100 days to go to the FIFA Women's World Cup

Everything you need to know as the United States defend their title with hosts France kicking off against South Korea in Paris on 7 June.

Along with the Olympic Games, the FIFA Women's World Cup is the pinnacle of women's football.

The eighth edition of the tournament will be held in France with the hosts kicking off proceedings against South Korea in the Parc des Princes on 7 June.

The United States won their third World Cup in Canada in 2015, and they have high hopes of retaining their crown with Carli Lloyd spearheading their title defence.

Carli Lloyd congratulated after scoring her third goal in USA's 5-2 win over Japan in the 2015 Women's World Cup Final in Vancouver
Carli Lloyd congratulated after scoring her third goal in USA's 5-2 win over Japan in the 2015 Women's World Cup Final in VancouverCarli Lloyd congratulated after scoring her third goal in USA's 5-2 win over Japan in the 2015 Women's World Cup Final in Vancouver

Aptly enough, Wednesday sees the USA face 2011 World Cup victors Japan in the SheBelieves Cup in Chester, Philadelphia.

Earlier on the same pitch, 2015 bronze medallists England take on Brazil and their 2018 FIFA Player of the Year Marta.

Germany are the defending Olympic champions, after they beat Sweden 2-1 in the final at Rio 2016.

The Swedes stunned the United States on penalties in the quarter-finals, and they will hope to go one better than their second place to Germany at the 2003 World Cup.

Olympic places up for grabs

This World Cup carries even more importance for the European teams with the competition doubling up as UEFA's sole Olympic qualifying event.

Only the top three sides from Europe will make it to Tokyo 2020 with hosts Japan, Copa America winners Brazil, and OFC Nations Cup victors New Zealand already in the 12-strong line-up.

For the first time, Great Britain can qualify for an Olympic Games with their hopes depending on the performance of England, the highest-ranked team from the United Kingdom's four nations.

Britain competed at London 2012 as hosts, but this new development comes after the four British football associations (England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales) agreed to follow similar procedures to those of Team GB's hockey and rugby sevens teams.

December's draw provided a twist in the tale with Scotland, playing in their first World Cup, drawn alongside England in Group D.

England coach Phil Neville during the home World Cup qualifier against Wales in April 2018
England coach Phil Neville during the home World Cup qualifier against Wales in April 2018England coach Phil Neville during the home World Cup qualifier against Wales in April 2018

It means, somewhat ironically, that Scottish players could wreck their own chances of playing in an Olympic Games by beating England in their opening game.

That will be no easy feat with England, coached by former Manchester United defender Phil Neville, firmly established as one of Europe's top sides.

But it was the Netherlands who defeated them on the way to claiming the 2017 European Championship on home soil with Denmark runners-up.

The Netherlands celebrate beating Denmark 4-2 in the final of Women's Euro 2017 in Enschede
The Netherlands celebrate beating Denmark 4-2 in the final of Women's Euro 2017 in EnschedeThe Netherlands celebrate beating Denmark 4-2 in the final of Women's Euro 2017 in Enschede

The Danes stunned holders Germany in the quarter-finals and, with France sure to benefit from local support, the competition for the three Olympic berths makes this a genuine tournament within a tournament.

And despite being reigning Olympic champions, Germany will need to be in those three teams to defend their title at Tokyo 2020.

Norway's hopes were dealt a massive blow when Ballon d'Or winner Ada Hegerberg ruled herself out of the competition.

Olympique Lyonnais striker Hegerberg, who hit the headlines with her put-down of an awards host who asked if she knew how to twerk, quit international football after Euro 2017 citing a lack of respect for female players in Norway.

Coach Martin Sjogren told the BBC World Service, "We tried to solve it, we had meetings, but she decided not to play."

Ballon d'Or winner Ada Hegerberg will not play for Norway at the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup
Ballon d'Or winner Ada Hegerberg will not play for Norway at the 2019 FIFA Women's World CupBallon d'Or winner Ada Hegerberg will not play for Norway at the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup

The venues

Nine cities across France will host matches at the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup with the final at Lyon's Parc Olympique Lyonnais which holds close to 60,000 spectators.

Lyon is the home of women's football in France with Olympique Lyonnais (OL) bidding for a third consecutive UEFA Champions League title.

They have also won 12 French titles in a row, but Paris-Saint Germain (PSG) are hot on their heels this season.

The Parc des Princes, the home of French football and rugby before the Stade de France was built for the 1998 FIFA World Cup, is the venue in the capital Paris.

The seven other locations are Nice, Reims, Rennes, Montpellier, Valenciennes (close to the Belgian border), Le Havre and Grenoble, host city of the 1968 Olympic Winter Games.

Le Havre's Stade Oceane is perhaps the most spectacular with a bright blue exterior when lit up at night.

Completed in 2012, it also boasts impressive eco-friendly credentials with all its energy provided by a roof-mounted solar panels.

What to look out for

France

As hosts, France will be one of the favourites to claim their first World Cup.

Their form has been impressive too, beating defending world champions USA 3-1 last month in a friendly at Le Havre's Stade Oceane.

Their squad features a number of players from OL, arguably the strongest club side in the world, including captain Wendie Renard.

Born in Martinique, the 28-year-old is a commanding presence in central defence.

She is also dangerous from set-pieces with 20 goals in 105 appearances for the national side.

Olympique Lyonnais captain Wendie Renard reacts during the 2018 UEFA Champions League Final win over Wolfsburg in Kiev
Olympique Lyonnais captain Wendie Renard reacts during the 2018 UEFA Champions League Final win over Wolfsburg in KievOlympique Lyonnais captain Wendie Renard reacts during the 2018 UEFA Champions League Final win over Wolfsburg in Kiev

France's main goal threat is Renard's OL team-mate Eugenie Le Sommer who has 73 goals in 157 caps.

But the 29-year-old forward misses the friendly against Germany in Laval on Thursday (28 February) with a hamstring strain.

In her absence, France are hardly short of attacking options with PSG's Kadidiatou Diani scoring twice in the win over the United States.

North American strength

Despite losing a number of players after the 2015 World Cup, and goalkeeper Hope Solo after Rio 2016, the United States are still one of the best sides in women's football.

Their strength lies in attack with Carli Lloyd (105 goals in 266 games), Alex Morgan (98 in 155) and Megan Rapinoe (41 in 146) among the survivors from their 2015 triumph.

Lloyd is definitely a woman for the big occasion, scoring both goals in the London 2012 final victory over Japan, as well as that hat-trick in the 2015 World Cup Final.

But Morgan provided one of the most dramatic moments in recent American football history, heading home in the last minute of extra-time to secure a 4-3 win over Canada in the semi-finals at London 2012.

That 3-1 defeat to France last month may have served as a wake-up call, and all eyes will be on the USA in the SheBelieves Cup.

Neighbours Canada can never be underestimated.

Christine Sinclair, now 35, was the topscorer at London 2012 and only retired American striker Abby Wambach has scored more international goals.

Canada have taken bronze at the last two Olympic Games, and will be hoping to reach their first World Cup Final in France.

The Asian Challenge

Having been runners-up four years ago, Japan are seeking to regain the title they won in Germany in 2011.

But their best days look to be behind them.

Captain and star player Homare Sawa retired after the 2015 World Cup with Shinobu Ono and Aya Miyama among those calling it quits when the team failed to qualify for Rio 2016.

Japan have slipped to eighth in the world rankings, but they did claim both the Asian Cup and Asian Games titles last year.

Japan's Kumi Yokoyama during the 2018 Asian Cup Final against Australia in Amman
Japan's Kumi Yokoyama during the 2018 Asian Cup Final against Australia in AmmanJapan's Kumi Yokoyama during the 2018 Asian Cup Final against Australia in Amman

Striker Kumi Yokoyama is a prolific goalscorer but Japan lost all three matches in the Tournament of Nations in the United States before the Asian Games, going down to the USA, Brazil and Australia.

And head coach Asako Takakura has picked a youthful squad for the SheBelieves Cup which could prove instructive as to their World Cup hopes.

At six, Australia are currently Asia's highest-ranked team after showing great improvement in recent years.

'The Matildas' reached the quarter-finals at Rio 2016, going out on penalties to hosts Brazil.

And in 2017, they scored their first win over the United States in 27 attempts in Seattle on their way to taking the inaugural Tournament of Nations title.

But their preparations have been rocked by the dismissal of coach Alen Stajcic last month based on confidential surveys which highlighted "workplace" and "player welfare" issues.

Ante Milicic has taken charge and his first match is against trans-Tasman rivals New Zealand on Thursday (28 February).

South Korea, 1999 World Cup runners-up China and Thailand complete Asia's five-strong allocation and they will find it tough to get out of the group stages.

Veterans lead Brazil bid

Brazil continue to set the standard in South America, winning their seventh Copa America Femenina in eight competitions in Chile last year.

Marta captained the side and her performances helped her secure a sixth FIFA Player of the Year award.

Striker Cristiane, the topscorer at both Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008, is also still around with 40-year-old midfielder Formiga returning to the squad having retired after Rio 2016.

Formiga has appeared at every Olympic Games women's football tournament since its debut at Atlanta 1996 and she is in line to take part in a record seventh Women's World Cup.

South Korean-based attacking midfielder Beatriz is perhaps the best recent addition, but Brazil's hopes will largely rest on the shoulders of their veteran players.

Argentina and debutantes Chile are the other teams from South America.

Nigeria spearhead African hopes

Nigeria have appeared at every World Cup including the first in 1991.

They have made it out of the group stages just once, in 1999, going out in the quarter-finals to Brazil.

But the 'Super Falcons' will be hopeful of reaching at least the second round this time, having been drawn in Group A with hosts France, South Korea and Norway.

Diminutive playmaker Francisca Ordega is a key part of their plans.

The 25-year-old helped Washington Spirit to their first NWSL title, but she has since had loan spells at Sydney FC in Australia, and Spanish side Atletico Madrid.

Asisat Oshoala is perhaps the best known player in the squad.

Asisat Oshoala hugs Francisca Ordega after her goal against Sweden in the 2015 FIFA World Cup
Asisat Oshoala hugs Francisca Ordega after her goal against Sweden in the 2015 FIFA World CupAsisat Oshoala hugs Francisca Ordega after her goal against Sweden in the 2015 FIFA World Cup

Nicknamed 'Seedorf', after former Dutch midfielder Clarence Seedorf, the 24-year-old is currently on loan at FC Barcelona from Chinese side Dalian Quanjian.

After being the topscorer and best player at the 2014 FIFA U-20 World Cup, Oshoala had stints at English clubs Liverpool and Arsenal.

African sides have usually struggled in the Women's World Cup with Cameroon and South Africa, making their first appearance, facing an uphill battle to make the knockout stages.

Groups and format

Group A: France, South Korea, Norway, Nigeria

Group B: Germany, China, Spain, South Africa

Group C: Australia, Italy, Brazil, Jamaica

Group D: England, Scotland, Argentina, Japan

Group E: Canada, Cameroon, New Zealand, Netherlands

Group F: United States, Thailand, Chile, Sweden

The top two sides in each group with qualify for the last 16 as well as the four third-placed teams with the best records.

In the knockout stages, teams are permitted to make a fourth substitution if that match goes to extra time.

The final takes place in Lyon's Parc Olympique Lyonnais on 7 July.

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