The 2022 World Cup final is less than a week away (Sunday, 10 a.m. ET on FOX and the FOX Sports app), but fear not: The FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023 is only seven months away.
The two opening matches – between New Zealand and Norway, and Australia and the Republic of Ireland – kick off July 20. The tournament is being co-hosted by New Zealand and Australia and will air on the FOX family of networks.
As the soccer world prepares for another monumental event, here are five things to get excited about right now.
More teams competing
For the first time, the Women’s World Cup has expanded from 24 teams to 32 for the 2023 tournament, showing a necessary investment in women’s soccer around the world. Several nations will be making their debuts, including Vietnam, which faces the U.S. women’s national team in its opening group stage match July 22 at Eden Park in Auckland.
More than 1 billion people watched the 2019 Women’s World Cup. The final between the U.S. and the Netherlands – who, ironically, will meet in the group stage next summer – was the most-watched women’s World Cup match ever, averaging 82.2 million viewers, which was up 56% from the 2015 final. The 2023 tournament has even higher expectations.
However, there has been criticism that growing too quickly without proper investment would hurt more than help the growth of the game. We should expect a few score lines like when the USWNT clobbered Thailand 13-0 in the group stage in the last World Cup and was chastised for it.
“If you wait until everybody’s ready, they’ll never be ready,” FIFA vice president Victor Montagliani recently told FOX Sports’ Doug McIntyre, referencing the 2003 tournament when Sweden beat Japan 8-0, but then Japan won the World Cup in 2011.
“Women’s football is exploding around the world. So you might have some lopsided score lines, but one day you won’t. And the only way you won’t is by being a little bit brave.”
Can the USWNT three-peat?
The Americans want to win an unprecedented three consecutive World Cup titles, and their fifth overall. Unlike in previous years when the U.S. was the overwhelming favorite, there will be more challengers than ever, and Vlatko Andonovski’s team is guaranteed nothing. England, France, Germany and Canada, the last of which won gold at the last Olympics, are all legitimate contenders.
Last week, FIFA released its updated world rankings for women’s football. The U.S. is still the No. 1 team, but by slim margins with Germany on its heels at No. 2. The USWNT lost three of its past four matches to close out 2022, including three in a row for the first time since 1993 to England, Spain and Germany.
[USWNT announces three-game slate for SheBelieves Cup]
This prompted harsh words from former captain Carli Lloyd, who hasn’t been afraid to dole out criticism in retirement.
“The winning culture and mentality that has carried on from generation to generation within the USWNT has been fizzling away,” she tweeted last month. “I said it when I retired. I saw it slipping away. Players have to embody that. That’s been our DNA since the 80s, but not so much anymore.”
She later added: “The rest of the world doesn’t fear us anymore. They used to lose the game before it started.”
Although Lloyd may have a point, we are seeing a culture change in women’s soccer around the world. The USA-England match at Wembley was played in front of a sold-out crowd, as was the Euro final between England and Germany. Momentum will only keep growing through this World Cup, and teams will keep getting better.
A farewell to superstars
The men’s World Cup has been a superstar showcase with players such as Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Luka Modrić and Robert Lewandowski probably playing in their final World Cup matches. The women’s tournament could have a similar sendoff with this potentially being the last time we’ll watch Megan Rapinoe play on a World Cup stage.
After winning the Golden Boot and Golden Ball for her breakout performance in leading the U.S. to a title in 2019, the 37-year-old Rapinoe has already accepted a new role on Andonvoski’s squad. Last year, Rapinoe had conversations with her coach who told her that if she was fit and healthy, she would continue to make the roster. Not only because she’s a game-changer, but because she adds value as a leader on a team with so many young players.
“We know what Megan is capable of doing,” Andonovski said earlier this year. “But the thing with Megan is that she is very important for this group. Obviously, this is a younger group we’re bringing in, so her experience going through adversity, going through tough times, getting on top, her winning mentality, her knowledge and understanding is very valuable for the group.”
Next summer could also very well be the final time we see Alex Morgan (who will be 34 by the time the USWNT plays its first game in New Zealand), Becky Sauerbrunn (who will be 38), Christine Sinclaire (40), Wendie Renard (33), Alexandra Popp (32) and Lucy Bronze (32) lead their respective teams in a World Cup, too.
The next generation of American stars
Even with Lloyd’s comments on her former team, there’s been an infusion of new talent that’s poised to lead the USWNT for years. Forward Sophia Smith and center back Naomi Girma, who were teammates at Stanford, completely owned the NWSL season. Smith, who won the championship with the Portland Thorns, was named MVP while Girma won both Rookie and Defender of the Year. Both players are expected to start at the World Cup.
[Mallory Pugh and Sofia Pugh are ‘bonafide superstars’ and the future of USWNT]
Other stars to keep an eye on? Andonovski has said it will be tough for anyone to take Mallory Pugh’s starting spot, Catarina Macario is recovering from a torn ACL and could return in late February (maybe for the SheBelieves Cup?), Trinity Rodman was a Ballon d’Or finalist and the list goes on.
These players have big shoes to fill, no doubt. But their futures are bright, and we should expect them to play huge roles and make bigger names for themselves on soccer’s grandest stage next summer.
Other stars to keep an eye on
Although American fans will be focused and cheering hard for the USWNT, there are a few other players to get to know from around the world.
Vivienne Miedema hopes to lead the Netherlands to a group stage upset win over the U.S. on July 27. She’s one of the best strikers in the world and holds the all-time scoring records for the national team (on both the men’s and women’s sides).
Expect a big tournament for Sam Kerr, the leader of the host country’s Matildas. The Chelsea striker has played for the Australian national team since she was 15 and has been the captain since 2019. Kerr is Australia’s all-time leading scorer and was also the first women’s soccer player ever featured on the cover of the FIFA 23 video game, alongside French superstar Kylian Mbappe.
Then there’s Alexia Putellas, a two-time Ballon d’Or winner from Spain. While she didn’t play in this summer’s Euros – or the friendly victory over the U.S. – after tearing her ACL, she figures to play a major role for the Spanish side at the World Cup. Putellas is a star at Barcelona, where her club broke the attendance record in women’s soccer twice last season at Camp Nou.
Former Ballon d’Or winner and Lyon striker Ada Hegerberg is back for Norway after sitting out four years ago due to a dispute with her federation.
And then England might be just as heavy of a favorite to win as the U.S. We watched Chloe Kelly have her Brandi Chastain moment at the Euros, and her rising star teammates Lauren Hemp and Ella Toone will be dangerous as they get more experience under their belts.
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