In all, 12 teams are in the Olympic tournament, three groups of four each:
The two top teams in each group plus the two best third-place teams will form the eight that move on to the knockout stage.
In other words, there is almost no way the United States will not survive the group stage.
But there’s a big, big difference between surviving and winning. The Americans’ path to the gold medal game becomes much easier if it finishes first in Group G.
That’s because, as Graham Hays of ESPNW noted, if Germany and the United States win their groups, the top-ranked Americans wouldn’t have to play No. 2 Germany until the final — if at all.
If, on the other hand, the United States were to finish second in its group, “it could set up a potentially disastrous quarterfinal against Germany in which the loser would be out of the medal round,” Hays wrote.
Moreover, by winning its group, the United States could force France (the most likely second-place finisher) into that tough, early matchup with Germany.
Having those two duke it out, with the loser going home, could only make life easier for Team USA.
The gold medal match is Aug. 19.
Here’s a look at how Team USA stacks up against its group opponents. (You can see a more detailed analysis from U.S. Soccer here.)
USA vs. New Zealand
6 p.m. CT, Aug. 3
New Zealand’s ranking: 16
U.S. record vs. New Zealand:11-1-1
Last meeting: April 4, 2015, St. Louis. USA won 4-0.
Previous Olympic meetings: 2012, USA won 2-0. 2008, USA won 4-0
Miscellaneous: Three of the four U.S. goals in the April 2015 game came from defenders: Meghan Klingenberg, Lori Chalupny, and Julie Johnston. The fourth was by midfielder Morgan Brian.
3 p.m. CT, Aug. 6
France’s ranking: 3
U.S. record vs. France: 16-1-2
Last meeting: March 6, 2016, SheBelieves Cup, Nashville. USA won 1-0 on a stoppage-time goal by Alex Morgan.
Previous Olympic meetings: 2012, USA won 4-2, after falling behind 0-2.
Miscellaneous: Of its group opponents, the United States has played France the most, 19 times. The Americans have outscored Les Blues 51-14.
5 p.m. CT, Aug. 9
Colombia’s ranking: 24
U.S. record against Colombia: 5-0-0
Last meeting: April 10, Chester, Pa. USA won 3-0 on two goals by Julie Johnston and one by Christen Press.
Previous Olympic meetings: 2012, USA won 3-0.
Miscellaneous: This will be the fourth consecutive world championship in which the two teams have met. In addition to the 2012 Games, they face off in the 2011 and 2015 World Cups. Colombia has yet to score against the United States. Carli Lloyd has scored in each of the teams ‘ five matches.