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The Women’s World Cup 2023 is fast approaching, with the tournament set to get under way on July 20. The USMNT are the favorites to win the competition in Australia and New Zealand with the best online sportsbooks, as they seek to triumph for a fifth time overall.
The USA have been the dominant team in women’s soccer for some time now. They have not failed to reach a World Cup final since 2007, when they were beaten in the semi-finals. Runners-up in 2011, they claimed the prize in 2015 and 2019.
Preparations for this year’s edition are now beginning to intensify. Sunday’s clash with Wales in San Jose, California will be their final game in the country before the team jets off to Oceania, with their first match scheduled for July 22 (July 21 Eastern) against debutants Vietnam.
But victory at the tournament is not a foregone conclusion. The current USA roster is not as strong as previous ones. The captain and Becky Sauerbrunn and the top scorer Mallory Swanson are absent through injury, and more than 10 players will be making their first World Cup appearances at the upcoming competition.
Yet there is still plenty of quality within the ranks. Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe and Kelley O’Hara have been there and done it at international level. Their experience is balanced by exciting youthful prospects like the 18-year-old forward Alyssa Thompson.
After the Vietnam game, which should be a comfortable USA victory, tougher tests lie ahead. The Netherlands, runners-up four years ago, are the opponents on July 27. A meeting with Portugal follows on July 1.
Before all that is this friendly against Wales, where the performance is more important than the result. Vlatko Andonovski could use this match for purposes of experimentation, or he could name his strongest possible team in preparation for the Vietnam match. Time will tell.
Wales will not be taking part in Australia and New Zealand this summer. They currently rank 30th in the world - above a number of sides that did qualify, including Vietnam, Jamaica and the Philippines - but narrowly missed out on a place in the finals.
Wales finished second in their qualification group in Europe. France amassed 10 more points than them after dominating their section, but Wales edged out Slovenia in the race for the runners-up spot.
That earned them a play-off berth. They beat Bosnia-Herzegovina 1-0 in the first round thanks to an extra-time goal by Jess Fishlock. But the boot was on the other foot in their play-off final, as an extra-time effort by Fabienne Humm gave Switzerland a dramatic 2-1 victory.
Wales’ wait for a maiden appearance at the Women’s World Cup therefore goes on. In fact, they have never before participated at a major tournament, having also fallen short in consecutive qualification campaigns for the European Championship.
However, women’s football in Wales is clearly improving. Reaching the play-offs in the recent process was a step forward: they did not make that stage in qualification for the 2019 World Cup, for instance.
Their 22-woman squad for this friendly contains numerous players who ply their trade in England’s Women’s Super League, including Hayley Ladd, Carrie Jones and Safia Middleton-Patel of Manchester United.
However, the national team captain Sophie Ingham will play no part this weekend through suspension, while midfielder Rachel Rowe is absent through injury. Gemma Grainger, the manager since 2021, will have to find alternatives to both players at PayPal Park.
When you look at individual matches, Wales have a pretty decent record over the last 18 months or so. They have played 11 games since the beginning of 2022 and their sole defeat in that time was that slender but significant loss to Switzerland in the qualification play-offs.
It is notable that matches involving Wales have tended to be tight. Nine of their last 11 encounters have featured two goals or fewer. It will be interesting if they can keep the USA’s excellent attack under lock and key.
It will certainly be a challenge. The USWNT will be keen to make a statement of intent ahead of the big kick-off at the Women’s World Cup later this month. And they will also be roared on by a passionate home crowd on Sunday.
Despite Wales’ excellent defensive record over the last year and a half, then, we think the USA will get the job done without too much difficulty on Sunday. The hosts will be determined to lay down a marker ahead of the World Cup and Wales may struggle to match their motivation.
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Greg Lea is a freelance soccer journalist from London. He is the former editor of The Set Pieces, and has contributed to the Guardian, FourFourTwo, and ESPN. A Crystal Palace fan, he is a long-time subscriber to the belief that it's the taking part that counts. Email: [email protected]More info on Greg Lea
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