The U.S. will once again be facing familiar foes in the 2011 Women's World Cup as the Americans will be joined in Group C by North Korea, Colombia and Sweden. Colombia (replacing Nigeria) is the only newcomer to a group that had been the same in 2003 and 2007.
Just like 2007, North Korea will face the top-ranked U.S. in the opening game on June 28 in Dresden, Germany. The North Koreans gave the Americans all they could handle and nearly came away with a win, but settled for a draw. They should prove another tough match this time around. Sweden, ranked No. 4 in the world, finished second in 2003 but struggled in 2007 and did not advance out of its group. Colombia, making its first World Cup appearance, finished second in CONMEBOL qualifying behind Brazil, led by rising star Yorely Rincon. Rincon should be fun to watch in 2011.
As for the rest of the field, Group A looks to be the so-called "Group of Death." Two-time defending champion and host nation Germany (No. 2 in the world) will be joined by France (No. 8), Canada (No. 9) and Nigeria (No. 27). Germany is still the clear favorite. But France, led by Women's Professional Soccer favorites Camille Abily and Sonia Bompastor, and Canada, which features one of the best strikers in the world in Christine Sinclair, had been expected to make some noise. Now it's likely that one of them will not make it out of the group.
If any group can be called "easy" it would be Group B, which features Japan, New Zealand, Mexico and England. Japan and England, which dueled to an opening-match draw in one of the best games of the 2007 tournament, should easily advance past New Zealand, which didn't score a goal in its three games in 2007, and Mexico, which qualified for the 2011 World Cup with a stunning upset over the U.S. just a few weeks ago. England, led by one of the world's best in Kelly Smith, finished second to Germany in the 2009 European Championship and should be a team to watch next year.
Brazil, which ousted the U.S. in 2007 with a 4-0 rout in the semifinals, will be joined in Group D by Australia, Norway and newcomer Equatorial Guinea. Four-time FIFA Player of the Year Marta leads the Samba Queens into the tournament following a second-place finish in 2007; Brazil lost 2-0 to Germany in the final. Ranked No. 3 in the world, Brazil is the clear favorite of this group. Australia, which pushed Brazil to the brink in the quarterfinals in 2007, and Norway will be jockeying for second place.
Germany and Brazil remain the biggest competition for the U.S. in 2011. If, as expected, the three teams win their groups, the U.S. likely would face Germany in the semifinals in Frankfurt (a rematch of the 2003 semifinal, won by Germany), giving Brazil a bit of an easier path to the final as it likely would face Japan or England in the semifinals.