The 2023 Women's World Cup: A Review

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The 2023 Women’s World Cup has come and gone this Summer, leaving us with many highs and lows. Sports Writer David Forde reviews Ireland’s performance in this year’s competition and details the controversy surrounding the tournament.

The 2023 Women’s World Cup has come and gone in the Summer, leaving us with highs and lows to think back to. This was the first Irish Women’s National Team to compete in the FIFA World Cup, and there was plenty of drama on and off the pitch. Australia and New Zealand co-hosted the tournament, which took place between the 20th of July and the 20th of August. We saw 32 national teams compete for the ultimate title of World Champions. 

This was the first Women’s World Cup to feature the 32-team format rather than the previous 24-team format, allowing an extra eight teams to compete in the competition. The inaugural match was played between hosts Australia and our very own Girls in Green, whilst the final saw European Champions England take on Spain to decide the ultimate world champions, with the Spanish emerging victorious with a 1-0 win. FIFA President Gianni Infantino declared that the 2023 Women’s World Cup was the “best ever”.

A Short History of the Women’s World Cup

Whilst it is much newer than the Men’s World Cup, the Women’s World Cup also has a rich history. Women’s football was hugely popular in the early twentieth century, especially gaining notoriety during the First World War. In 1921 the English Football Association banned women’s football due to unsubstantiated claims that football had a negative impact on the health of women. It wasn’t until the 1970s that many countries began to lift bans on women’s football. 

Women’s national teams competed in unofficial Women’s World Cups from the 1970s, with the first being held in Italy in 1970. The first official FIFA Women’s World Cup was held in China in 1991 in which twelve teams competed, with the United States being crowned world champions after defeating Norway 2-1 in the final. 

The Girls in Green

After beating Scotland in October 2022, the Irish Women’s National Team confirmed their place in the 2023 Women’s World Cup, where they were placed into Group B with hosts Australia, Olympic Champions Canada, and Nigeria. They knew that this would be a tough group to qualify from. Ireland’s World Cup debut performance ended in disappointment after a 1-0 defeat to Australia after conceding a penalty at the 50-minute mark. Despite the disappointment, they showed promise in their chances throughout the match, and there were still 6 points left for them to pick up. 

In their second game of the World Cup, the Irish faced Canada; a difficult match from the outset, Ireland needed to secure points from this fixture to have a chance of qualifying for the knock-out round. In the third minute of the match, after a cross from Lucy Quinn was cleared by the Canadians, the Irish had a corner. Captain Katie McCabe stepped up to take it, swinging the ball straight from the corner kick into the back of the net, scoring one of the best goals of the tournament to put Ireland 1-0 ahead at the 4-minute mark. In the dying moments of the first half the Canadians equalised, and scored again at the 53-minute mark to put themselves 2-1 ahead. The match ended 2-1, shattering any dreams of qualifying for the knock-out stage of the competition. 

In the third and final match of the group stage, Ireland was up against Nigeria. There were chances for both sides throughout the match, which eventually ended as a scoreless draw, securing Ireland’s first and only point of the Women’s World Cup. Australia and Nigeria went through to the knock-out rounds while Canada and the Irish ladies exited the competition. 

The Girls in Green showed themselves to be capable of playing at the highest level of international football. While their quick exit stings, there were plenty of positives to take from the experience going forward. The future looks bright for the Girls in Green. We can only hope that Vera Pauw’s replacement can build momentum going into the first UEFA Nations League game versus Northern Ireland on the 23rd of September.

While their quick exit stings, there were plenty of positives to take from the experience going forward.

Spanish FA

While the Women’s World Cup was an overwhelming success, one issue has soured the aftermath of the competition. After defeating England in the final, Spanish FA President Luis Rubiales grabbed and kissed Spanish striker Jenni Hermoso on the lips during the presentation ceremony. Rubiales faced widespread criticism after the incident. Five days after the World Cup win, eighty-one players, including those who played in the World Cup, declared that they would refuse to play for Spain until leadership in the Spanish FA changed.  

Spanish prosecutors have opened an inquiry into the incident as they believe that the facts of the case may constitute an offence of sexual harassment. 

On the 28th of August, the Spanish FA released a statement saying that Mr Rubiales’ behaviour “has seriously damaged the image of Spanish football” and asked Rubiales to immediately resign. The statement followed a number of protests across the country in support of Jenni Hermoso, who stated that in “no moment” did she consent to the kiss. Spanish prosecutors have opened an inquiry into the incident as they believe that the facts of the case may constitute an offence of sexual harassment. 

This is not the first time that men in Spanish football have been criticised. In September 2022, fifteen players removed themselves from national team consideration, complaining of poor quality of training, and a lack of tactical preparation, and claimed that the environment under Jorge Vilda, the Spanish coach, was controlling. These fifteen players are known as Las 15. Jorge Vilda was recently sacked by the Spanish FA after the World Cup win as a result of the controversy arising from Rubiales’ actions. 

The media frenzy surrounding Rubiales and the Spanish FA following the World Cup Final ran the risk of overshadowing the tournament. However, the unity shown by male and female players, coaches and the general public in the aftermath of these events prove how this World Cup transcended football. 

Record-breaking numbers of people tuned in to watch this World Cup from start to finish, culminating in 17 million Australians tuning in to watch their Semi-Final clash against England. 

For all the controversy that erupted after the tournament, this World Cup marks a significant step forward for Women’s football - in Ireland and throughout the world.

For all the controversy that erupted after the tournament, this World Cup marks a significant step forward for Women’s football - in Ireland and throughout the world.