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World Cup Preview

VICTORY The United States team (including Alex Morgan, top center) celebrates after winning the Women’s World Cup in Vancouver, Canada, on July 5, 2015. DENNIS GROMBKOWSKI—GETTY IMAGES

The Women’s World Cup kicks off in France this weekend. Twenty-four teams from around the world will take part in the soccer tournament. The United States is the defending champion, having defeated Japan in the most recent World Cup finals, in 2015. The competition begins on Friday, when host team France takes on South Korea.

Experts say the competition will be especially fierce this year. “This is the first time I have ever been able to name potential winners on more than one hand,” says Julie Foudy. She played for the U.S. team when it won the cup in 1999. Now she’s an analyst for the sports network ESPN. “Absolutely, this is the most competitive World Cup I have seen.”

For the first round of the tournament, the 24 teams involved have been split into six groups of four. The U.S. team is part of a group with Thailand, Chile, and Sweden. Each team will play the other teams in its group three times. The results of those games will determine which 16 teams advance to the next round.

After multiple rounds of knockout play, two teams will face off in a final game on July 7. The winner of that game will be declared the tournament’s champion.

The Women’s World Cup began in 1991. The U.S. has won three times: in 1991, 1999, and 2015. As the team works to add a fourth title to that list, it does so under added pressure. On March 8, all 28 of its members filed a lawsuit against the United States Soccer Federation (USSF). The lawsuit says the USSF discriminates against female athletes. It pays them much less than male athletes.

Alex Morgan is one of the team’s captains. She is expected to play a big part in its World Cup performance. Morgan made a statement about the lawsuit in March. “As players, we deserve to be paid equally for our work,” she said. “Regardless of our gender.”