AUCKLAND, New Zealand (AP)The defending champion United States will face the Netherlands in the group stage of the women’s soccer World Cup next summer, setting up an early repeat of the 2019 World Cup final.
The draw was made at a ceremony in Auckland on Saturday.
Four-time champion the United States was drawn in Group E with Vietnam, the Netherlands and a playoff winner still to be determined in a tournament expanded for the first time to 32 teams drawn into eight groups of four.
The U.S. will play all of its group matches in New Zealand in the tournament to be played at 10 stadiums in Australia and New Zealand in July and August 2023. The match against the Netherlands will be at Wellington on July 27. The U.S. beat the Dutch 2-0 in the 2019 final in France.
Second-ranked Sweden is drawn in Group G with South Africa, Italy and Argentina. Third-ranked Germany is in Group H with Morocco, Colombia and South Korea and European champion England in Group D with Denmark, China and a playoff winner.
The three playoff winners will be determined through inter-continental qualifying matches in Auckland in February.
Under the formula of the draw, the six top-ranked teams couldn’t face each other in the group stage. That ensured the U.S. will not face Sweden in the group stage of a major tournament for the first time in 10 years.
The draw was conducted in the same manner as the men’s World Cup: teams were divided into four ”pots” of eight teams based on FIFA world rankings.
The U.S. was placed in Pot 1 among the top-six ranked teams – Sweden, Germany, England, France and Spain – along with hosts Australia and New Zealand who qualified automatically and already had been placed into groups. New Zealand took slot 1 in Group A and Australia slot 1 in Group B.
New Zealand will play 1995 champions Norway in the opening match of the tournament at Auckland on July 20 and Australia opens later that day against first-time qualifiers Ireland.
The U.S. will play Vietnam at Auckland on July 22, then the Netherlands on July 27 and finally the playoff winner also at Auckland on Aug. 1.
Pot 2 comprised Canada, the Netherlands, Brazil, Japan, Norway, Italy, China and South Korea. Pot 3 contained Denmark, Switzerland, Ireland, Colombia, Argentina, Vietnam, Costa Rica and Jamaica.
Pot 4 was made up of Nigeria, the Philippines, South Africa, Morocco, Zambia and the three qualifiers which have still to be determined.
Playoff A will feature Cameroon, Thailand and Portugal, playoff B will involve Senegal, Haiti and Chile and playoff C features Chinese Taipei, Paraguay, Papua New Guinea and Panama. The winners of those playoffs will be placed into the group slots drawn on Saturday.
The rules of the draw allowed two teams from UEFA, the European confederation, to be drawn in the same group but teams from other confederations could not be drawn together.
The draw was conducted in front of an audience of more than 800 including New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Australia sports minister Anika Wells. Two-time World Cup winner Carli Lloyd of the United States, former England striker Ian Wright and Brazil World Cup-winner Gilberto Silva were among stars who assisted in the draw.
The ceremony was rich with the indigenous Maori culture of New Zealand and first nation culture of Australia.
The tournament is being held for the ninth time but for the first time in the southern hemisphere.
Former U.S. defender Alexi Lalas said he ”smelled a three-peat” for the Americans, who have won the last two World Cups and will make history if it can win three in a row.
”This World Cup is not only going to be the best, it’s going to be the most competitive in our history,” said Jill Ellis, a two-time World Cup-winning coach with the United States.
Lloyd added: ”It’s going to be the biggest and the best.”
Group A: New Zealand, Norway, Philippines, Switzerland.
Group B: Australia, Ireland, Nigeria, Canada.
Group C: Spain, Costa Rica, Zambia, Japan.
Group D: England, Group B playoff winner, Denmark, China.
Group E: United States, Vietnam, the Netherlands, Group A playoff winner.
Group F: France, Jamaica, Brazil, Group C playoff winner.
Group G: Sweden, South Africa, Italy, Argentina.
Group H: Germany, Morocco, Colombia, South Korea.
AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/world-cup