This question seems like it will never have to be asked in men’s soccer for the World Cup, but it has often rung true when the Women’s World Cup comes around: Which countries are best positioned to dethrone the United States as world champions?
The U.S. women are the gold standard, having won the most World Cups of any nation (three) and entering this year’s tournament in France ranked No. 1 in the world.
But other countries have put more of an emphasis on women’s soccer and developmental programs, and several rightfully feel they are in position to take over as the top team in the world by the end of this year’s World Cup.
Here are the five biggest threats to the Americans and their bid to repeat.
After the men’s team won the World Cup last year, don’t be surprised if the women’s team makes France the kings and queens of soccer. No nation has held both titles at once.
The French have gotten better over the years and have been building up to this World Cup on home soil for a long time, and their moment might be here with a deep and versatile roster.
Ranked No. 4 in the world going in, France is led by defender Wendie Renard, midfielders Amandine Henry and Eugunie Le Sommer, and goalie Sarah Bouhaddi.
France is also eyeing a potential quarterfinal matchup against the U.S., which would be in Paris, no less.
A perennial power ranked No. 2 in the world, the Germans might be the ones defending the title had they converted a penalty kick in a scoreless game during a 2015 semifinal against the U.S.
The Germans are dangerous offensively behind Alexandra Popp, Dzsenifer Marozsan and 21-year-old Lea Schuller.
There is uncertainty in goal, but this will be a hard team to eliminate. If Germany wins the title, it will tie the U.S. for most all-time titles with three.
A fast-rising program, England could break through and do something the men’s team hasn’t done since 1966, which is win a world title.
Ranked No. 3 in the world, England returns a good core of its team that lost at the last minute on an own goal to Japan in a 2015 semifinal, led by forward Ellen White, who is appearing in her third World Cup.
Fran Kirby, Nikita Parris, Beth Mead, Lucy Bronze and Toni Duggan also are dangerous scorers and help comprise a potent attack for England.
The Canadians have yet to register a win against the U.S., but they are still a solid program that is ranked No. 5 in the world and capable of making some noise in France.
The best thing working in Canada’s favor is the draw: It can advance to the semifinals without having to face the U.S., England, France or Germany.
Christine Sinclair, 36, is three goals shy of tying former U.S. star Abby Wambach’s record for most international goals ever and is the engine that makes Canada’s offense go.
Kadeisha Buchanan, 23, and Jessie Fleming, 21, lead a good crop of younger players ready to shine on the World Cup stage.
After winning the World Cup in 2011 over the U.S. on penalty kicks and losing a championship game rematch to the U.S. in 2015 (5-2), the Japanese are taking a youthful squad to France in hopes of becoming the first nation to ever appear in three championship games in a row.
Defender/midfielder and captain Saki Kumagai will be the main veteran the team will lean on as many players get set to experience their first taste of World Cup action.
Australia - Sam Kerr is one of the world’s top strikers, and 12 players on the roster play in the National Women’s Soccer League, the professional league in the U.S.
The Netherlands - The Dutch have seemingly come out of nowhere since the last World Cup, winning the European championship in 2017 and climbing to No. 8 in the world rankings.
Norway - Impressive in qualifying, the Norwegians should be a factor behind a potent offense.
Spain - Spain has made rapid progress developing its program, winning the under-17 World Cup title in 2018 and advancing to the championship game at the under-20 World Cup in 2018. A good showing in France could be a bigger springboard to what looks like a bright future.
Sweden - Typically a solid squad that excels defensively, the Swedes are a good bet to make it to the knockout stage and be a hard out from there.