Women's World Cup: USWNT's path to final after win over Sweden all set


Women's World Cup: USWNT's path to final after win over Sweden all set

The United States women's national soccer team took care of business Thursday at the Women's World Cup in Le Havre, France.

Lindsey Horan's opener, the tournament's fastest goal so far, and Jonna Andersson's own goal, heavily assisted by Tobin Heath's cheeky creativity, were enough for a 2-0 USWNT win over Sweden to seal Group F and set another World Cup record.

The Americans played on their front foot for most of the day, out-shooting the Swedes 16-7 and building up play through the middle of the pitch despite the precautionary absence of do-it-all midfielder Julie Ertz. Sweden made seven changes from its 5-1 win over Thailand on Sunday, and was unable to capitalize on the counter-attack in the moments the USWNT looked vulnerable at the back.

With the group stage now in the rearview mirror, the knockout stages are set, and the United States' title defense begins in earnest. The Round of 16 kicks off Saturday, but the USWNT won't play until Monday.

Here's what the Americans' path to a second consecutive World Cup looks like.

Round of 16 -- Spain

Four years after qualifying for their first World Cup, the Spaniards advanced out of the group stage for the first time. They finished second place in a difficult Group B, with the only blemish on their record a 1-0 loss to two-time champion Germany.

The sides played each other for the first time in January, as a nearly full-strength USWNT picked up a 1-0 win in Spain on Christen Press' winner in the 54th minute. Spain entered the World Cup ranked No. 13 in the world, but the Americans should be pretty heavily favored to advance.

Quarterfinals -- France or Brazil

If the USWNT beats Spain and advances, a stiff test awaits in the quarterfinals regardless of the opponent.

France, the host nation, is ranked No. 4 in the world by FIFA and, at the very least, entered the tournament as co-favorites with the Americans. There would be no shame for either side's run to end here, but both countries have World Cup-or-bust aspirations, and a USWNT loss would mark the first time in tournament history that it did not make the semifinals.

And if France is upset in the Round of 16? The consolation prize is Brazil, led by the greatest player in the sport's history in Marta. Brazil advanced out of a difficult Group C, thanks to wins over Jamaica and Italy, and would have finished the group stage undefeated had it not blown a two-goal lead to Australia.

The USWNT edged Brazil 1-0 in the SheBelieves Cup finale earlier this year, but the Brazilians would have plenty of confidence if they're able to knock off France and advance to the quarterfinals.

Semifinals -- England, Australia, Norway or Cameroon

Notice a trend? The road to a repeat is littered with quality sides.

England won Group D with relative ease, and allowed only one goal in three group-stage matches. It's likely the English will hold off Cameroon, which advanced to the knockout stage for the first time thanks to a stoppage-time winner over New Zealand on Thursday.

Australia, led by Golden Boot co-front-runner Sam Kerr (five goals), likely will be favored against Norway, but the Norwegians can't be overlooked. Yes, Ballon d'Or winner Ada Hegerberg will not be there, as she is sitting out the tournament because of Norway's unequal treatment of its men's and women's teams. Yet Norway hung with France for much of its match on June 12, and has been fairly prolific in front of goal in Hegerberg's absence.

England, Australia and Norway are ranked No. 3, No. 6 and No. 12 by FIFA, respectively. Going through France, then England, would give the USWNT an extremely difficult road to the final, but the Americans certainly would be battle-tested if they made it out on the other side.

Final -- One of eight teams

Germany, Canada, the Netherlands, Japan, Sweden, Italy, China and Nigeria will fight it out on the opposite of the bracket.

The Germans should be considered the favorites after keeping three clean sheats in the group stage, but losing Dzsenifer Marozsan (broken toe) for the remainder of the tournament is a major concern. Canada and the Netherlands concluded Group E in entertaining fashion Thursday, but Sweden and Japan will not be pushovers for either country in the Round of 16.

Italy and China both have dark-horse potential, considering the former beat Australia and the latter has advanced to the quarterfinals every time in the tournament's history. Nigeria, meanwhile, essentially was a VAR decision away from earning a point against France on Monday.

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If the USWNT can advance to the final, storylines abound, no matter who advances from the other side of the bracket. In their pursuit of consecutive World Cups, the Americans would have to beat the only country to win two in a row (Germany), their closest geographical rival (Canada), the reigning European champions (Netherlands), the team that knocked them out of the Olympics (Sweden), the team they beat in the last World Cup final (Japan) or a nation that never has made it so far (Italy, China or Nigeria).

But the USWNT has to advance from its side of the bracket first. Given the teams along that path, the Americans face a difficult path to the July 7 final in Lyon.

Premier League set to restart play from coronavirus pause on June 17


Premier League set to restart play from coronavirus pause on June 17

The Premier League is set to restart.

On Thursday, shareholders gave "Project Restart" the green light for play to start back up June 17. According to ESPN's James Olley, there will be two games on June 17, with Manchester City facing Arsenal and Sheffield United hosting Aston Villa. That will bring all clubs to 29 matches played, with the remaining 90 games left on the slate to start up the following weekend.

The Premier League's goal is to have all league games finished by Aug. 1 with the FA Cup to be complete with the final to be played on Aug. 8. As for the remaining Champions League and Europa League games, those also are slated to be completed if the pandemic calms down to allow international travel.

According to Olley, a number of clubs asked for more time to ramp up training before the restart given contact training was just given the OK on Wednesday. But the desire for a sooner restart and pressure from UEFA to complete all domestic matches by August had the league settle on June 17.

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The Premier League has had 12 positive coronavirus tests through the first three rounds. When the league restarts, testing capacity will be increased to 50 to 60 tests per club. Anyone testing positive must self-isolate for seven days.

The league suspended play March 13. One hundred days will have passed by the time the league starts back up June 17.

Premier League approves contact training as Project Restart hits Phase 2


Premier League approves contact training as Project Restart hits Phase 2

The Premier League took another step toward its restart Wednesday, as all 20 clubs voted unanimously to allow contact training as the league enters Phase 2 of Project Restart.

"Premier League shareholders today voted unanimously to resume contact training -- marking another step towards restarting the Premier League season, when safe to do so," the league said in a statement. "Squads are now able to train as a group and engage in tackling while minimising any unnecessary close contact."

"The Premier League's priority is the health and wellbeing of all participants. Strict medical protocols are in place to ensure the training ground is the safest environment possible and players and staff will continue to be tested for COVID-19 twice a week.

"Stage Two of the Return to Training protocol has been agreed following consultation with clubs, players, managers, the PFA (Professional Footballers' Association), the LMA (League Managers' Association) and the Government. Discussions are ongoing as work continues towards resuming the season when conditions allow."

The shareholders will meet again Thursday to discuss issues related to the restart, including a start date, television schedules and more, according to ESPN"s James Olley. Sources told ESPN that the June 12 return date now is viewed as too soon for players to build up their conditioning and that June 19 or June 26 is more likely.

The Premier League now has had 12 positive coronavirus (COVID-19) tests after the third round of testing, the league announced Wednesday.

All players and staff will be tested twice a week as the training continues, and the league will have discussions on contingency plans on what to do should issues arise.

[RELATED: What PL's positive coronavirus tests mean for season restart]

Some players have decided not to return to their clubs due to the risk of contracting the virus, including Chelsea midfielder N'Golo Kante.

The UK government is supportive of the effort for the Premier League to restart its season in a safe way following the guidance of public health officials. Play has been suspended since March 13.