It was fitting that Didier Deschamps drew the first lottery ball for the 2019 Women’s World Cup, which placed France in Group A. He’s lifted the FIFA World Cup trophy for France on two occasions, as team captain in 1998 and as team manager of France’s men’s team in 2018. But what first felt poetic felt anything but by the time the rest of Group A had been fleshed out: He couldn’t have known it ahead of time, but Deschamps had doomed his beloved French to the dreaded group of death.
Joining the French in Group A are Norway and South Korea — each ranked in the FIFA top 15 — and Nigeria, three-time defending champion of the Africa Women Cup of Nations. According to our Soccer Power Index (SPI), the French are the second best team in the world at the moment,1 ranked behind tournament favorites the United States.
Host nations have never failed to advance to the knockout stages of the Women’s World Cup, and the French roster, led by creative midfielder Eugenie Le Sommer, will be full of class. The French will almost certainly make it out of the group stage and challenge for the hardware next summer. Our projections give them a 94.9 percent chance of advancing past the group stage, which is the second lowest number of any top team in a group. (Only Canada at 91.2 percent is lower.) Ballon d’Or winner Ada Hegerberg’s absence from the Norwegian team will make it less a threat to France’s chances of finishing at the top of the group — but playing in the group of death will ensure France’s path isn’t an easy one.
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Despite underperforming at the youth level, the U.S. still boasts the best senior-level women’s soccer team on the planet.2 The Americans have won the most World Cups (three), and they’ve played in the past two finals, but they’ve never repeated as champions.3 That could change this year, as they’ve been drawn into Group F with Sweden, Thailand and Chile. According to our SPI, it’s the second-easiest of the six groups. At 99.8 percent, the Americans have the highest chance of advancing to the Round of 16 of any of the 24 teams in the tournament.
The Swedes are always strong at the World Cup — they’ve finished in third place twice and were runners-up in 2003 — but the same cannot be said for the other two teams: Thailand didn’t advance out of the group stage in its first World Cup appearance at Canada 2015, and Chile is making its first ever World Cup appearance. If U.S. stars like captain Carli Lloyd, Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe bring their goal-scoring boots to France next summer, fledgling teams like Thailand and Chile will be in a world of trouble.
The weakest group in terms of average SPI is Group D, which contains England, Japan, Scotland and Argentina. England and Japan are two of the best teams in the tournament,4 but Scotland and Argentina5 are two of the weakest. SPI has them ranked as the third-worst and worst teams in the tournament, respectively.
That said, Group D still promises to be interesting: England will get the chance to avenge its semifinal loss to Japan at Canada 2015, and Scotland will get the chance to spoil the plans of its neighbors to the south. If the feelings of the England squad reflect those of its star winger Karen Carney, they won’t be looking forward to playing their rivals.
“I wouldn’t want them,” Carney told BBC Radio 5. “It’s good to have the rivalry, but you want to win the group. They’d have a lot of fans coming over, and the rivalry can be a leveler.”
The Scots better hope that’s true — the last time they played England in a major tournament, they lost 6-0. But even if they do get shellacked again, Scottish women will be able to say something Scottish men haven’t been able to say for two decades: They played at the World Cup.