USWNT narrow gap on Germany in latest FIFA world rankings

The USWNT moved closer to the world's best team Germany in the FIFA world rankings by winning the Algarve Cup.

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The World Cup will be no cakewalk for any of the top contenders.

While the leaderboard hasn’t changed much in the newly-released FIFA women’s world rankings, there has been a tightening at the top that points even more strongly to parity among the best national teams on the planet.

With the FIFA Women’s World Cup Canada 2015™ due to start on June 6, the top of the latest FIFA/Coca-Cola Women’s World Ranking demonstrates that the Algarve Cup matches in early March have helped to clarify that between No. 1 Germany, the No. 2-ranked United States and No. 3 France, a bounce of the ball could make all the difference. Throw in No. 4 Japan and the 5th-ranked Swedes and it’s clear that the bottleneck at the top of the field will make for some interesting possibilities once the Women’s World Cup reaches the knockout round.

China, who continue to have disastrous showings, are the biggest losers in the latest rankings, dropping three spots down to No. 16 in the world.

But for the U.S., after a really trying year of international play, winning the 2015 Algarve Cup championship has done more than just re-boost confidence. The U.S. is still ranked No. 2 behind Germany, but the U.S. is now just 10 points behind longtime German coach Silvia Neid’s squad.

Germany’s opening game shocking 4-2 loss to Sweden in the group round’s opening game of the prestigious Algarve Cup seems to have made a difference in the way FIFA has scored the German’s prowess. While the word in Portugal was that long-time Germany goalkeeper Nadine Angerer was ill, and that’s why she did not play after giving up four goals in that bruising loss to Sweden, it was clear that from that point forward, Neid was determined to press younger German players into action and shake up the lineup in order to get better results from her squad. It worked, for the most part, as Germany wound up third at the Algarve Cup.

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However, the other big storyline continues to be France. In addition to their victory over the U.S. on Feb. 6, Les Bleus also earned their first-ever finals appearance in Portugal. France won all three of their group-round matches, only to fall to the U.S. in the finale.

Meanwhile, Pia Sundhage’s Swedish team placed fourth in Portugal, but not before scoring that stirring comeback win over Germany. The former U.S. coach has gone home to bring Sweden up in the FIFA rankings, and while analysts do not figure on Sweden winning the 2015 World Cup, the fact that Sweden have been paired with the U.S. in the ‘Group of Death’ adds another level of intrigue for the Americans in a year they are determined to win their first World Cup since 1999.

A little further down in the rankings, England are No. 6; Brazil No. 7; Canada and North Korea jointly hold the No. 8 ranking while Australia complete the Top 10.

England’s defeat of Canada in the Cyprus Cup earlier this month means that the Lionesses are now just seven points behind fifth-placed Sweden. World Cup hosts Canada have climbed one place to joint-eighth alongside Korea DPR, who are the only team in the top ten not to have qualified for the World Cup.

FIFA also released a look at the respective strengths of the World Cup groups which reveals that Group D, which contains the USA (2nd), Australia (10th), Sweden (5th) and Nigeria (33rd), is the strongest on paper with an average ranking of 12.5, while Group C (Japan (fourth), Switzerland (19th), Cameroon (53rd) and Ecuador (48th), is the weakest (31).