A Beginner’s Guide to the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup

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The 9th edition of the FIFA Women’s World Cup begins July 20th. Ilaria Riccio tells you everything you need to know.

The drought for avid football (soccer) fans is about to be over: from the 20th of July and throughout the entire month, the FIFA Women’s World Cup will take centre stage before the regular season begins. Australia and New Zealand are hosting the 9th edition of the tournament, which was last won by the United States in the 2019 France-based tournament. With the Republic of Ireland making its World Cup debut and major changes to the tournament’s format, chances are many new fans will be watching the Women’s World Cup for the first time this summer - so here is a beginner-friendly guide to the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup. 

The tournament will be the first edition of the Women’s World Cup to feature 32 teams instead of 24, which allows for a longer and more intense competition. 

The 2023 tournament will be the first edition of the Women’s World Cup to feature 32 teams instead of 24, thus allowing for a longer competition and the possibility for more teams to be involved in the biggest stage of International Women’s Football. This decision speaks to the increased interest in Women’s football worldwide by fans and institutions alike. Indeed, alongside Ireland, other debutants include Zambia, Portugal, Vietnam, Panama, the Philippines, Morocco, and Haiti. The defending champions, the US, is also the most decorated country in the history of the Women’s World Cup, having won the tournament four times. Past champions Japan, Germany, and Norway also feature in the 2023 edition, which is the first to have two host nations. 

The format follows the same structure as the Men’s World Cup: the 32 teams are divided into eight groups of four, competing against each other once. The top two teams of each group advance to the knockout stage comprising a Round of 16, Quarter-finals, Semi-finals, and a Final, which will take place at the Sydney Olympic Stadium on the 20th of August. A third-place playoff between the two losers of each semi-final will also be held to complete the tournament’s podium. 

As per FIFA regulations, New Zealand and Australia automatically qualified to the tournament as hosts and were placed in groups A and B respectively. Group A is made up of Norway, the Philippines, and Switzerland. The inaugural match will see New Zealand and Norway face each other in Auckland on Thursday 20th July at 7 PM local time - at 8 AM in Dublin. The Norwegian national team will try to bounce back from a disappointing campaign at the 2022 UEFA Women’s Euro, where they suffered their biggest-ever defeat, losing 8-0 against England. Talent is certainly on Norway’s side, with players like Guro Reiten, Ada Hegerberg, and Frida Maanum to keep an eye on. The Philippines will have their first taste of a major international tournament against Switzerland, at its second-ever appearance at a Women’s World Cup after the 2015 tournament.

Ireland will play its World Cup debut against co-hosts Australia on Thursday 20th July at 11 AM Irish time (8 PM in Australia). The Matildas are not to be underestimated, following a 4th place at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and striker Sam Kerr leading the attack. Group B also features Nigeria - which Ireland will play against on 31st July at 11 AM Irish time - and Canada, golden medalists at the 2020 Olympic Games. The face-off between Canada and Ireland will take place in Perth on 26th July at 1 PM Irish time. 

Group C features Japan, Spain, Costa Rica, and first-time participant Zambia. Japan won the tournament in 2011, whilst Spain is amongst the most interesting teams to watch, with two-times Ballon d’Or Féminin winner Alexia Putellas coming back from an injury that relegated her to the sidelines throughout the past season - and ruled her out of the 2022 Euros. Costa Rica is on its second World Cup appearance, having previously competed in the 2015 tournament.

Likely title contenders England will open Group D against Haiti on 22nd July. The Euro winners will have to do without captain Leah Williamson and striker Beth Mead, both out with ACL injuries. Coach Sarina Wiegman can instead count on a widely talented team with the likes of Georgia Stanway, Keira Walsh, Ella Toone, and Euro final goal-scorer Chloe Kelly. China and Denmark complete group D: the former participated in all but one edition of the Women’s World Cup, whilst Denmark will make its comeback for the first time since 2007, led by forward Pernille Harder.  

The title-holders, the United States team is drawn into Group E, together with first-timers Portugal and Vietnam, and 2019 runner-ups, the Netherlands. The replay of the 2019 final will be held in Wellington on 27th July. The injury plague that affected Arsenal Women this past season impacted the Dutch National team too, as striker Vivianne Miedema was ruled out of the tournament, yet the Oranje Leeuwinnen do not lack talent and can count on a team that balances young talent with the experience of players like Daniëlle van de Donk, Lieke Martens, Stefanie van der Gragt, and captain Sherida Spitse. 

The hosts of the 2019 Women’s World Cup are another team not to underestimate, and the talent of their squad might lead to one of the biggest surprises of the tournament.

France, Jamaica, Brazil, and Panama make up Group F. The hosts of the 2019 Women’s World Cup are another team not to underestimate, and the talent of their squad might lead to one of the biggest surprises of the tournament. In the meantime, Brazil, who has featured in every edition of the tournament, can count on all-time FIFA Women’s World Cup goalscorer Marta. Jamaica is on its second-ever appearance at the Women’s World Cup, whereas Panama will make their debut on 24th July. 

Sweden has appeared in every edition of the tournament, with three third-place finishes and a runner-up position in 2003. They were drawn in Group G together with Argentina, South Africa, and Italy. Argentina is on its third appearance, the latest being in 2019, yet has never gotten past the Group Stage. South Africa competed in the Women’s World Cup already in 2019, not making it past the Group Stages like Argentina, whilst Italy is on its fourth appearance; the team made its comeback after 20 years in the 2019 tournament, where it was eventually disqualified by the Netherlands in the quarter-finals.

The final group, H, features first-timers Morocco alongside South Korea, Colombia, and veterans Germany. Colombia last played the Women’s World Cup in 2015, whilst South Korea is on its fourth appearance. Germany participated in all tournaments and was a runner-up in 1995 and scoring back-to-back wins in 2003 and in 2007. Germany will be looking to bounce back from losing the Euro 2022 final against England with a squad that combines experience with the emerging talents of players such as Laura Freigang and Lena Oberdorf. 

With 32 teams, including 8 first-timers, and a packed month of football, the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup is poised to be a watershed moment for women’s football.

With 32 teams, including 8 debutantes, and a month's worth of football, the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup is on course to become a watershed moment for women’s football. And whilst this guide cannot predict the outcome of the tournament, it can at least prepare you for what to expect whilst also advertising the amazing talent that women’s football currently offers.