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US Women's National Team: Knockout stage outlook

No nation has won the Women's World Cup on more occasions than the USA, who will be in the spotlight as the competition's knockout stage begins this weekend.

The Stars and Stripes have won the Women's World Cup a record four times, including in 2015 and 2019, and they have never finished worse than third in the tournament.

Heading into this year's Women's World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, however, injuries and reservations about head coach Vlatko Andonovski left many doubting the USA and their chances.

And although they are through to the last 16, they came close to a shock group-stage exit, progressing in the end after a 3-0 win over Vietnam and draws with the Netherlands and Portugal.

Here is a look at how the tournament could unfold for the USA in the knockout stages.

Solid Sweden await USA in last 16

It is fair to say the USA did not deserve to take top spot in Group E and as a result of finishing as runners-up, the Stars and Stripes face a challenging last-16 encounter with Sweden.

Like the USA, Sweden are well-versed in major tournament football, having reached the semi-finals of both the 2019 Women's World Cup and Euro 2022.

And they have also looked pretty convincing in Australia and New Zealand, winning all three of their group matches, scoring nine goals and conceding only once.

Their 5-0 battering of Italy was particularly eye-catching and a USA defence missing captain Becky Sauerbrunn will have to be at its sharpest.

Red-hot Japan look likely quarter-final opponents

If the USA are able to navigate their first knockout contest against Sweden, things do not get any easier in the quarter-finals in which they will likely face Japan.

Japan were the standout team during the group stage, scoring more goals than any other nation (11) and keeping clean sheets in all three of their matches.

They thumped Spain 4-0 in their final match in Group C to take top spot, meaning they will face Norway in the last 16.

The Asian side are expected to win that one and with four-goal Hinata Miyazawa in their ranks, the 2011 champions could also be another tough nut to crack.

Spanish clash on the cards in the last four

Moving onto the semi-finals and Spain would be the USA's most likely opponents if they were to reach the last four - something the Stars and Stripes have achieved in all previous eight editions of the Women's World Cup.

With world-class talents like Jennifer Hermoso and Alexia Putellas in the team, Spain are undoubtedly a challenging side to overcome but unlike Sweden and Japan, La Roja do not have the major tournament pedigree to back it up.

They were also far from convincing in the group stage of this Women's World Cup, having been carved apart by a masterful counter-attacking Japan team in their final group game, and there remains some tension between head coach Jorge Vilda and his players.

Euro 2022 winners remain USA's fiercest competition

If the USA manage to get past Sweden in the last 16 and then knock out their most likely subsequent opponents Japan and Spain, then they will be just one more win away from winning their third consecutive Women's World Cup.

That is, however, much easier said than done and the strongest team in the other half of the draw are Sarina Wiegman's England.

With England +275 favorites to lift the trophy and the USA next in the betting at +450, this is the most likely Women's World Cup final this year and it would surely not disappoint.

The USA have history on their side but England made their mark last summer when winning Euro 2022 on their own patch, having beaten Germany in the final at Wembley.

Heading into the knockout stage, they have still lost just the one match during Wiegman's tenure - a friendly loss to Australia in April - and have coped well with the absences of key players Down Under.

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