The United States Women’s National Team is synonymous with World Cup success. The Americans are four-time winners of the tournament and head down under with the chance of picking up a fifth Women’s World Cup trophy.
A win in Australia and New Zealand would be the USWNT’s third consecutive Women’s World Cup win. Not since Japan defeated the USWNT in 2011 in Germany have the Americans not lifted the trophy. Yes, success at the Women’s World Cup and the USWNT go together. In all eight previous tournaments, the team reached the semifinals, and no USWNT finished lower than third.
The American women’s team finished with a medal in each Women’s World Cup. So, why should things be different for the team in 2023? The USWNT is arguably still the best women’s soccer team on the international stage despite leaps in development in the sport over the last decade.
The development in women’s soccer has not only seen a rise in domestic leagues around the globe, with top players emerging to the forefront, but it has seen FIFA expand the Women’s World Cup to 32 teams. Eight additional teams will play in the 2023 tournament compared to 24 four years ago. The addition of teams may water down the tournament in terms of overall quality. Yet, the expansion of the event could also provide a few landmines for the USWNT.
Heavy is the head that wears the crown, and the Americans are the queens of women’s soccer. The team is full of top stars on the international level, but the rest of the world is gunning for them. The USWNT is the favorite to win the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand. But this year’s tournament will see strong competition from some familiar foes.
England won the UEFA European Championship in 2022. It was a landmark win, the biggest in the Lionesses’ history. Overnight, the ladies were national heroes, and the win sparked new excitement around the domestic league in the United Kingdom.
England carried over their European Championship success with a win against the USWNT in October 2022 at Wembley Stadium in London. The loss to England spawned a three-game losing streak for the U.S., as they fell to Spain and Germany in subsequent matches.
Injuries will play a role in England’s success or lack thereof down under. Beth Mead did not make the squad due to an ACL injury. Center-back Millie Bright missed the final weeks of the Women’s Super League season with a knee injury but will travel to the tournament. Meanwhile, England manager Sarina Wiegman will be without captain Leah Williamson due to an injury.
Injuries could ultimately sink the Lionesses in Australia and New Zealand. Still, England is considered the second favorite to lift the cup behind the Americans. The tournament’s draw is set up for England and the USWNT to meet in the final.
Spain defeated the U.S. days after England’s win at Wembley. The Spanish prevailed 2-0 in Pamplona, with Laia Codina and Esther Gonzalez scoring. Spain has had internal turmoil in the women’s squad over the past 12 months. Issues between the players and manager Jorge Vilda split the camp, with some players refusing to play – others weren’t included in the World Cup squad.
Following the Women’s European Championship in 2022, 15 members of the Spanish squad walked away from it. Six players went on to help Barcelona win the Women’s UEFA Champions League in May. There will be a major hole in the Spanish team for the upcoming tournament.
Despite losing those 15 players, Spain still defeated the USWNT at the end of last year. Spain will have two-time Ballon d’Or winner Alexia Putellas available following a knee injury. Pachuca’s Jenni Hermoso is also back in the squad. The Spanish need to be taken very seriously.
There is a theme forming, right? The three teams outside of the U.S. that could win the Women’s World Cup are the last three national teams to defeat the Yanks. Germany won the Women’s World Cup in 2003 and 2007. They reached the semifinals in five of the eight editions of the tournament. The Germans are another favorite to lift the trophy.
Head coach Martina Voss-Tecklenburg has a strong squad made up mostly of domestic players competing in the Frauen-Bundesliga. Clubs Eintracht Frankfurt, Wolfsburg, Hoffenheim, and Bayern Munich produced the majority of the squad.
Wolfsburg’s Alexandra Popp is the star of the team. The German captain helped lead Wolfsburg to the UEFA Women’s Champions League final. Although she scored in the match, Popp couldn’t prevent Wolfsburg from losing 3-2 to Barcelona.
Germany should top Group H without trouble. In the knockout stage, they could face England but wouldn’t see the USWNT until the final in Sydney.
Australia will have an entire nation behind them. The support will go a long way to helping the Matildas succeed on home soil. Australia is always full of talent, but the team buckles on the big stage. Playing at home for this year’s Women’s World Cup should be the boost manager Tony Gustavsson and company need.
Australia arguably has the world’s best striker in Chelsea’s Sam Kerr. The striker scored 12 goals in 21 appearances for the Blues in the WSL. Kerr’s last three seasons at Chelsea saw her produce 21, 20, and 12 goals. Chelsea won the WSL in each of those campaigns.
The Matildas cannot rely on Kerr alone. Australia has a strong core of players competing in England’s WSL, including Arsenal’s Caitlin Foord, Manchester City’s Hayley Raso, and Brighton’s Lydia Williams. Don’t underestimate home support pushing the Aussies deep into the tournament. The Matildas wouldn’t play the USWNT until the final if they get there.
France wasn’t able to turn its home support into a Women’s World Cup win four years ago. The French bowed out of the tournament in the quarterfinals against the USWNT in a feisty 2-1 defeat.
Captain Wendi Renard will lead the team down under, and she will be surrounded by some familiar faces. Angel City’s Amandine Henry, Lyon’s Eugenie Le Sommer, and Paris Saint-Germain’s Kadidiatou Diani were called into the squad for the tournament.
France manager Herve Renard has a group of experienced players, but he has called in some fresh blood to add to the squad. The hope is France can finally return to a World Cup semifinal. France reached the final four just once previously, which was in 2011 in Germany. France cannot face the U.S. until the final.
In case the manager’s name sounds familiar, soccer fans may remember Herve Renard from the Men’s World Cup in 2022. Renard managed Saudi Arabia at the tournament, leading the team to a win over Argentina in the group stage and one of the biggest shocks in the competition’s history. Renard only became manager of France in March, when the French Football Federation dismissed manager Corinne Diacre. Several players, including captain Wendi Renard, were unhappy with Diacre as manager, leading to her firing.