US and Thailand are last to kick off the World Cup

REIMS, France (AP) — Thailand can dream. It just might not do any good against the U.S. national team.

Thailand kicks off the Women’s World Cup on Tuesday with a daunting challenge against the defending champion United States. The top-ranked Americans are seeking their fourth overall World Cup title, and Thailand coach Nuengruethai Sathongwien said the team is not backing down.

“I think if the dream comes true, we can make history to upset one of the best teams in the world,” Sathongwien said. “And it means Thailand can play with the best teams in the world.”

Parties organized by various chapters of American Outlaws, a nationwide support group for the U.S. men’s and women’s national soccer teams, will be held in the following locations:

— O’brien’s Pub, in Kearny Mesa at 4646 Convoy St, San Diego

— The Harp, in Ocean Beach at 4935 Newport Ave, San Diego,

— Blue Goot Bar and Lounge, in North Park at 3404 30th St, San Diego; and

— Senor Grubby’s, at both Carlsbad (377 Carlsbad Village Dr, Carlsbad) and Oceanside (311 N. Tremont St. Oceanside) locations.

The Thais are ranked No. 34 in the world but in its 2015 World Cup debut the team finished third in its group with a first win on the sport’s biggest stage, a 3-2 victory over Ivory Coast.

Games against top opponents give Thailand an opportunity to see how the team is progressing, with a goal of growing the game back home.

FILE – In this Saturday, May 25, 2019, file photo, United States women’s national soccer team head coach Jill Ellis smiles during a training session at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J. Ellis has criticized FIFA, soccer’s international governing body, for scheduling two other finals, for the CONCACAF Gold Cup and the Copa America, on the same day as the Women’s World Cup championship game. (AP Photo/Steve Luciano, File)

“We are here in the 24-team final, that is our success, and to play one of the best teams in the world, that is also a success,” Sathongwien said.

For the United States, success will be another star above its crest.

The Americans charged through Canada four years ago to the final, beating Japan 5-2 to raise the trophy. Carli Lloyd scored three goals in the title game’s first 16 minutes.

The United States is also celebrating the 20-year anniversary of the 1999 team that memorably won the title on home soil, downing China on penalties after a scoreless draw at the Rose Bowl. The ’99ers, as they are known, were credited with raising the women’s game in the United States.

The United States is not getting ahead of itself at the World Cup, although it’s generally understood that the team’s first two group games — against Thailand and Chile — should not be all that demanding. But in the final group match before the knockout round, the Americans will face nemesis Sweden, who they’ve been grouped with six times in World Cup play.

“I respect every team over here because I think sometimes it’s incredibly hard to get here. So the fact that they’re here, they’re competing, and they’re ready, we know we have to be at our very best,” U.S. coach Jill Ellis said. “That’s the challenge for us, making sure we identify our opponent, but also make sure we focus on ourselves and make sure all our tools are sharpened and ready to go.”

Thailand and the United States are the final two teams in the field to kick off in the group stage. Earlier in the evening, Sweden plays Chile in Rennes.

The team is focused on winning again in France even while at home the players are looking for a different victory. Known for championing women’s rights and equality, the players collectively filed a lawsuit earlier this year that alleges discrimination by the U.S. Soccer Federation and are seeking pay equitable with that of the men’s national team.

That’s on the backburner for now.

“Of course we have additional things outside of this team that people are going to try to distract us with, or things before that we have put on hold, that we will remain doing after the World Cup,” forward Alex Morgan said. “But right now this is our focus, this is our sole focus.”

The U.S. is 5-0-2 in its World Cup openers.

All 23 U.S. players play in the National Women’s Soccer League. Thailand goalkeeper Tiffany Sornpao plays for Kennesaw State. Forward Maranda Nild completed her college career last fall at California. Both were born in the U.S. All its other players play for teams in Thailand.

Each of the 24 teams in the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup will play three games in group play. The top two teams in each of the six four-team groups will advance to the single-elimination portion of the tournament, along with four of the third-place teams.

The U.S. is among six nations to qualify for all eight FIFA Women’s Cups. Thailand is playing in its second. It went 1-2-0 in the 2015 tournament, failing to advance out of the group stage.

This will be the second time the U.S. will face Thailand. The U.S. won 9-0 on Sept. 15, 2016 with Morgan scoring twice in the final six minutes plus stoppage time and Press scoring four minutes into the game.

Seventeen of the 18 U.S. players who played in that match are on the 2019 World Cup Team.

The game will be televised in English by Fox and in Spanish by Telemundo.

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