History has shown that if you can get two wins (out of the three games) in group play, you are basically guaranteed to reach the knockout round in the World Cup. The U.S. women’s national team begins its latest journey in Canada on Monday (7:30, p.m. FOX Sports 1) vs. Australia at Winnipeg Stadium. The other two countries in Group D kick off earlier that afternoon as Sweden meets Nigeria. Australia is no a pushover by any means, as it is ranked No. 10 in the latest FIFA World Rankings, while the U.S. is No. 2.
With the expansion to 24 teams in this World Cup, the top two teams in each group advance to the knockout stage, along with the four best third-place squads. Australia is making its fifth appearance out of seven Women’s World Cups. The U.S. only beat Australia by a score of 2-1 on Sept. 16, 2012 but their two most recent matchups - a 6-2 U.S. win three days after that and a 4-0 shutout of Australia on Oct. 20, 2013 (all played on U.S. soil) - makes you realize why the U.S. is so heavily favored.
An overall key for Australia is to not let things get out of hand since goal-differential is often the deciding factor in big tournaments like this. That means losing by two or three goals is much better than getting buried by four or five goals.
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Australian goalkeeper Melissa Hudson is playing in her fourth World Cup while forward Larissa Crummer is the youngest player on the team (19). Midfielder Emily van Egmond was recently named the W-League (Australia) Player of the Year.
If you are looking for some under-the-radar U.S. players that could be vital to what it hopes is another World Cup title run, here are three good bets to have a positive impact: midfielder Tobin Heath, ageless defender Christie Rampone and forward Sydney Leroux. Heath has some jaw-dropping foot-skills and there is little doubt that she will break numerous opponents’ ankles in Canada during this month-long tournament. Rampone has been on the U.S. team for the past 18 years (!) and she’ll turn 40 later this month but she is still very solid on the backline. It’ll be interesting to see what type of reception that Leroux (who played for Canada’s youth national teams before getting nationalized by the U.S.) will receive from her former homeland.