Megan Rapinoe and the USWNT will go for a three-peat at the World Cup in 2023. (Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup is less than a year away, with the countdown to Australia and New Zealand officially on.

The U.S. women’s national team will look to defend its 2015 and 2019 titles — and the squad has a lot to prove after a disappointing bronze-medal performance in Tokyo.

The women’s game, however, has changed rapidly since 2019’s World Cup in France, and plenty of challengers will look to derail the USWNT’s bid for a three-peat.

Biggest threats to USWNT’s World Cup defense

England

Fresh off a thrilling victory at the UEFA Women’s EURO, England looks more dominant than ever. The Lionesses took out Spain, Sweden and Germany on their road to the title, a promising sign for the team’s World Cup hopes.

The England squad of 2023 will look much different than the one that fell to the USWNT in the 2019 World Cup semifinal.

First and foremost, the Lionesses have a new coach in Sarina Wiegman, who led the Netherlands to a World Cup final against the USWNT in 2019. Under Wiegman, England looks much more organized, with a well-oiled attack.

The Lionesses, much like the USWNT, have ushered in a new era, with Alessia Russo and Beth Mead stepping up as veterans Ellen White and Jill Scott announce their retirements.

England is a much-improved team since its 2-0 loss to the United States at the 2020 SheBelieves Cup, and the team will be eager to show off its current form when the two squads clash in October in a friendly at Wembley Stadium.

Germany

Never count out Germany.

While the Germans fell to England in the Euro final and were stunned by Sweden in the quarterfinals of the 2019 World Cup, the European powerhouse is still a favorite heading into Australia and New Zealand next July.

With more youth being integrated into the team’s roster, the German team looks sharper this World Cup cycle. The mix of young talent with proven veterans like Alexandra Popp has created a squad with the experience and drive necessary for a World Cup run.

France

France will be a force to be reckoned with at the upcoming World Cup, especially if Marie-Antoinette Katoto is fully recovered in time for the tournament.

The star striker had an impressive 2022 as the anchor to Les Bleus’ attack before suffering an ACL tear during France’s Euro campaign,. For club Paris Saint-Germain, Katoto registered 18 goals in 21 regular-season appearances during her 2021-2022 Division 1 Féminine run.

France will hope Katoto returns to form in time for Australia and New Zealand, which would allow her to join the likes of Delphine Cascarino, Kadidiatou Diani and Grace Geyoro on a young and eager roster.

Les Bleus will also enjoy a more relaxed environment in 2023, away from the limelight and pressure of playing hosts in 2019.

Spain

Spain has been a thorn in the side of the USWNT in recent years, with the United States battling to a narrow 2-1 win in the 2019 World Cup and a 1-0 victory in January 2019.

Since their last meeting, Alexia Putellas has emerged as one of, if not the best, players in the world for Spain. Should she be able to fully recover from her ACL tear in time for the 2023 World Cup, Spain could spell trouble for the USWNT.

Spain likes to dominate possession, a style of play that the USWNT has traditionally struggled against. The USWNT wants to dictate tempo, but against Spain, the United States will have to be comfortable playing without the ball for prolonged periods.

Should Spain’s Putellas and Jenni Hermoso return from injury, Spain will be in an excellent position to challenge the USWNT down under.

Honorable mention: Brazil

Though Brazil has suffered losses to France, Denmark and Sweden in 2022, the Pia Sundhage-led squad may come up big in Australia and New Zealand. Sundhagen has Brazil playing a disciplined game, grounding a capable attack propelled by Debinha and Kerolin.