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On 20 July 2023 the ninth Women’s World Cup kicks off when co-hosts New Zealand play Norway in Auckland. The first women’s World Cup took place in China in 1991 and involved 12 nations. There are now 32 teams involved which is an increase on the 24 teams that competed in 2019. USA are by far the most successful team in World Cup finals having won four of the previous eight tournaments played. Behind them are Germany, who have won twice, and Japan and Norway each have a single win. England’s best performance came in 2015 when they were third, and they came fourth in 2019. However, as England won the Euros in 2022 under Sarina Wiegman’s management hopes are high in their camp.
The tournament is being co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand and it is the first time it has been held in the southern hemisphere. There will be five venues in Australia – Sydney, Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide and Melbourne, and four venues in New Zealand – Auckland, Wellington, Dunedin and Hamilton. The final will be played at Stadium Australia in Sydney where there is capacity for 83,500 spectators.
There is often more intrigue in the group games
Due to the expansion of the tournament to 32 teams there are inevitably teams competing in their first World Cup finals. While there are 20 of the teams that competed in 2019, there are nine teams making their World Cup debuts. What is noticeable is the sheer diversity of with teams such as the Philippines and Vietnam, whose men’s teams have never appeared in World Cup finals before. Zambia and Morocco are two debut teams from Africa, with Morocco becoming the first Arab Nation to be represented. They join Nigeria and South Africa as African representatives. The ‘girls in green’ from Republic of Ireland will also compete for the first time, and many of their players come from teams in the Women’s Super League so may be familiar to viewers in the UK.
Haiti, Morocco, Zambia and Panama are the lowest ranked teams in the tournament and there will be some interesting match ups with potential for memorable giant-killing feats. England play Haiti, Germany play Morocco and Zambia play Spain in group games. There are also some big teams matched in the group stage as France play Brazil, USA play the Netherlands and Sweden play Italy.
Will it be joy in Sydney for the Lionesses?
England are currently ranked fourth by FIFA with the top three being USA, Germany and Sweden. However, the bookmakers rate England as second favourites just behind USA with Spain in third, and as we know the bookmakers rarely get it wrong!
England would likely be favourites had they not lost Beth Mead, Leah Williamson and Fran Kirby to long-term injuries and there are doubts around Millie Bright’s fitness. However, they have an outstanding manager in Sarina Wiegman and star quality in players such as Alessia Russo, Mary Earps and Lauren James. While England should progress from their group they potentially face Germany in a tough quarter final and also have France, Brazil and Canada on their side of the draw.
The USA have players with experience of winning the tournament such as Megan Rapinoe and striker Alex Morgan, who scored six times in the 2019 World Cup. They have a strong midfield with Julie Ertz, Sam Lewis and Rose Lavelle. One player to look out for is Trinity Rodman, daughter of basketball legend Dennis Rodman, who is tricky, goal-scoring winger.
Of the two host nations, Australia have the better chance of making an impression on the tournament. In 2019 their World Cup campaign fell apart when their centre back Clare Polkinghorne experienced a torn hamstring. In 2023 the hopes of the Matildas seem to centre around striker Sam Kerr of Chelsea, who is regarded as the best player in the world. While teams will focus on starving her of service and marking her out of the game she says she only needs one opportunity to score. She does have a strong supporting cast and home advantage will ensure that the Matildas go a long way in this tournament.
Will I be able to watch the games?
Despite some fears that the games may not receive television coverage in the UK, it has been agreed that the BBC and ITV will show all 64 games of the tournament. Although there is a significant time differential between the UK and Australia/New Zealand, the kick-off times of the matches range from between 6 am and 11 am. It is time to take some holiday, arrange flexible hours of working, or avoid finding out the score until you watch the game later. If you’re an England fan, let’s hope that on 20 August you will be able to slap on the red and white face paint and support the Lionesses in the final!