(CBS Local/CBS Denver)- The U.S. Women’s National Team has opened its title defense with a pair of dominating victories over Thailand (13-0) and Chile (3-0), placing themselves squarely at the top of Group F. Their final group stage match is set for Thursday against fellow soccer power Sweden, with the top spot in the group on the line. Winning your group doesn’t necessarily guarantee an “easier” road in the knockout stage, but it does bode well historically. Of the seven Women’s World Cup champions crowned since 1991, six won their group. The only one that didn’t, Japan in 2011, finished second by just a point to England before stunning the U.S. in the final.
The scenarios for the United States heading into Thursday’s action are pretty simple. If they win or draw against the Swedes, they win the group. If they lose to Pia Sundhage’s group, like they did in the knockout stage of the 2016 Olympics, then they’ll finish second. Let’s look at who the knockout stage opponents would be in each scenario.
If USWNT beats/ties Sweden on Thursday
The first-round knockout stage match would come against Spain, the second-place finishers out of Group B, behind Germany. The U.S. and Spain met in January of this year with the U.S. pulling out a 1-0 victory over the Spaniards on a goal from Christen Press in the 54th minute.
In this scenario, if the women were to beat Spain, they would face a quarterfinals matchup featuring the winner of the match between France (top team Group A) and the best third-place team out of Groups C, D, and E. Right now, that would appear to be either Brazil or Australia, who will both play later Tuesday. Australia has the easier matchup of the two, as they face Jamaica, while Brazil faces group leader Italy.
If USWNT loses to Sweden on Thursday
They would face the second-place finishers out of Group E. Currently, the Netherlands and Canada are tied with six points apiece in the group, and they face each other Thursday in the match prior to the U.S. vs. Sweden. The Netherlands is ahead at the moment, because they have scored more goals (4) than the Canadians have (3) in their two wins. The U.S. hasn’t faced either of these teams in the last two years, with their most recent matchup coming against Canada in 2017 (3-1 W) and the Netherlands in 2016 (3-1 W).
If the U.S. were to win that opening-round matchup, they would advance to a quarterfinals match against the winner of Germany (top spot Group B) and the best third-place team out of Groups A, B, and F.
The USWNT battles Sweden on Thursday, June 20th at 3 p.m. Eastern Time on Fox.