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2023 Women’s World Cup: Top 5 teams to watch
The best in the women’s game are ready to descend Down Under to compete for the richest prize in women’s football - the World Cup. For the first time in history, 32 teams will compete for the right to be world champions, including debuting nations such as Ireland and prestigious previous winners like the USA.
England’s Lionesses will be making the trip to Australia and New Zealand hoping to build on their impressive European Championship victory from 2022, while defeated finalists Germany will hope to have revenge on the world stage.
Here, we’ve compiled a list of five nations to watch when the tournament kicks off on July 20th…
World Ranking: 1st
Best World Cup Performance: Winners 1991, 1999, 2015, 2019
Head Coach: Vlatko Andanovski
Key Player: Alex Morgan
Odds to lift the trophy: 13/5
No nation at the 2023 Women’s World Cup deserves must-watch status as much as the US Women’s national team.
The back-to-back winners enter the competition as slight favourites and they’ll be hoping to make it a hat-trick of tournament wins once the 2023 World Cup concludes.
However, a lot has changed since Megan Rapinoe hoisted the trophy on a summer’s evening in Lyon four years ago, including the head coach. Jill Ellis stepped away from the role as manager after a second-straight World Cup win, allowing Vlatko Andonovski to take the reins.
Andonovski has tallied an impressive win percentage since arriving (81.67%) and he has already secured four-straight SheBelieves Cups, a CONCACAF Women’s Championship, and a bronze medal at the Olympics. So, accolades are aplenty for Andovski, but can he translate it at the Women’s World Cup?
The 46-year-old head coach did make headlines with his selections ahead of the tournament with Rapinoe - 37 and on the cusp of 200 caps - making the squad as an experienced head.
Despite all the selection drama, all eyes will be on the frontline of the USWNT, with NWSL Golden Boot winner Alex Morgan and NWSL MVP Sophia Smith leading the line. They combined for 29 goals in the NWSL last season and they’ll hope to fire the USA to another World Cup triumph.
Group stage games: Vietnam (02:00 Saturday 22nd July); Netherlands (02:00 Thursday 27th July); Portugal (08:00 Tuesday 1st August)
World Ranking: 4th
Best World Cup Performance: Third 2015
Head Coach: Sarina Wiegman
Key Player: Lucy Bronze
Odds to lift the trophy: 7/2
Are the Lionesses primed to roar in Australia and New Zealand? Well, not many women’s teams enter the tournament with a better resume than Sarina Wiegman’s side, so the odds are in their favour.
England notched 10 wins out of a possible 10 in qualifying for the tournament while scoring 80 and not conceding a single goal throughout qualifiers - an outrageous record that was unmatched by any other European side. Plus, momentum is with them from their European Championships victory in 2022.
Unfortunately, some key members of the Euros-winning side will have to watch from home due to injury. That includes Beth Mead, the forward who came second in Ballon d’Or voting and scored the most goals (six) at Euro 2022 misses out after a cruciate ligament injury back in November.
This means the goalscoring baton will be passed to Aston Villa striker Rachel Daly. The 31-year-old was in insatiable form during the WSL campaign - scoring 22 goals, an average of one every 89 minutes. While she only has 13 goals in 68 appearances for England, her scoring prowess from her league form could finally transfer to the international stage this summer.
Group stage games: Haiti (10:30 Saturday 22nd July); Denmark (09:30 Friday 28th July); China (12:30 Tuesday 1st August)
World Ranking: 6th
Best World Cup Performance: Round of 16 2019
Head Coach: Jorge Vilda
Key Player: Alexia Putellas
Odds to lift the trophy: 6/1
Spain have gone on a meteoric rise to become one of the favourites for the 2023 Women’s World Cup, mainly thanks to their back-to-back Ballon d’Or winner Alexia Putellas.
The Barcelona midfielder has mesmerised from the centre of the pitch with her unmatched nous for goals and assists. In the 2021/22 campaign Putellas had 36 goal involvements in just 26 games, while also scoring 11 goals in 10 Champions League appearances. It naturally catapulted her to the biggest solo prize in women’s football.
Sadly, we never got to see Putellas at Euro 2022 as an injury kept her from starring at the tournament. However, she is back for the World Cup and could be the catalyst for any hopes of Spanish success Down Under.
One potential stumbling block for Jorge Vilda’s side could be their mindset heading into the tournament with some internal strife towards World Cup selections. Some players who would surely have been in line to make the 15,000km trip from Spain to New Zealand declined call-ups late last year, citing “situations that affect our emotional and personal state, our performance and consequently… results” and that they would return when these issues “that could also lead to injuries are reversed”.
Fifteen players sent the email which caused friction within the camp however three ended up being named in Vilda’s final 23-strong squad - midfielder Aitana Bonmati, striker Mariona Caldentey (both of Barcelona) and defender Ona Batlle (Manchester United)
Spain’s previous best at this tournament was a round of 16 finish, they seem set to do better this time around despite the dark cloud of dissension hanging over the squad.
Group stage games: Costa Rica (08:30 Friday 21st July); Zambia (08:30 Wednesday 26th July); Japan (08:00 Monday 31st July)
World Ranking: 3rd
Best World Cup Performance: Second 2003
Head Coach: Peter Gerhardsson
Key Player: Fridolina Rolfo
Odds to lift the trophy: 16/1
Sweden are often viewed as the serial bridesmaids of women’s international competitions - they finished runners-up in the 2003 World Cup and second in both the 2016 and 2020 Olympic Games.
They’ll also have to turn around some inconsistent form if they want to go one better in Australia and New Zealand. The Swedes failed to win against two of their Nordic rivals in April - drawing with Norway and losing to Denmark - even though both sit considerably lower in the world rankings at 12th and 13th respectively.
If the Blågult (the team’s nickname, which literally means the blue and yellow) are to provide a shock on the world’s stage, they’ll be relying on the versatility of Fridolina Rolfo. The 29-year-old, nominally a forward, also operates as a full-back for Barcelona but still contributed to 16 goals in 21 games this season (eight goals and eight assists).
She tends to operate further forward during international fixtures. Her quarter-century of goals for her nation have been crucial to their relative success in recent years. She will be needed again if Sweden are to go all the way.
Group stage games: South Africa (06:00 Sunday 23rd July); Italy (08:30 Saturday 29th July); Argentina (08:00 Wednesday 2nd August)
World Ranking: 2nd
Best World Cup Performance: Winners 2003, 2007
Head Coach: Martina Voss-Teklenburg
Key Player: Alexandra Popp
Odds to lift the trophy: 7/1
Our final entrant in the teams to watch list is Germany. As the European Championship runners-up, and the second best team in the world according to the rankings, is it finally time for them to claim the number one spot at a World Cup for the first time since 2007?
Well, they’ll definitely have the attacking ammunition to do so with Alexandra Popp. The German forward has been undeniably great in the Frauen-Bundesliga, earning the top goalscorer honour in the league. Overall, Popp found the net 16 times and registered five assists in 21 appearances for Wolfsburg - a goal involvement every 67.5 minutes on average.
Her form also translates on the national stage - averaging a goal almost once in every two games (61 in 127 appearances) - although she has none in her first three Germany matches so far this year.
Germany’s World Cup squad also contains Popp’s Wolfsburg team-mate, and reigning Euro 2022 young player of the tournament, Lena Oberdorf. The 21-year-old is the perfect combination of creativity and robustness in Die Nationalelf’s midfield engine room, highlighted by her being chosen to start six of Germany’s ten qualifiers.
Group stage games: Morocco (09:30 Monday 24th July); Colombia (10:30 Sunday 30th July); South Korea (11:00 Thursday 3rd August)
2023 Women’s World Cup Dark Horses
Our first possible dark horse Down Under is the Netherlands at 20/1 with BetUK. The Oranje have fallen victim to the injury bug ahead of the 2023 World Cup, making them outsiders to make it to the final like they did four years ago. Their talismanic striker Vivianne Miedema - 95 international goals in 115 games, a national record across the men’s and women’s games - bowed out before the tournament even started with an ACL injury suffered at the end of last year.
Combine rotten luck with a group draw that dealt them the USA, and it’s clear to see why the Dutch are rank outsiders. However, if they can nick second spot in the group, they can call on the experience of tournament veterans like Lyon’s Danielle van de Donk to try to lead them to the promised land once again.
Elsewhere, at fifth in the world rankings and with a semi-final finish in Euro 2022 under their belts, it’s somewhat surprising that France aren’t more heavily touted heading into the World Cup this summer. They are 10/1 outsiders.
One of the main reasons we view them as dark horses is their new manager, Herve Renard. Remember him? The manager with the flowing hair and button down shirt that led Saudi Arabia to a historic World Cup win over Argentina is back in the dugout as manager of the French Women’s national team.
Renard has already proven he knows how to provide upsets over bigger teams, and France’s squad already has a strong spine, it could be a recipe for success when they take to the field in Australia and New Zealand.
Speaking of Australia and New Zealand, World Cups are synonymous with surprising runs from the host nation. In the men’s tournament, look no further than South Korea in 2002 or Russia in 2018 - will the women’s event do the same with Australia priced at 12/1?
It’s most certainly a possibility with an impressive striker like Sam Kerr leading the line. Chelsea’s number nine has racked up 54 goals in 67 appearances since joining the Blues and, combined with 63 goals in 120 appearances for her nation, she may well fire Australia to the latter stages almost single-handedly.
There’s also a pair of previous winners on the periphery of tournament favourites - both Norway 33/1, who boast former Ballon d’Or recipient and current UEFA Women’s Champions League all-time top scorer Ada Hegerberg in their ranks, and Japan 40/1 are looked at as true outsiders for the tournament.
Finally, the samba stars of Brazil aren’t proving to be the same threat they once were, but if the legendary Marta (the all-time leading scorer across men’s or women’s World Cup finals with 17) can still provide some of her old influence, they could be worth a shot at 25/1 with BetUK.