US, Japan, Germany set for women's U-20 World Cup
The United States, defending champion Germany and host Japan will be the leading title contenders at the women's under-20 World Cup, which kicks off this weekend.
The U.S. won the tournament in 2002 and 2008. The team will be looking to emulate its USA senior national team, which won its third straight gold medal at the London Olympics by beating Japan in the final.
Host nation Japan is aiming to add to the success of the 2011 World Cup win by its senior women's team.
The United States opens group play against Ghana on Aug. 20 in Hiroshima and plays China three days later before wrapping up the first round against defending champion Germany in Miyagi on Aug. 27.
Uzbekistan was originally scheduled to host the Aug. 19-Sept. 8 tournament, but FIFA stripped it of hosting rights because of ''a number of logistical and technical issues.''
The Americans will be motivated given they failed to finish among the top four at the 2010 U-20 tournament in Germany, where they suffered a surprising exit to Nigeria in the quarterfinals.
''The roster is a good blend of youth and experience, and we feel one of the strengths of this team is how they play together,'' U.S. coach Steve Swanson said on U.S. Soccer's website.
The U-20 team has produced current senior members Rachel Buehler, Heather O'Reilly, Lauren Cheney and Alex Morgan. More future senior players are expected from this under-20 team.
Five members of the U.S. squad - Bryanne Heaberlin, Crystal Dunn, Mollie Pathman, Maya Hayes and Samantha Mewis - took part in the 2010 tournament.
Germany won this tournament in 2004 and 2010, so the clash in Miyagi promises to be a good test for both teams.
Japan has injuries to several key players including Mana Iwabuchi and Mai Kyokawa, but coach Hiroshi Yoshida said his team was ready to follow in the footsteps of the senior women at last year's World Cup.
Japan's first group game is against Mexico on Aug. 19 followed by New Zealand on Aug. 22 and Switzerland four days later. The first two games will be played in Miyagi, a region that was hit hard by last year's earthquake and tsunami.
Germany opens against China in Hiroshima on Aug. 20 and take on Ghana three days later before traveling to Miyagi for their key clash with the United States.