- SOCCER WORLD CUP
Your Guide to the Women’s World Cup Group Stage
13:11 JST, July 18, 2023
The 2023 women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand is the largest iteration to date, with 32 national teams. After the host nations qualified automatically, the other 30 teams punched their tickets from their respective confederation tournaments or through the inter-confederation playoffs.
Along with the increase in teams and matches, FIFA expects the tournament to be the most attended stand-alone women’s sporting event in history, with more than 1 million tickets sold. Another outcome of the additional qualification slots is that eight women’s national teams – Haiti, Morocco, Panama, the Philippines, Portugal, Ireland, Vietnam and Zambia – will be participating in their first World Cup.
As the No. 1-ranked team in the world, according to FIFA, the U.S. women’s national team – or USWNT, as it is colloquially known – will be widely considered the favorite during its quest for a third straight World Cup title. To begin, the four-time champions will be vying for knockout round qualification out of Group E, where they have been drawn against Vietnam, the Netherlands and Portugal.
Learn more about the hosts, the first-time participants, the United States and the other tournament favorites with our 32-team breakdown.
There’s no softer group at the World Cup than this quartet, which features co-host New Zealand – a women’s soccer minnow that enters the tournament in a poor run of form – as its seeded team. That bodes well for Norway, a onetime powerhouse looking to climb back to elite status, as well as Switzerland and the Philippines, two burgeoning programs trying to make a name for themselves on the global stage.
-New Zealand: Appearing in their fifth straight World Cup – and sixth overall – the Football Ferns are still searching for their first win, having compiled an 0-12-3 record. New Zealand won’t be at full strength this summer: Winger Katie Rood is sidelined with a torn ACL, and center back Abby Erceg, still a stalwart for the NWSL’s Racing Louisville, retired from international play in January. New Zealand’s 1-6-1 record in friendlies to start 2023 doesn’t bode well, either. Angel City defender Ali Riley is poised to hold down the back line in her fifth World Cup, while Hannah Wilkinson – a 31-year-old striker for Melbourne City with 27 international goals – leads the attack for a team that will be champing at the bit to make a run on home soil.
-Norway: After advancing to the semifinals in four of the first five women’s World Cups – winning it all in 1995 – and also claiming gold at the 2000 Olympics, Norway hasn’t made the final four since. Although the Grasshoppers followed a round-of-16 run in 2015 with a quarterfinal appearance four years ago, back-to-back group stage exits in the European Championship – the latter of which included an embarrassing 8-0 loss to England – have lowered expectations. But Ada Hegerberg, the prolific Lyon striker who won the inaugural women’s Ballon d’Or in 2018, is back with the national team after sitting out from 2017 to 2022 to protest the Norwegian federation’s approach to women’s soccer. She will be joined in the attack by Caroline Graham Hansen, a crafty winger for Barcelona, while Chelsea stalwart Maren Mjelde anchors the back line.
-Switzerland: Switzerland is back for its second World Cup appearance, having made a run to the round of 16 in its debut eight years ago. Barcelona winger Ana-Maria Crnogorcevic, Switzerland’s all-time leader in appearances and goals, remains as integral as ever to a squad that also leans on the production of Paris Saint-Germain forward Ramona Bachmann and the poise of Arsenal midfielder Lia Walti. This tournament could be a momentum builder for the Swiss, who are slated to host the European Championship in 2025.
-Philippines: A first-time World Cup qualifier, the Philippines is the unknown commodity of the group. But a run to the semifinals of the 2022 Asian Cup showed the potential of a young squad packed with Filipino American talent, including playmaker Tahnai Annis and forwards Quinley Quezada and Sarina Bolden.
Group B is headlined by a pair of bona fide World Cup contenders, with Australia playing on home soil after making a run to the Olympic semifinals in 2021 and Canada coming off a gold medal at those Tokyo Games. Nigeria, meanwhile, has the talent to spring an upset or two – if off-field issues don’t interfere – while first-time qualifier Ireland is the group’s wild card.
-Australia: The Matildas, having long knocked on the door of elite status, will have no better shot at a deep run than this summer, with home-field advantage on their side. And here’s another reason to be bullish about the Aussies: the attacking prowess of Sam Kerr, a three-time NWSL Golden Boot winner before she signed with England’s Chelsea in 2020. Although Australia advanced only to the round of 16 four years ago – a disappointing result following three straight quarterfinal appearances – a fourth-place finish at the Olympics in 2020 reestablished its contender status. Former U.S. assistant Tony Gustavsson oversees a squad that also features Arsenal defender Steph Catley, San Diego Wave midfielder Emily van Egmond and 20-year-old Manchester City forward Mary Fowler.
-Republic of Ireland: Ireland had never qualified for a major tournament – World Cup, Olympics or European championship – before edging Scotland in an October playoff to punch its ticket to Australia and New Zealand. Expect Ireland’s attack to flow through Arsenal winger Katie McCabe and Denise O’Sullivan, a playmaker for the North Carolina Courage.
-Nigeria: The 11-time Africa Cup of Nations winners have qualified for every women’s World Cup but advanced beyond the group stage just twice: a quarterfinal appearance in 1999 and a round of 16 berth four years ago. The Nigerian attack is built around Asisat Oshoala, the 28-year-old Barcelona striker with a prolific scoring record for club and country and five African Women’s Footballer of the Year prizes to her name. Chiamaka Nnadozie, 22, also gives Nigeria a rising star in goal, while 40-year-old Onome Ebi brings veteran savvy in central defense. But Coach Randy Waldrum’s pretournament comments about a lack of support from the Nigerian federation are cause for concern.
-Canada: Was Canada’s run to Olympic gold at the Tokyo Games in 2021 a fluke or a breakthrough? After claiming back-to-back bronzes in 2012 and 2016, Canada knocked off the United States in the semifinals before edging Sweden for the title. But the World Cup has been a different matter for the Canadians, who have made the semifinals only once (in 2003) and fell in the round of 16 four years ago. This tournament is probably the end for 40-year-old forward Christine Sinclair, international soccer’s all-time leading scorer, but the future is bright for a squad that also includes right back Ashley Lawrence and midfielder Jessie Fleming, both of Chelsea, and OL Reign striker Jordyn Huitema. The loss of midfielder Janine Beckie to a torn ACL looms large, though.
A rising power and a fading force headline Group C. Laden with talent and dysfunction, Spain will seek to establish itself as a World Cup contender. Once-mighty Japan will be out to reclaim its place among the global elite. And just making it this far is a moral victory for Zambia and Costa Rica.
-Spain: Long a nonfactor in women’s soccer, Spain qualified for its first World Cup in 2015, advanced to the round of 16 four years later and now finds itself on the cusp of a breakthrough thanks to a golden generation of talent. Led by Pachuca forward Jenni Hermoso and Barcelona midfielders Aitana Bonmatí and Alexia Putellas – the back-to-back Ballon d’Or winner who recently returned from a torn ACL in her left knee – La Roja has been mired in turmoil since last fall, when 15 players said they would not play for the national team as long as Coach Jorge Vilda remained in charge. A number of those players have returned for the World Cup, though, and you wouldn’t know Spain was shorthanded based on its recent results, which include wins over the United States, Japan, Norway and China.
-Costa Rica: Back for their second World Cup after going winless in their 2015 debut, Las Ticas clinched their spot with a semifinal run at the Concacaf W Championship. More recent results – including losses to Poland and Scotland teams that failed to qualify for the World Cup – haven’t been encouraging, but Portland Thorns playmaker Raquel Rodríguez does give Costa Rica a dependable attacking presence.
-Zambia: Two years after making their Olympic debut with a winless run at the Tokyo Games, the Zambians are set to play in their first World Cup. A third-place finish at last year’s Africa Cup of Nations showed progress, though conceding 10 goals over two exhibition losses to South Korea in April was alarming. Barbra Banda, a prolific forward for Shanghai Shengli, will be a force to monitor up top.
-Japan: Japan has regressed significantly from its heyday, when it won the 2011 World Cup, took silver at the 2012 Olympics and finished second at the 2015 World Cup. After crashing out in the round of 16 four years ago, Japan couldn’t get past the quarterfinals of the Tokyo Games. Still, there is too much experience and technical proficiency to count out a squad that boasts midfield metronome Saki Kumagai and playmaker Yui Hasegawa. And a 3-0 thrashing of Olympic gold medalist Canada at the SheBelieves Cup in February showcased that potential.
An England team coming off Euro 2022 glory and boasting the talent to win it all this summer is the headliner in Group D. The battle for the group’s second spot in the knockout round should come down to Denmark, long a sleeping giant, and a China team that has struggled to live up to its storied legacy. Haiti, one of the tournament’s biggest underdogs, rounds out the group.
-England: This World Cup has the makings of a tipping point for women’s soccer in England, with Premier League clubs’ women’s teams surging in popularity and the Lionesses coming off their first European Championship title last summer. England has been knocking on the door for a while, making semifinal appearances in the past two World Cups, but injuries are a concern for Coach Sarina Wiegman: Captain Leah Williamson, midfielder Fran Kirby and forward Beth Mead, the Euro 2022 top scorer and Ballon d’Or runner-up, are out after knee surgery. But England still boasts one of the world’s top fullbacks in Barcelona’s Lucy Bronze, a lockdown center back in Chelsea’s Millie Bright, an elite midfield facilitator in Bayern Munich’s Georgia Stanway and rising stars in the attack that include Ella Toone, Lauren Hemp and Alessia Russo.
-Haiti: There may be no bigger underdog in Australia and New Zealand than Haiti, which has never played in a World Cup or Olympic Games but secured a berth by upsetting Chile in February’s intercontinental playoff. The Haitians didn’t even show particularly well in last summer’s Concacaf W Championship, going 1-2-0 and failing to advance out of the group stage. Keep an eye on Nérilia Mondésir, a forward for France’s Montpellier, as well as fellow attackers Roselord Borgella and Batcheba Louis. And 19-year-old Melchie Dumornay, a rising star for Lyon, is one of the game’s more promising young talents.
-Denmark: The Danes are back for their first World Cup since 2007 – an overdue accomplishment for a team that advanced to the Euro 2013 semifinals and the 2017 final. With wins over Norway, Sweden and Japan this year, Denmark has the look of a dark-horse contender. The Danes will lean on the attacking flair of Bayern Munich star Pernille Harder, the national team’s all-time leading scorer, as well as dependable midfielder Sanne Troelsgaard Nielsen and striker Signe Bruun. Losing forward Stine Larsen to a torn ACL hurts, though.
-China: Since falling to the United States on penalty kicks in the 1999 World Cup final, China has slipped out of the women’s soccer elite, failing to return to the semifinals since and losing to Italy in the round of 16 in 2019. Emphatic defeats this year to Sweden and Spain don’t bode well, nor does the abrupt retirement of goalkeeper Zhao Lina in April. If China wants to go on a deep run, it could use a big tournament from Racing Louisville midfielder Wang Shuang and versatile attacker Wang Shanshan.
Out of 24 group-stage games since 1991, the United States has lost only one – to Sweden in 2011. That record positions the Americans as the favorite in Group E. To finish atop the group, they will have to get past the Netherlands, the team they defeated in the 2019 final. (This is only the second time in World Cup history, men’s or women’s, that the winner and runner-up of the previous edition start in the same group. It also happened in 2014.) Portugal and Vietnam are making their World Cup debuts.
-United States: No team has ever won three World Cups in a row. The United States will try to do so with a mix of veterans and young talents making their debuts – but also with some notable absences. Winger Mallory Swanson (torn patella tendon), attacker Catarina Macario (ACL) and captain Becky Sauerbrunn (foot) will miss the tournament. The options in depth, though, would still be the envy of most opponents. Portland Thorns star Sophia Smith led all U.S. scorers with 11 goals last year, while 21-year-old Trinity Rodman and 18-year-old Alyssa Thompson are talented young wingers. Alex Morgan, the Golden Ball winner at last year’s Concacaf W Championship, is likely to start at striker. A number of other 2019 standouts are still working their way back after injuries or absences – midfielders Rose Lavelle and Julie Ertz, forward Megan Rapinoe – but they can provide the big-game experience that is vital in a knockout tournament.
The United States will like its chances to advance out of the group, but what would await in the knockout rounds is of greatest intrigue. Since 2021, the Americans are 9-5-4 against top-10 opponents – a stretch that includes a string of losses to England, Spain and Germany this past fall.
-Netherlands: The last time the Dutch and the Americans faced off, it produced one of the most intense matches of the Tokyo Olympics. In their quarterfinal, the Dutch got two goals from Arsenal striker Vivianne Miedema and forced a penalty shootout, which the United States won. When the two sides meet for the rematch in New Zealand, though, Miedema won’t be in action. The three-time Ballon d’Or nominee tore her ACL in December and wasn’t fit enough to make the Dutch roster. Jill Roord, one of the top young Dutch players in 2019, is coming off a solid season at Wolfsburg. Paris-Saint Germain forward Lieke Martens struggled with injuries during her country’s disappointing quarterfinal finish at Euro 2022 but is a former FIFA player of the year and has scored three times for the national team in 2023.
-Portugal: Of the 32 teams to qualify for the World Cup, Portugal arguably did so in the most exciting fashion. In a playoff against Cameroon, the Portuguese led until the 89th minute, when they conceded to force extra time. In the fourth added minute, they earned a penalty after a Cameroon handball, and defender Carole Costa hammered it home. Forward Jéssica Silva had a strong season for Benfica, helping the club to the Portuguese league title.
-Vietnam: Vietnam qualified for its first World Cup by reaching the quarterfinals of last year’s Asian Cup, the best finish in its history. It has a steep mountain to climb in Group E with the defending champions and two European opponents on tap, but it’s playing a hefty tuneup schedule against the likes of Germany, New Zealand and Spain. Last year, captain Huynh Nhu became the first Vietnamese woman to sign for a club in Europe, joining Vilaverdense in Portugal’s top division. The forward leads all Vietnamese players, male or female, with 67 career goals.
This group has the potential to be one of the most interesting in the tournament. What will France look like with a new coach and several key players back in the fold? How far can Brazil go – especially at what will probably be the final World Cup for global icon Marta? After her standout club season, what will we see from Jamaican star Khadija “Bunny” Shaw on the international stage? Can first-timer Panama take some points off these opponents?
-France: A quarterfinalist on home soil in 2019 and a Euro 2022 semifinalist, France’s recent on-field performances have taken a back seat to its off-field turmoil.
Corinne Diacre’s six-year tenure as coach was marked by high-profile disputes with numerous players, from all-time leading scorer Eugénie Le Sommer to former captain Amandine Henry and current captain Wendie Renard. Renard was one of three players to say they would not play at this World Cup if Diacre remained in charge. In March, Diacre was replaced by Hervé Renard, who led Saudi Arabia’s men’s team in Qatar. Le Sommer and Wendie Renard are back on the squad this summer; Henry was set to return before a calf injury ruled her out of the tournament. Paris Saint-Germain striker Marie-Antoinette Katoto tore her ACL during Euro 2022 and will miss the World Cup, but club teammate Kadidiatou Diani should help make up for the missing firepower.
-Brazil: There are few names as recognizable in global soccer as Marta, Brazil’s all-time leading scorer. A six-time FIFA player of the year, the 37-year-old Orlando Pride star could become the first player of any gender to score at six separate World Cups. Her country hasn’t advanced further than the quarterfinals since its runner-up finish in 2007, but with a talented roster and former U.S. coach Pia Sundhage now in charge, this year could be different. As Marta works her way back from an ACL injury, Debinha (Kansas City Current) has blossomed into Brazil’s top player, leading the team to a Copa América crown last year with five goals. There is also a generation of players waiting in the wings: Geyse, a 25-year-old striker, recently completed her first season at Barcelona, while North Carolina Courage forward Kerolin has the second-most goals (eight) in the NWSL this year.
-Jamaica: The Reggae Girlz made their first World Cup appearance in 2019, the culmination of a years-long journey to prominence funded by Cedella Marley, the daughter of reggae superstar Bob Marley. Jamaica lost all three of its group-stage games in France, but a third-place finish at last summer’s Concacaf W Championship secured its return for this year’s World Cup. Worth noting: Players took to social media in June to decry “subpar” support from their federation ahead of this summer and have launched their own fundraising efforts. Forward Khadija “Bunny” Shaw earned Concacaf player of the year honors in 2022, becoming the first female player from outside the United States to receive that distinction, and scored the second-most goals in the English WSL with Manchester City this past season.
-Panama: Panama was the final team to qualify for this World Cup, needing wins over Papua New Guinea and Paraguay in an inter-confederation playoff to reach the tournament for the first time in its history. Marta Cox, a midfielder at Mexican club Pachuca, leads the squad with 14 career goals, while forward Riley Tanner, a rookie with the Washington Spirit, scored in her debut during the February playoff.
Sweden has a significant opportunity: For the first time since 1999, it won’t have to face the United States in the group stage. (The Swedes have finished atop their group just once, in 2011.) In the race for that top spot, they will meet Italy, which topped its group in 2019 and is out for redemption after a poor performance at Euro 2022. South Africa and Argentina are both seeking their first win at a World Cup.
Sweden: The Swedes’ record in recent major tournaments is impressive: a third-place finish at the World Cup in 2019, a silver medal at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 and a semifinal berth at Euro 2022. This summer presents an opportunity for FIFA’s third-ranked team to claim the top spot on the world stage. Fridolina Rolfo plays as a defender for talent-heavy Barcelona but is often deployed on the wing with Sweden; she has 13 goals on international duty in the past three years. Sofia Jakobsson (San Diego Wave) and Stina Blackstenius (Arsenal) are additional attacking threats supported by Bayern Munich’s Magdalena Eriksson on the back line.
-South Africa: The 2019 World Cup brought South Africa’s first appearance in the tournament. It lost all three of its games in France, but the team has made progress on the international stage since. At last year’s Africa Cup of Nations, it won six straight matches to clinch its first continental title. Standout striker Thembi Kgatlana missed the end of the AFCON run with an injury but joined Racing Louisville of the NWSL this offseason and is set to feature at the World Cup.
-Italy: After Italy reached the World Cup quarterfinals in 2019, expectations were high entering Euro 2022. There, its struggles against top European opponents continued – the Azzurre went winless and finished last in its group. It will hope for better fortune this summer. Up front, Cristiana Girelli (Juventus) and Valentina Giacinti (Roma) are attacking threats. Just 23, Arianna Caruso (Juventus) is a player to watch.
-Argentina: Seven months after their male counterparts made history in Qatar, the Argentine women will seek to continue their nation’s momentum on the international stage. It hasn’t been an easy road – long neglected by its federation, the team spent years inactive with little institutional or public support and has struggled against top competition. Atlético Madrid forward Estefanía Banini (a former top scorer for the NWSL’s Washington Spirit) is back in the fold; she had been kept off the squad for three years after calling out working conditions.
Germany, the only nation other than the United States to win multiple women’s World Cups, is a contender to go far this year, and it will begin as the heavy favorite in Group H. The remaining three teams will fight to secure that second spot: Colombia is back after last reaching the World Cup in 2015, while South Korea didn’t make it out of the group in 2019. Morocco, the Africa Cup of Nations runner-up, will be the first Arab country to compete at a women’s World Cup.
-Germany: A two-time World Cup winner, Germany has finished atop its group and reached at least the quarterfinals in all eight of its appearances in this tournament. Last July, the Germans rolled their way into the Euro final but lost longtime captain Alexandra Popp to an injury in warm-ups and fell to England in extra time. A year later, the second-ranked nation will have one of the World Cup’s deepest squads. A healthy Popp led the Frauen-Bundesliga with 16 goals for Wolfsburg this season, while Bayern Munich stars Lea Schuller and Lina Magull are also quality attackers. The standout is 21-year-old Lena Oberdorf, the best young player at Euro 2022. Her tenacity and aggressiveness in the midfield are hard for any team to match, and she has already made 37 appearances for the national team since debuting in 2019.
-Colombia: Colombia secured its place at the World Cup with a runner-up finish at last year’s Copa América. Eighteen-year-old forward Linda Caicedo will be one of the top young players to watch this summer. She made her professional debut at 14, leading the Colombian league in scoring; dazzled at last year’s Copa América, where she earned the Golden Ball as the tournament’s best player, and the 2022 U-17 World Cup; and signed for Real Madrid this spring.
-South Korea: The Koreans qualified through last year’s Asian Cup, where they reached the final for the first time ever but fell to China on a 93rd-minute goal. The majority of their squad is based in the domestic WK League, but midfielders Lee Geum-min (Brighton) and Cho So-hyun (Tottenham) play in England’s WSL. Midfielder Ji So-yun is set to represent the Taegeuk Ladies at her third World Cup. The team’s all-time goals leader, Ji returned to the Korean league last year after a decorated nine-year career with Chelsea.
-Morocco: Hosting AFCON on their home soil for the first time last July, the Atlas Lionesses beat 11-time champion Nigeria on penalties to reach the final. That game ended in South Africa’s favor, but the landmark achievement and milestone crowd of 51,000 in the capital of Rabat marked a watershed moment for women’s soccer in the Arab world. Forward Ghizlane Chebbak, a five-time Moroccan scoring champion and the top player at AFCON, will lead her debutante national team.
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