United States coach Jill Ellis sings her national anthem prior to the start of the Women's World Cup Group F soccer match against Sweden. Photo: Alessandra Tarantino/AP

REIMS – United States coach Jill Ellis believes the emergence of nations such as Spain and Italy as forces in women’s football bodes well for the future despite the potential threat to her country’s dominance on the world stage.

The USA are the World Cup holders and are widely expected to beat Spain in the last 16 of this year’s tournament in Reims on Monday.

Spain won the men’s World Cup in 2010, in between winning Euro 2008 and Euro 2012, but this is the first time their women have reached the knockout phase.

Their performance comes with Italy having returned to the knockout stage for the first time in two decades, while the Netherlands have made it through to the last 16 fresh from winning Euro 2017 on home soil.

“With the utmost respect to Spain, I think there are a lot of programmes and a lot of teams now that have had the backing of federations and seen the growth of the game domestically,” Ellis said at a press conference ahead of Monday’s match.

Spain’s run to the last 16 comes after Barcelona’s women reached the final of the Champions League last month, losing to Lyon in Budapest.

“To have a professional league is critical and then to be in a culture that embraces soccer - you see this with Holland and Italy, it is a matter of time.”

Ellis was born in England and spent most of her childhood there before moving to the USA when her family relocated in 1981.

The USA’s status as the leading power in women’s football is in stark contrast with the struggles of the men, who failed to even qualify for the 2018 World Cup – earlier this year the women filed a lawsuit against their national federation in an effort to secure equal pay to the men.

“I had to leave my home country to go and experience the game and it is delightful that these countries are now actively supporting women’s football,” she went on.

“To me it’s a natural progression, in terms of the development in these countries. They eat, sleep and breathe soccer so it’s very much a positive thing for our game.

“As a fan of the game and someone who grew up in a time when it wasn’t that way in Europe, I think it’s great to see.”

The USA cruised into the last 16 by winning all three of their group games and Ellis confirmed that star striker Alex Morgan would be fit to face Spain after coming off in last Thursday’s 2-0 win over Sweden as a precaution.

AFP