The Tokyo Olympics have finally arrived and with it, the women's soccer competition. Twelve teams from across the globe will battle over the next few weeks for a chance to represent their country on the Olympic podium, each of them hoping to obtain the gold medal.
The United States women's national team kick off the competition Wednesday against Sweden and are considered heavy favorites heading into the postponed 2020 games. During the 2016 Rio games, the USWNT were eliminated in the quarterfinals on penalty kicks by the very same Sweden, and were sent home without an Olympic medal for the first time in the program's Olympic history. The team bounced back however, remaining the top FIFA ranked team in the world and going on to win the 2019 World Cup.
Despite the concerns and unknowns around the current games being held amidst an on-going pandemic, the Olympics are moving forward, and the USWNT are still one of the most in form teams heading into the tournament. So who can actually upset this powerhouse? Let's take a look at the teams playing the Olympics and rank which could give the USWNT some trouble during the Olympics.
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11. Zambia (Group F)
Making their Olympic debut in the Tokyo, Zambia are the only team representing the African continent in women's soccer during the summer games. Everyone loves an underdog story, but the team has a tough road ahead of them and are unlikely to meet USWNT in a knockout scenario given that they'd first have to get out of a group with the Netherlands, Brazil and China. Upset ranking: Stranger things haven't really happened
10. Chile (Group E)
La Roja Femenina aren't unfamiliar with big tournaments, being runners-up in Copa America Femenina and competing in the 2019 World Cup. The squad had a long road to the Olympics, having to win a playoff game against Cameroon to qualify, and are in a tough group to advance out of. While they do have a strong defense with an elite goalkeeper in Tiane Endler, but they've struggled offensively in front of goal and with the likes of Canada, Great Britain and hosts Japan in their group, reaching the latter stages will be a daunting task. Upset ranking: Would be an all time great story
9. New Zealand (Group G)
The Football Ferns are lead by former USWNT coach Tom Sermani, but have the least amount of games together in preparation for the Olympics. The team has talented players on defense in Abby Erceg and Ali Riley, who both play in NWSL. Unlike the teams above them on this list though, they're at least guaranteed of getting to take one swing at the goliath as they're in the USWNT's Group G. That's enough to sneak them over Chile in the rankings, even though Chile is likely the better side all things considered. Upset ranking: Nah we can't....but what if...nah I'm just joking...unless?
8. China (Group F)
Another team in a bit of a rebuild, China managed to qualify for the Olympics in a high scoring tightly contested match against South Korea that needed extra time and goal aggregate to help them. Wang Shanshan could provide some goals, and the team may advance, but don't pose a huge threat to USWNT. Upset ranking: Unlikely
7. Australia (Group G)
The Matildas have one of the best players in the world in striker Sam Kerr, but also have huge concerns surrounding their backline and defensive abilities ahead of the Olympics. Led by former USWNT assistant coach Tony Gustavsson, recent friendlies have left much to be desired in terms of performances leaving more questions than answers ahead of the Olympics. Many players have familiarity playing against their USWNT counterparts after spending time in NWSL, but have always struggled against them on the international stage. But, did mention Sam Kerr? Upset ranking: Unlikely (but also Sam Kerr)
6. Japan (Group E)
The home team shouldn't be overlooked as they're the home side. Have been in a bit of a re-building phase since reaching the finals of the 2015 World Cup, but are still a tactically minded side able to frustrate teams with their possession and could have the added boost of playing at home despite no fans in the stands. Upset ranking: Possible
5. Brazil (Group F)
The Brazilians have always provided international tournaments with thrilling soccer on the pitch. Led by the greatest women's footballer in Marta, the team is also witnessing the rise of another top ten global talent in Debinha. Both players are familiar with the USWNT as they have played club soccer in the National Women's Soccer League. The team is also managed by Pia Sundhage, the former USWNT team coach who oversaw the 2011 World Cup team and 2012 Olympic gold medal winning team (as well as the 2016 Sweden team that knocked the USWNT out in the quarterfinals). The roster is a mix of veteran experience and upcoming talent, that includes 43-year-old midfielder Formiga and 23-year-old striker Geyse (to say nothing of 18-year-old Gio Queiroz). Despite some question marks on their defense, the team has more than enough to make things interesting in the midfield should Brazil and U.S. meet in the Olympics. Upset ranking: It's soccer, and they're Brazil, it could happen
Gio Queiroz’s Insta story is so cool.— Ameé Ruszkai (@ameeruszkai) July 19, 2021
Gio (18yo) is the second youngest female footballer at #Tokyo2020
Formiga (43yo) will become the oldest player to play at the Olympics, at her seventh(!) Games.
Caption: “I never imagined I would be playing in the national team with her.” pic.twitter.com/no43OCVmid
4. Great Britain (Group E)
The team doesn't have many games together as a national side compared to some other national teams heading into the Olympics, thanks to the weird quirk which sees England, Scotland, Wales and Norther Ireland compete separately throughout most soccer competitions but collectively at the Olympics. But they have a roster full of top talent out of the four nations, and several of the players all play with FA WSL side Manchester City, and the familiarity can only help them through the group stage. Upset ranking: Legit (but also come on they're mostly England)
3. Canada (Group E)
Long time Concacaf rivals to the USWNT, Canada is in Group E alongside Great Britain, Japan, and Chile. The Canadians have work to do in their own group if they're to meet the U.S. in a knockout game, and should the opportunity present itself, the game is likely to be a battle. The team has heavy Olympic history with the U.S. as well after Alex Morgan scored a late game winner in second extra time during the 2012 London semifinal that eliminated Canada ahead of the gold medal match. This side has come a long way from that game, winning a bronze medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics, and their star forward Christine Sinclair is the all-time leading international goal scorer. The 37-year-old might not be the central figure on the team for playmaking, but with players like Ashley Lawrence and Nichelle Prince available on the roster she'll have plenty of service. The team also has an elite goalkeeper in Kailen Sheridan to ensure things don't get out of control in the final third. Upset ranking: Nobody likes losing a grudge match
2. Sweden (Group G)
Long time European rivals of the USWNT, the Swedish women's national team are famously known for eliminating the United States from the previous games at Rio 2016. After the historic upset, the team went on to the Olympic final, where they were runners-up against Germany and earned the 2016 silver medal. They're an experienced team who have also had deep tournament runs in the 2017 Euros, and were semifinalist during the 2019 World Cup. They have one of the most prolific midfielders in the world Kosovare Asllani, who plays with Real Madrid, and an elite center back in Magda Eriksson. The first match in Group G play will be against United States, and it could be a preview of what's ahead in the Olympics. Upset Ranking: Please no, not again
1. Netherlands (Group F)
This is the team out of Europe on paper that can give team USA the most trouble. The Netherlands are reigning European Champions and were runners-up in the 2019 World Cup, but are debutants for this Olympics. They have a roster that can compete with some of the best in the world, including the USWNT. Vivianne Miedema is arguably the best player on the planet right now and can score big goals for the team along with being a key playmaker for the rest of this dynamic attacking group. Lieke Martens has played her way back into form, coming off a historic Champions League title with FC Barcelona, and on top of that the Netherlands are among a select number of teams to have had some international friendlies against USWNT leading up to the Tokyo Olympics. Should these sides meet the Netherlands will know what to expect and won't be intimidated. Upset ranking: Is it even one?