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USWNT drawn with Netherlands in World Cup group stage

Former New Zealand player Maia Jackman selects the United States at the World Cup draw in Auckland. (Shane Wenzlick/Reuters)

The pathway for the U.S. women’s national soccer team to win an unprecedented third consecutive World Cup title next year will include a group-stage showdown with the country it defeated in the 2019 final, the Netherlands, and could feature a round-of-16 clash with second-ranked Sweden.

Otherwise, the top-ranked Americans welcomed the results of the draw conducted Saturday in New Zealand, which will co-host the tournament with Australia.

As the top seed in Group E, the United States will play all its first-round matches in New Zealand and potentially all but one in that country before the Aug. 20 final in Sydney.

The U.S. opener July 22 in Auckland is against first-time participant Vietnam, followed five days later by a clash in Wellington with the eighth-ranked Netherlands, which lost to the United States, 2-0, in the 2019 final in France.

The Americans’ group play will conclude Aug. 1 in Auckland against the winner of a February playoff between No. 23 Portugal, No. 41 Thailand and No. 58 Cameroon.

“We got a good but somewhat tough draw,” U.S. Coach Vlatko Andonovski said. “I’m excited about it. This is when the real preparation starts.”

With a 20-1-3 record in group play, the United States is not expected to have much trouble earning one of the group’s two places in the knockout stage. If rankings hold to form, it would face No. 14 Italy, the second-best team in Group G, in the round of 16 in Sydney.

By finishing second in the group, however, the Americans probably would play Group G favorite Sweden, which routed them, 3-0, in the 2021 Olympic group stage. The United States and Sweden met in the group stage in the past five World Cups, with the Americans winning three, losing one and tying one.

“I’m confident about the group, but it’s really not about the group, because there’s a lot of games to be played in a World Cup, and the competition just keeps getting stronger and better,” said former U.S. star Carli Lloyd, who co-hosted the draw ceremony in Auckland.

The Americans were thrilled with the overall bracket: Until the final, they would avoid European champion England, 2021 Olympic gold medalist Canada and contenders Germany, France, Brazil and Australia. The top teams on their side of the bracket are Sweden, Japan and Spain.

Six stadiums in Australia and four in New Zealand will host the 64 matches. All but three participants are set. A 10-nation playoff Feb. 18-23 in New Zealand will complete the 32-team field, the largest since FIFA launched a women’s championship in 1991.

Though the Americans will arrive at the World Cup as one of the favorites, they have their work cut out for them. This month, they lost consecutive games for the first time in 5½ years, falling against fourth-ranked England, 2-1, and No. 6 Spain, 2-0. They will resume preparations with two friendlies against third-ranked Germany: Nov. 10 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and Nov. 13 in Harrison, N.J.

The run-up to the World Cup will include two friendlies in February and two in April. The opponents and venues have not been finalized.

“We have a lot of work to do in the next year,” U.S. midfielder Lindsey Horan said. “We need to be better. We need to learn and grow. Hopefully, it’s going to improve a lot in the next year.”

Draw results

FIFA ranking in parentheses

Group A: New Zealand (22), Norway (12), Philippines (53), Switzerland (21).

Group B: Australia (13), Ireland (24), Nigeria (45), Canada (7).

Group C: Spain (6), Costa Rica (37), Zambia (81), Japan (11).

Group D: England (4), playoff winner*, Denmark (18), China (15).

Group E: United States (1), Vietnam (34), Netherlands (8), playoff winner**.

Group F: France (5), Jamaica (43), Brazil (9), playoff winner***.

Group G: Sweden (2), South Africa (54), Italy (14), Argentina (29).

Group H: Germany (3), South Korea (17), Colombia (27), Morocco (76).

* Chile (38), Senegal (84) or Haiti (56).

** Portugal (23), Cameroon (58) or Thailand (41).

*** Taiwan (40), Paraguay (51), Papua New Guinea (50) or Panama (57).