Paris Olympics: What to know and who to watch during the women’s soccer competition

A roadmap to follow for the women’s soccer competition during the Paris Olympics:

Athletes to Watch

—Sophia Smith, United States: The former U.S. Soccer Player of the Year and NWSL MVP is heading into the Olympics in peak form. The 23-year-old forward had a league-leading seven goals in the first seven games for the Portland Thorns in the National Women’s Soccer League.

—Aitana Bonmati, Spain: The reigning Ballon d’Or and FIFA Best Player of the Year winner led Spain to a World Cup title last summer. A fixture for Barcelona since 2016, the 26-year-old midfielder also helped lead the Spanish league team to the Champions League title in 2023.

—Linda Caicedo, Colombia: One of the most dynamic young players in the game, Caicedo is just 19. Her story is even more compelling because she overcame cancer at 15. Caicedo scored in a 2-1 victory against Germany at the 2023 Women’s World Cup, a goal that was nominated for the FIFA Puskas Award for best goal.

—Alexandra Popp, Germany: Popp scored four goals at last year’s Women’s World Cup, but Germany was surprisingly eliminated from the tournament after the group stage. The 33-year-old forward already has an Olympic gold medal from the 2016 Brazil Games.

—Barbra Banda, Zambia: Banda was a breakout star of the Tokyo Games, becoming the first player among men and women to have a hat trick in back-to-back games. The Orlando Pride in the NWSL paid a club-record transfer fee for the 24-year-old forward and it paid off: Banda had three goals in her first three games.

Storylines to Follow

—After a disappointing finish in the Women’s World Cup last summer, the United States will embark on its first major tournament under new coach Emma Hayes. Hayes, the former coach at Chelsea, only has four tuneup matches in charge of the U.S. before the team’s Olympic opener against Zambia in Nice on July 25. Hayes will be tasked with managing a talented group of young forwards, including Sophia Smith and Mallory Swanson.

—Spain is coming off a World Cup victory while also healing from a series of scandals. Could Spain be the first team to pull off a historic double by following a World Cup win with Olympic gold? Spanish federation president Luis Rubiales resigned in disgrace in the fallout after forcibly kissing Jenni Hermoso during the World Cup victory celebration. Spain also fired controversial World Cup-winning coach Jorge Vilda, who was replaced by former national team player Montserrat Tomé.

—Defending champion Canada is something of a wild card. After winning the gold medal in Tokyo on a penalty shootout after a 1-1 draw with Sweden, Canada was eliminated from the Women’s World Cup after the group stage. Christine Sinclair, the longtime captain of the team, retired at the end of last year, leaving the game as the top career international scorer. Still, the team has plenty of talent, with Jessie Fleming, Kadeisha Buchanan and Ashley Lawrence.

Key Dates

Women’s soccer at the Olympics consists of a round-robin group stage, followed by a knockout round. The women alternate days with the men’s soccer competition at cities across France. The group stage opens on July 25. There are three groups of four teams. Group A includes France, Canada, Colombia and New Zealand. Group B includes the United States, Zambia, Germany and Australia. Group C includes Spain, Japan, Nigeria and Brazil. The quarterfinals are scheduled for Aug. 3 and the semifinals on Aug. 6. The bronze medal match will be played in Lyon on Aug. 9, and the gold medal match is Aug. 10 in Paris.

Reigning Champion

Canada won the gold medal in Tokyo after winning bronze in both London and Rio.

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AP Summer Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/2024-paris-olympic-games

Copyright © 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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