Soccer

Women's World Cup: Why France, Germany, three others can beat Team USA

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Women's World Cup: Why France, Germany, three others can beat Team USA

The United States Women's National Team's defense of their World Cup title won't be easy. 

This summer in France, a handful of elite teams are poised to pose problems for the USWNT in the knockout stages of the competition. The Americans never have won consecutive World Cups, and they will arguably face their toughest opposition yet in pursuit of a repeat if (and when) they advance from Group F. 

Here are five teams from the other groups in the tournament that can stop the United States' bid for a second straight World Cup.  

France

The hosts got off to a smashing start Friday, kicking off the World Cup with a 4-0 rout of South Korea. Defender Wendie Renard took an early lead for the Golden Boot with two headed goals off of set pieces, and the French cruised en route to three points. 

France has been close-but-not-quite there for a decade, advancing to at least the quarterfinals in every World Cup, Olympics and European Championship during that time. It all seems to be coming together for Les Bleus, as the side has lost just three times since Corinne Diacre took over almost two years ago. The French only have been defeated once in 2019, and beat the USWNT 3-1 in Le Havre, France back on Jan. 19.

A tournament on home soil could be just what France's "golden generation" needs to win its first major title. The USWNT could face the French as soon as the quarterfinals if both sides top their groups, meaning one of the co-favorites could be responsible for the other's tournament ending in trophy-less disappointment. 

Germany

It's always the Germans, isn't it? Germany is the only nation to win back-to-back World Cups (2003, 2007), and won gold at the 2016 Rio Olympics. 

A lot has changed in three years, though. Nine of the 23 players on Germany's roster were on the Rio team, and the Germans have had three managers (two full-time) since. Considering Germany had three total managers in the preceding three decades, that's quite a bit of turnover for a country that has been Europe's most successful in the sport. 

Still, the Germans have not lost in 2019, handed France its only loss of the year (so far) in a January friendly and are No. 2 in FIFA's rankings. Germany has a favorable bracket path, too, and wouldn't have to play another group winner until the semifinals at the earliest if it is able to top Group B. Assuming that happens, a match with the USWNT in the quarters is possible if the Americans don't top Group F, setting up a revenge match with the team that knocked out Germany in the semifinals in 2015. 

Australia

Australia made a coaching change itself back in January, leaving Ante Milicic with only a few months of preparation. That was apparent in the run-up to the World Cup, as the Matildas allowed three goals in both pre-tournament friendlies with the Netherlands.

But the Australian attack is as fearsome as any team in the tournament, in large part because any Golden Boot/Ball conversation is incomplete without Sam Kerr. The 25-year-old will be playing in her third World Cup, but is still looking for her first goal in the tournament. Chances are the NWSL's all-time leading scorer won't wait long in France. 

Australia's group is sneaky-tough with up-and-coming Italy and Marta-led Brazil waiting in the wings. A Kerr-Marta showdown on June 13 will offer plenty for neutrals, but should prepare the Matildas well for the knockout stages. Depending on how results shake out in the group stage, the Australians' path to the Final in Lyon could go through the Netherlands and Germany in the quarters and semis, respectively. Kerr is prolific enough to see Australia through. 

England

The English have good reason to believe football's coming home in 2019. After semifinal runs in the 2015 World Cup and the 2017 Euros, the Three Lionesses are arguably the country's best chance at winning its first major soccer trophy since the men won the World Cup on home soil in 1966. 

England won the round-robin SheBelieves Cup back in March, drawing 2-2 with the USWNT. Lucy Bronze is considered by many to be the best fullback in the world, and could complete a quadruple -- she won the French league, French cup and UEFA Champions League titles with Lyon -- if England raises the trophy in her home stadium on July 7. 

Expect England to win Group D, thus dodging another group winner until the semifinals. Awaiting the English there could be France or the United States, possibly leaving the obligatory penalty shootout with Germany for the Final. England is more than capable of writing a different ending to that familiar story this time around. 

[RELATED: Some new faces, but same lofty expectations for USWNT]

Canada

Canada has not lost in 2019, and lost three games in 2018 by a combined four goals to France (1-0), Germany (3-2) and the United States (2-0). In other words, the Canadians can hang with the world's elite. 

Aging star Christine Sinclair remains Canada's focal point in the attacking third, and she can surpass Abby Wambach's all-time international record (184) with four goals in France. Canada's defense, led by central defender Kadeisha Buchanan, is sturdy, having allowed just one goal in eight matches this calendar year. 

The group stage will be a different matter entirely, with the European champion Netherlands lurking. Both teams likely will have advanced from Group E by the time the two square off on June 20 in Reims, and the winner's path won't be much easier than the loser's. Group E's runner-up will, in all likelihood, face Germany in the quarters, while its winner probably draws Australia. But Canada can beat either side on its best day, and is capable of ensuring a North American side lifts the World Cup once more. 

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

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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.

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

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

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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.