-old midfielder Giulia Dragoni, who plays professionally for FC Barcelona.

World Cup history

The Italian squad will be making its fourth World Cup appearance, having last gone in 2019 – its first appearance in 20 years at the tournament. They made the quarterfinals in 2019, tying their best-career finish from 1991.

Group stage schedule

Italy will play in Group G alongside Sweden, South Africa and Argentina. Take a look at the schedule below, or check out the full World Cup schedule.

  • Monday, July 24 – 2 a.m. (FS1)
    • Italy vs. Argentina
  • Saturday, July 29 – 3:30 a.m. (FS1)
    • Italy vs. Sweden
  • Wednesday, Aug. 2 – 3 a.m. (FS1)
    • Italy vs. South Africa

Sweden is the highest ranked team in the group (No. 3 in the FIFA world ranking), followed by Italy (No. 16). If the rankings hold true in the group stage, Italy would advance as the runner-up from Group G and would be in line to play the Group E winner — likely the No. 1 USWNT — in the round of 16 to start the knockout stage.

Keys to beat the USWNT

Italy went winless at last year’s Euros, with one draw and two losses. The squad scored just two goals, drawing 1-1 with Iceland but losing 5-1 against France and 1-0 against Belgium. But Italy played much better in World Cup qualifying matches, winning nine matches and losing just one to clinch a berth in the tournament.

In April, the Italians beat Colombia 2-1 before drawing 0-0 with Morocco in a pair of friendlies. In order to make it out of their group, they’ll need to find some consistent goal-scoring, especially against a high-powered team like Sweden. (Italy played Sweden to a 1-1 draw last February before losing in penalties.)

If Italy manages to advance out of the group, it will need to find a second gear against its likely opponent in the USWNT. Even a stout defense could be hard-pressed to stop the explosive potential of the USWNT’s front line, which features Trinity Rodman, Sophia Smith, Alex Morgan and more. And the USWNT has shown it can wear down a defense over the course of a game. Italy will need to maintain its composure for a full 90 and likely will need to get some goals out of its top scorers.