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Women's World Cup: Can the USA defend their title?

This year's Women's World Cup in Australia and New Zealand is significant for many reasons.

With more than one million tickets already sold for the tournament, it is set to be the most-attendended standalone women's sporting event in history and will be the first Women's World Cup to feature an expanded field of 32 teams.

The tournament will also welcome eight debutants from Vietnam to Portugal and will be the first to be co-hosted by multiple nations with Sydney, Wellington and Brisbane among the cities hosting matches.

But while the tournament itself has a fresh and new feel to it, some things never change and the USA national team are once again favourites to lift the Women's World Cup this summer at 5/2.

The USA have four Women's World Cup titles to their name, but with injuries and uncertainty in their camp, as well as increased competition from European nations - can they defend their title in 2023?

WhatWomen's World Cup 2023
WhereAustralia and New Zealand
WhenThursday 20th July 2023 - Sunday 20th August 2023
How to watchBBC and ITV
OddsUSA Women 5/2, England Women 9/2, Spain Women 6/1, Germany Women 7/1, France Women 10/1

Stars and Stripes targeting third successive World Cup

Four Women's World Cups, including the last two in 2015 and 2019, have gone the way of the USA women's team and they will largely be considered the team to beat in Australia and New Zealand.

At the last tournament four years ago, the Stars and Stripes dazzled in the group stage, scoring 18 goals across three matches before beating Spain, France, England and the Netherlands in the knockout phase to lift the trophy.

Megan Rapinoe took the award for player of the tournament and finished level with team-mate Alex Morgan and England's Ellen White on six goals as top scorer.

In total they have won 40 of their 50 matches at the Women's World Cup, having never finished worse than third in the tournament, and it is hard to envisage anything other than a strong title challenge based on past performances.

Andonovski out to prove a point

Despite all of their success in recent tournaments, the USA women's team are not heading into this year's World Cup without any concerns.

There are still reservations about head coach Vlatko Andonovski after the team failed to reach the final of the Tokyo Olympics, collecting a bronze medal but seriously underperforming.

Andonovski made the call to ditch some of the old guard to give younger players a go but the transition has not been as smooth as he would have liked and the USA could once again be looking to Rapinoe and Morgan, who are now 37 and 33 respectively, for inspiration.

Prolific forward Malloray Swanson and captain Becky Sauerbrunn are also set to miss the tournament through injury, weakening their options at both ends of the pitch, and for that reason there are concerns regarding the USA's title defence.

USA facing fiercer competition from across the pond

But for those opposing the USA at this year's Women's World Cup, the best argument against them is the strength of the opposition.

Thanks to the ascent of the Women's Super League in England and the Frauen-Bundesliga in Germany, the quality of national teams in Europe especially has improved since 2019 and the USA are unlikely to have things all their own way.

At the end of 2022, the USA lost to England, Spain and Germany in friendlies and all three of those teams will feel they have a shot at knocking the Stars and Stripes off their pedestal.

England were superb on their way to the Euro 2022 title under the stewardship of Sarina Wiegman and, prior to their loss against Australia in April, they were on a 30-game unbeaten run.

Spain, meanwhile, have their own off-field issues to contend with under Jorge Vilda but are loaded with quality and should have star player Alexia Putellas available again, while Germany are serial winners at continental level and will have Alexandra Popp leading the line once more.

Given their history and winning mentality, the USA will always be there or thereabouts at a Women's World Cup but in Australia and New Zealand this year, they could be facing their fiercest competition in over a decade.

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