Japan celebrates at the Women's World Cup.
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The 5 Best Teams Left After USWNT's Shocking Exit From the Women's World Cup

The powerhouse U.S. Women's National Team is out of the FIFA Women's World Cup early, leaving the door open for many other teams.

The 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup in Australia and New Zealand ended in disaster for the U.S. Women's National Team early Sunday morning.

The legendary squad was chock-full of youngsters, many of whom were making their first World Cup appearances. Their inexperience got the best of the U.S. Women's National Soccer Team in the Round of 16 against Sweden. The resulting loss was the worst World Cup finish ever for the Stars and Stripes, ending in a penalty shootout. 

The new faces of American soccer faced tougher competition than ever this year, and it showed in their results one win, two ties, and one loss — far below the USWNT's typically high standards.

While the present moment looks bleak, the future is still bright for the young and talented USWNT core. 

But the rest of the world is catching up, as demonstrated this summer in Australia. Here are the top five contenders left in the 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup:

5. Australia

Katrina Gorry of Australia dribbles the ball.

Photo by Daniela Porcelli/Eurasia Sport Images/Getty Images

WWC23 record: 3-1-0

Top scorer: Hayley Raso (3)

Why they can win it all:

The Matildas are through the quarterfinals after taking down Denmark 2-0 early Monday morning. Not only that, but they have a favorable matchup against whomever they face next, whether it be France or Morocco.

The Sam Kerr-led host nation has ridden a wave of momentum into a favorable position in the knockout brackets. Their home-field advantage has been palpable throughout the tournament. And now that Kerr — their star player — is back from injury, Australia looks set to cruise into the semifinals and possibly beyond. 

4. Sweden 

Hanna Bennison of Sweden kicks the ball.

Photo by Alexander Bogatyrev/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

WWC23 record: 4-0-0

Top scorer: Amanda Ilestedt (3)

Why they can win it all:

Well, they already slayed the dragon, didn't they? So who says Sweden doesn't have what it takes to go all the way this year? 

The Swedes breezed through Group H, only giving up one goal and scoring nine. Sweden was ranked No. 3 in the world by FIFA before the World Cup, and they've proven that ranking was accurate. Even though defender Amanda Ilestedt leads the team with three goals in this tournament, forwards Rebecka Blomqvist, Fridolina Rolfö and Stina Blackstenius all gave the inexperienced U.S. defense one of its most challenging tests of the year. Sweden might just be the best team to never win the Women's World Cup, and it'll be looking to amend that soon.

3. Spain

Aitana Bonmati of Spain points during a game.

Photo by Guo Lei/Xinhua via Getty Images

WWC23 record: 3-0-1

Top scorer: Aitana Bonmati (3)

Why they can win it all:

Despite a surprise beatdown at the feet of Japan in the group stages, the Spanish are far from down and out. They found their groove again by thrashing Denmark 5-1 in the Round of 16, securing a quarterfinal match against the Netherlands on Thursday.

Spain stars eight members of a women's Barcelona squad that has dominated European football for the last decade, including two-time Ballon d'Or Féminin winner Alexia Putellas. 

Spain had a lot of drama behind the scenes leading up to Australia and New Zealand — 15 players, including Putellas, essentially boycotted the squad over a coaching row. That row may be catching up to them now, as they have so far underperformed in 2023. But now that they've found their form again, they might just go all the way.

2. England

Alex Greenwood of England runs during a match.

Photo by Jose Breton/Pics Action/NurPhoto via Getty Images

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WWC23 record: 4-0-0

Top scorer: Lauren James (3)

Why they can win it all:

England had long been touted as the biggest obstacle to the USWNT's threepeat. Despite losing three of their best players to ACL injuries, the reigning Euro champs looked unbeatable in Group D, outscoring Denmark, Haiti and China 8-1. 

The Lionesses, however, struggled against Nigeria in their first knockout match, winning the game on penalties after failing to score in regulation. To make matters even worse, star player and leading scorer Lauren James got a red card for stomping on a Nigerian opponent. She'll be out for the quarterfinal against either Colombia or Jamaica, two upstart squads with their eyes set on an upset.

Even if England can win their quarterfinal without James, they'll likely face a tough semifinal against host nation Australia. And assuming the Lionesses can survive Kerr in the semis, they'll likely face their toughest opponent of all: the quiet giant of Japan.

1. Japan

Jun Endo of Japan kicks the ball.

Photo by Joe Serci/Eurasia Sport Images/Getty Images

WWC23 record: 4-0-0

Top scorer: Hinata Miyazawa (5)

Why they can win it all:

Because who the hell is going to stop them?

Japan, which was the FIFA Women's World Cup runner-up in 2011 and finished third in 2015, looks like an unstoppable force in 2023. The Nadeshiko allowed ZERO goals in Group C and only one against Norway during their Round of 16 win. That includes a 4-0 thumping of Spain, which FIFA had ranked five spots higher than Japan before the tournament. 

Nobody is overlooking Japanese soccer anymore. Japan has the tournament's Golden Boot leader, Hinata Miyazawa, and a playing style has been described as clinical, efficient and economical — Spain had 78% possession against Japan in its 4-0 loss, meaning Japan scored four goals on 22% possession. 

That stat is absolutely wild

Japan's day is rising as the sun sets on an incredible era of U.S. women's soccer. As the U.S. women lick their wounds and feel the surprising weight of a newly formed chip on their shoulders, the Japanese have shown that they have what it takes to stake their claim as the best. For a soccer program that's long been on the rise, the 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup feels like a prize that may long have been overdue.

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