The 2023 Women’s World Cup promises to be the biggest and best yet.
Not only is ticket demand soaring, it will literally be the biggest tournament in the competition’s 32-year history after FIFA took the decision to expand it from 24 teams to 32.
The growth, while giving the opportunity to a number of countries like Vietnam, Philippines, Haiti, Panama and Republic of Ireland to qualify for the first time, could also swell the group of contenders to go all the way and lift the trophy at the end of August.
The United States are current holders are triumphs in both 2015 and 2019, but they won’t have things all their own way in Australia and New Zealand when things get going and there will be competition from all over vying for that global crown.
Netherlands had some rotten luck at Euro 2022, losing key players Vivianne Miedema and Jackie Groenen to Covid-19 for part of the tournament. They also struggled to translate their obvious talent into convincing performances and eventually went out in the quarter-finals.
That was disappointingly early for the 2017 champions and the 2019 World Cup runners-up. But, without Miedema again and having long since lost Sarina Wiegman’s magic touch to England, they may continue to slump.
It will still be a Dutch squad littered with talent. Danielle van de Donk, Jill Roord and Lieke Martens bring vast experience, while Victoria Pelova, Damaris Egurrola, Kerstin Casparij, Esmee Brugts and Romee Leuchter represent a new generation. Daphne van Domselaar is also now the established number one after breaking out at Euro 2022,
Canada have shown their recent mettle when it comes to winning global international tournaments by claiming gold at the most recent Olympics in 2021. They won’t blow anyone away but are well drilled by English coach Bev Priestman and know to grind out results.
Christine Sinclair, the world’s all-time top international goalscorer, will turn 40 before the World Cup begins but is still going strong. Kadeisha Buchanan and Jessie Fleming are important for Chelsea, Ashley Lawrence stars for PSG and Manchester United’s Jayde Riviere is tipped for future stardom.
A concern for Canada is that defeats to the United States and Japan at the 2023 SheBelieves Cup and a more recent loss to France aren’t ideal preparation against teams they would need to beat this summer. There have also been behind the scenes issues over pay equity and budget cuts, prompting the players to protest against Canada Soccer in February.
Brazil have been at every Women’s World Cup since the first in 1991 and have traditionally had some of the best players around – fitness permitting, this could be a 37-year-old Marta’s sixth tournament.
They previously reached the final in 2007 after stunning the United States in the semi-finals, sparking a huge controversy in the American camp centring on outspoken goalkeeper Hope Solo, and much more recently gave England a real run for their money in the Women’s Finalissima.
Brazil are unpredictable and entertaining. And while they are very capable, as shown by a recent win over Germany, their overall recent record against the global elite could ultimately hold them back – there have been defeats against the United States, Canada and Sweden since the start of 2022.
France are often well-fancied and frequently underachieve at major tournaments. But it would be foolish to write them off at any point because of the sheer number of super talented players in every part of the pitch.
Les Bleues were probably the team of the group stage at Euro 2022 last summer, but then seemed to run out of steam and ended up falling in the semi-finals. They also started brightly at the last World Cup on home soil, before coming up against the United States in the quarter-finals.
In recent years, problems behind the scenes haven’t helped and long-serving coach Corinne Diacre was sacked in March after key players Wendie Renard, Kadidiatou Diani and Marie-Antoinette Katoto made themselves unavailable. Renowned men’s international manager Herve Renard, no relation to Wendie, is now in charge.
Spain have Alexia Putellas back fit after she missed Euro 2022 with an ACL injury, having made her return to action for Barcelona during the final stages of the club season – but she didn’t start any of those games, not even the Champions League final, as she first tried to build fitness.
La Roja have only partially resolved the problems that saw 15 players declare themselves unavailable for selection last September can amid complaints about the conditions and the atmosphere within the national team setup under coach Jorge Vilda. Mapi Leon and Patri Guijarro are big names who ruled themselves out of World Cup contention, but Aitana Bonmati, Mariona Caldentey and Ona Batlle at least return, however. Jenni Hermoso and captain Irene Paredes have supported the group’s stance but neither sent that email to RFEF and both selected too.
Spain have relied on squad depth, allowing the likes of Esther Gonzalez to shine, and have only been beaten by a strong Australia in their 12 games getting knocked out of Euro 2022 disappointingly early.
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England go into the World Cup as reigning European champions following last summer’s Euro 2022 triumph. That comes with huge expectation, but the team is already substantially different just a year on and their final three games before this summer’s tournament haven’t shown convincing form.
Beth Mead and Leah Williamson are both out with ACL injuries, while Fran Kirby is going to be absent because of a different knee problem. Ellen White has also retired, meaning that four of Sarina Wiegman’s unchanged starting XI through the Euros are automatically out of the equation.
That being said, Ella Toone, Alessia Russo and Chloe Kelly have had great club seasons and will take on bigger roles. Rachel Daly is now a prolific striker instead of a left-back and Lauren James is a potential X-factor who wasn’t there at all last summer.
Sweden are one of the traditional powerhouses of women’s international football and consistently perform well at tournaments, reaching the semi-finals or better in each of their most recent appearances at the World Cup, European Championships and Olympics.
The Swedes have also played in a World Cup final (2003) and have finished third on three separate occasions (1991, 2011 and 2019). That being said, they haven’t got over the line since the inaugural Euros back in 1984.
There is an element of this being now or never for Sweden. A significant proportion of the squad are in their late twenties or early thirties and this could be a last major tournament for a number of them.
Australia have world class players in superstar striker Sam Kerr, full-back Ellie Carpenter and clever wide forward Caitlin Foord, and have seen just how much home advantage can influence a tournament off the back of England winning Euro 2022 last summer.
The Matildas will fancy their chances of topping a group containing Canada, Nigeria and a Republic of Ireland side making their tournament debut. They have also registered impressive wins over England, Spain and Sweden this season, despite a surprise defeat to Scotland.
Some injuries will prevent Australia from having their very strongest squad, but it will be about how they continue to manage their available resources.
The rest of Europe has caught up with Germany when it comes to international football, having previously won six European Championships in a row from 1995 until 2013. But they still had enough about them to reach the Euro 2022 final and be very much in it all the way through extra-time.
Dzsenifer Marozsan may have called time on her international career, but this is still a German squad packed full of experience at the highest level without being considered an ageing team. It is a perfect balance.
Lena Oberdorf, 21, and Jule Brand, 20, are both the future and the present for Germany. Lea Schuller is now 25 and has a remarkable scoring record at international level, but is due a good tournament after failing to really make her mark in either 2019 or 2022.
As back-to-back reigning champions and number one in the FIFA world rankings, the United States will be the team to beat in 2023. They have won 21 of their last 24 games, including all seven played so far this year without conceding a goal – opponents have included Canada, Japan and Brazil.
It will be something of a new look squad at this World Cup, with the likes of Sophia Smith, Trinity Rodman and 18-year-old Alyssa Thompson among those going to a World Cup for the first time.
That being said, plenty of experience remains. Alex Morgan, soon to be 34, is back to her best and was runner-up in the latest Best FIFA Women’s Player vote, with veterans Megan Rapinoe, Kelley O’Hara and Alyssa Naeher all going for one last shot at glory. Capain Becky Sauerbrunn is an unfortunate absentee after failing to shake off a foot injury from April.