The upcoming Women’s World Cup, commencing in Australia and New Zealand on Thursday, marks a historic milestone as it becomes the first time the tournament is jointly hosted by two countries. Adding to the excitement, the competition now includes an expanded field of 32 teams, making it the largest ever. Get ready to witness the world’s top female soccer talents vying for the prestigious title in women’s soccer.
U.S. Reclaims Top Spot in World Rankings, Yet Faces Uncertainty as a Team in Flux
The U.S. is aiming to secure their fifth overall World Cup title, and they are on a quest to achieve their third consecutive championship.
The U.S. women’s national team (USWNT) has dominated FIFA’s rankings for years and is once again the top favorite to claim victory. However, this year’s tournament is characterized by a high level of competitiveness, with multiple teams having a realistic chance at winning the title.
Recent history has shown an intriguing trend for the U.S., as they have managed to triumph in the World Cup but faced setbacks in the Olympics. Following their World Cup victories in 2015 and 2019, they couldn’t secure a medal during the 2016 and 2021 Olympic Games, settling for bronze both times.
This time, the U.S. squad possesses relatively less international experience compared to previous tournaments. Due to injuries, several key veterans who were relied upon for their expertise, such as Becky Sauerbrunn, Samantha Mewis, and Christen Press, were omitted from the roster.
Placed in Group E, the U.S. will contend against Vietnam, the Netherlands, and Portugal in the group stage. Notably, the team’s entire group stage matches will be hosted in New Zealand.
Numerous USWNT veterans are making a comeback for the World Cup — with Rapinoe set to bid farewell to her final tournament.
This year’s U.S. roster boasts a familiar presence, with nine players who were part of the championship-winning team in 2019, including renowned athletes such as Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan, and Julie Ertz.
Announcing her decision this month, Rapinoe confirmed that she will be retiring at the end of the NWSL season, marking this as her fourth and final World Cup appearance.
During the 2019 tournament in France, Rapinoe, a forward, left an indelible mark on the sport and gained widespread recognition. She secured the Golden Boot for scoring the most goals and the Golden Ball for being the tournament’s best player, all while engaging in a memorable exchange with then-President Trump.
This year’s roster features nine players who were part of the triumphant 2019 squad, with only five members remaining from the team that lifted the trophy in 2015. Standing as the oldest member at 38, Rapinoe’s distinctive frosty blue hair sets her apart, while 18-year-old forward Alyssa Thompson represents the squad’s youngest talent.
Leading the team will be captains Alex Morgan, aged 34, a forward with two World Cup victories already under her belt, and Lindsey Horan, aged 29, a midfielder who played a crucial role in the team’s 2019 triumph.
Early Mornings and Winter Down Under: Australia and New Zealand Host
Make sure to set an alarm if you don’t want to miss the tournament’s kickoff, as Australia and New Zealand are cohosting the event.
The tournament starts with the match between New Zealand and Norway at noon in Auckland, equivalent to 3 a.m. ET. Following that is the game between Australia and Ireland at 8 p.m. in Sydney, which translates to 6 a.m. ET.
This Women’s World Cup is the first-ever to take place in the southern hemisphere. While the U.S. has been experiencing a hot summer, the Cup will be played in the winter down under.
New Zealand’s weather might be an intriguing factor in the matches held there. Notably, highways in parts of the South Island were closed due to snow earlier this month. Expect crisp temperatures and breezy circumstances, with players wearing leggings and puffy coats uninvolved.
Promising Debutants: U.S. World Cup Rookies Set to Leave a Lasting Mark
U.S. defender Kelley O’Hara emphasized the importance of having a diverse range of experience among the players in the World Cup roster, blending seasoned veterans with talented newcomers. This balance is key to a successful campaign, as O’Hara, who participated in her first World Cup in 2011, pointed out.
Out of the 14 members of the U.S. squad who fit this profile, forwards Trinity Rodman and Sophia Smith stand out as players expected to make a significant impact on the team’s performance.
Rodman, at 21 years old, is the second-youngest member of the roster. Her recent performance, scoring two goals in a preparatory match against Wales, showcased her potential and readiness for the tournament. Meanwhile, Smith, aged 22, has already proven her worth by earning the U.S. Soccer Female Player of the Year title in 2022, and she’s even featured in a captivating new Nike advertisement.
Considering that experienced players like Rapinoe and midfielder Rose Lavelle are recovering from injuries (Rapinoe with a calf injury and Lavelle with a knee injury), the contributions of these emerging talents could be crucial in supporting the team’s success during the tournament.
First Women’s World Cup to feature eight debutant countries.
This year, the Women’s World Cup has expanded the number of competing teams from 24 to 32.
Among the eight debutant nations securing those extra slots are the Philippines, Ireland, Zambia, Haiti, Vietnam, Portugal, Panama, and Morocco.
Of particular interest is Zambia, which has also never participated in a men’s World Cup. Driven by the skilled forward Barbra Banda, the Copper Sovereigns stood out as truly newsworthy by disturbing the second-positioned Germany 3-2 in a well disposed match recently, with Banda scoring two objectives.
Nevertheless, Zambia faces a challenging group that includes Japan and highly-ranked Spain, making their matches in the group stage a must-watch.
Brazil looks to get a cup for Marta
Marta, one of the most renowned soccer players globally, holds an impressive record of being named world player of the year six times. Despite her illustrious career, a World Cup title has remained elusive, and at 37 years old, this tournament may be her final chance. Although currently recovering from a knee injury, she remains a part of the squad, and the team’s manager, former USWNT coach Pia Sundhage, suggests that Marta might begin the competition as a substitute.
Expressing their admiration and determination, Marta’s teammate, midfielder Kerolin, drew parallels with Argentina’s men’s team’s dedication to Lionel Messi. They aim to bring home the trophy as a fitting tribute to Marta’s legendary career.
“On a podcast last month, Kerolin said to The Associated Press, ‘What they did for Lionel Messi, we aspire to do for Marta. She truly deserves it for who she is.'”