It’s that time of year again. World Cup draw time. The 2019 women’s World Cup is seven months away. But on Saturday in Paris, glitzy outfits and ball-shaped capsules will set the stage. And unlike a similar event last December, U.S. national team fans will actually have a rooting interest.
Of course, the top-ranked U.S. women have little to fear. On the men’s side, four of the last five defending champs have crashed out at the group stage. On the women’s side, not a single one ever has. The reigning queens of international soccer will almost surely progress to the knockout stage, no matter what obstacles Saturday’s draw places before them.
That, however, does not mean Saturday is meaningless. Because there’s more to a World Cup draw than four-team pairings. The U.S. could be handed a significant competitive advantage or disadvantage before it even learns its first group foe.
We’ll explain all that and more in a bit. But first, the basics:
How to watch the 2019 women’s World Cup draw
Date: Saturday, Dec. 8
Time: Noon ET (6 p.m. local time)
Location: La Seine Musicale in Paris – Boulogne-Billancourt, to be exact
TV: Fox Sports 2, Telemundo/Universo
Live online/mobile streaming: FIFATV on YouTube, Fox Sports Go, Telemundo Deportes En Vivo
One additional note: If you don’t get Fox Sports 2, but do get Fox Sports 1, and want to watch in English, you’ll be able to online via your cable subscription at Fox Sports Go.
2019 women’s World Cup draw seeding, pots
The pots for the 2019 women’s World Cup draw were confirmed Friday with the release of the December FIFA rankings:
Pot 1: France, United States, Germany, England, Canada, Australia
Pot 2: Japan, Brazil, Netherlands, Sweden, Spain, Norway
Pot 3: South Korea, China, Italy, Scotland, New Zealand, Thailand
Pot 4: Argentina, Nigeria, Chile, Jamaica, Cameroon, South Africa
How the draw works
The procedure is almost identical to the one used at last year’s men’s draw – explained in detail here. Pot 1 is emptied first, with France automatically in slot A1, the second top seed drawn going to B1, the third to C1, and so on. Pot 2 follows, with the first team drawn going to Group A, and a second ball drawn from a second set of pots to place that team in either A2, A3 or A4. When Pot 2 is emptied, on to Pot 3, and then Pot 4.
The position within the group – 1, 2, 3 or 4 – determines the schedule and order of opponents. There are also geographical restrictions to contend with. No two teams from the same confederation can be placed in a group together, with the exception of Europe, which can go two-to-a-group. In fact, each group must include at least one of the nine European participants.
To ensure those conditions are met, occasionally a pot will be emptied out of order. If, for example, Japan has joined France in Group A, and the first team out of Pot 3 is South Korea, the Koreans will go to Group B – as long as Australia isn’t already there, in which case they’d jump to Group C. FIFA’s computer scientists will make sure there are no geographical conflicts.
The USWNT’s dream scenario – why Group B or D is ideal
World Cup draws not only determine group foes, but also potential knockout round matchups. And in a top-heavy tournament whose knockout round will accept four third-place applicants, knockout round alignment matters. A lot.
That’s the key for the U.S. Sure, a forgiving group – Spain or Norway from Pot 2, Thailand from Pot 3 – might be nice. But you could just as easily argue Jill Ellis’ team would benefit from a stern test or two and a stylistically diverse threesome. Instead, USWNT fans should look ahead to knockout round paths.
With 16 of 24 nations advancing to the Round of 16, four group winners will get third-place opponents to open the knockout round. Two of them – the Group B and D toppers – will get group runners-up in the quarters, and therefore won’t see a fellow group winner until the semifinals at the earliest.
In other words, with the assumption the U.S. will top its group, B or D is ideal. Here’s a look at the various semifinal pathways:
Group A winner gets a third place team in the Round of 16, 1F or 2B in the quarters
Group B winner gets a third place team in the Round of 16, 2F or 2E in the quarters
Group C winner gets a third place team in the Round of 16, 1E or 2D in the quarters
Group D winner gets a third place team in the Round of 16, 2A or 2C in the quarters
Group E winner gets 2D in the Round of 16, likely 1C in the quarters
Group F winner gets 2B in the Round of 16, likely 1B in the quarters
Groups E and F present the other end of the difficulty spectrum. Group C is neither here nor there. (France is automatically the top seed in Group A.)
The difference between Group D and Group E, therefore, could be the difference between a third place/runner-up semifinal route and a runner-up/group winner one. It could be the difference between getting Thailand in the Round of 16, then Norway in the quarters, and having to go through the Netherlands and Germany to get to that same stage.
With all that in mind, here’s our best-case scenario for the U.S.:
Group A: France, Spain, South Korea, Jamaica
Group B: Canada, Japan, Scotland, Argentina
Group C: Australia, Norway, Italy, Nigeria
Group D: United States, Sweden, New Zealand, Chile
Group E: Germany, Netherlands, China, Cameroon
Group F: England, Brazil, Thailand, South Africa
The same line of thinking informs our worst-case scenario as well …
What’s the nightmare scenario for the U.S.?
The toughest possible group would probably feature the Netherlands or Sweden, Scotland or South Korea, and Nigeria. But again, let’s consider knockout round routes. Here’s one simulation that could get the U.S. that aforementioned Netherlands-Germany minefield:
Group A: France, Spain, Thailand, Argentina
Group B: Canada, Japan, Italy, Cameroon
Group C: Germany, Brazil, China, Jamaica
Group D: England, Netherlands, South Korea, South Africa
Group E: United States, Sweden, Scotland, Nigeria
Group F: Australia, Norway, New Zealand, Chile
An earlier version of this article discussed an apparent knockout-round imbalance, with two group winners slated for one side of the bracket and four group winners on the other. That’s because FIFA, until Friday afternoon – 20 hours before the draw – had goofed.
On Friday, FIFA responded to a question from Yahoo Sports by correcting what it called an “administrative error (misprint).”
OK, a (pretty absurd) update from FIFA: They messed up. The original schedule (https://t.co/uViq5EEuOu) was incorrect. They didn’t realize until I asked them about the imbalance.
So the answer is that there’s no imbalance. Updated schedule: https://t.co/uAc3C2ITbR
— Henry Bushnell (@HenryBushnell) December 7, 2018
We’ll also find out where the U.S. will play
The draw is also worth a watch for any fans planning trips to France. Eight cities will host group games, with the semifinals and final in Lyon. Here are the top-seed assignments, in chronological order by game:
Group B: Rennes, Valenciennes, Montpellier
Group C: Valenciennes, Montpellier, Grenoble
Group D: Nice, Le Havre, Nice
Group E: Montpellier, Grenoble, Reims
Group F: Reims, Paris, Le Havre
Find a list of top French vacation cities to inform your rooting interests.
As @thegoalkeeper just pointed out to me, this means the U.S. either…
A) goes to Group F and most likely gets France in the quarters(!), or
B) Doesn’t play in Paris at all
— Henry Bushnell (@HenryBushnell) December 7, 2018
The full, corrected match schedule can be found here. Come Saturday evening, country names will replace numbers and letters, and seven months of buildup will begin.
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