It’s bigger than ever.
What started as a 12-team tournament in 1991 before expanding to 16 teams in 1999 and 24 in 2015 has now grown to 32. They’ve been divided into eight groups of four for round-robin play. The top two in each group advance to the knockout stage, starting Aug. 5. The final goes on Aug. 20 in Sydney.
The group stage kicks off Thursday at 3 a.m. ET with co-host New Zealand facing Norway in Auckland. The other co-host, Australia, will take on Ireland at 6 a.m. ET in front of an expected crowd of more than 80,000 in Sydney. Then Canada meets Nigeria at 10:30 p.m. ET in Melbourne to complete day 1.
Star Forward Alex Morgan is trying to help the US to a historic Third Consecutive Women’s World Cup title
(Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)
The prize money has expanded too.
A player-led push for FIFA to equalize payments for the men’s and women’s World Cups didn’t achieve that lofty goal. But soccer’s global governing body still increased its Women’s World Cup fund — covering prize money, team preparation and compensation to players’ clubs — from a total of $40 million US in 2019 to $152 million.
FIFA also met the players’ demand for a portion of the prize money to be paid directly to them, rather than all going to their national federations to dole out. Each of the 732 players in the tournament will receive at least $30,000, with the opportunity to earn more based on how far their teams advance. For example, players reaching the quarterfinals will be paid $90,000, semifinalists $165,000 and the champions $270,000.
WATCH | CBC Sports’ Shireen Ahmed explores the journey of the Canadian women’s team:
The United States is favoured for an unprecedented three-peat.
No country has ever won the women’s or men’s World Cup three consecutive times. But the U.S., which has captured half of the eight Women’s World Cups, is the betting favourite to go back-to-back-to-back after hoisting the trophy in 2015 in Canada and 2019 in France.
The top-ranked American team is loaded with big-name veterans like Megan Rapinoe, the winner of both the Golden Boot (top scorer) and Golden Ball (tournament MVP) at the 2019 World Cup; and Alex Morgan, whose 121 career international goals put her behind only Canada’s Christine Sinclair (an all-time record 190) among active players. This will be their final World Cup together as Rapinoe, 38, announced she’ll retire at the end of the season. Morgan, 34, looks like she has at least one more left after leading the National Women’s Soccer League in scoring last season with 15 goals in 17 games.
Either way, the big red, white and blue machine will probably keep rolling with up-and-coming stars like Sophia Smith, a 22-year-old attacker who last season became the NWSL’s youngest-ever MVP; and forward Trinity Rodman, the 21-year-old daughter of basketball great Dennis Rodman.
But the Americans are hardly prohibitive favourites.
The betting odds suggest a competitive battle for the trophy, with the United States’ implied chance of winning (about 30 per cent) not terribly higher than England and Spain’s (both around 18 per cent). Germany (about 11 per cent), host Australia (9 per cent) and France (8 per cent) are the other teams with at least a 5 per cent chance of capturing the title, according to the betting markets.
Bottom line: the Americans are still the team to beat. But they can be beaten. And their façade of invincibility was punctured by their upset loss in the 2021 Olympic semifinals to Canada, a team they hadn’t lost to in 20 years.
Non-American stars who could tip the odds in their team’s favour include brilliant Australia striker Sam Kerr; Spain midfielders Alexia Putellas (the two-time reigning world player of the year) and Aitana Bonmati (2022-23 Women’s Champions League MVP); and Brazil’s Debinha and Marta.
This will be the final World Cup for the 37-year-old Marta, a six-time world player of the Year who has never lifted the World Cup in five previous appearances. She’ll try to pull off her own version of long-suffering Argentine star Lionel Messi’s victory in last year’s men’s World Cup.
Canada is a long shot.
The world’s seventh-ranked team is a fringe top-10 in the betting markets. Canada is listed at around 30-1, implying just over a 3 per cent probability of winning the tournament.
That might seem disrespectful toward the reigning Olympic champions (and 2012 and ’16 bronze medallists). But Canada’s performances in the Women’s World Cup have been relatively unimpressive. In five trips, the country has reached the semifinals only once — in 2003, when it lost the bronze game to the Americans. More recently, the Canadians were eliminated in the quarterfinals as hosts in 2015 before getting bounced in the round of 16 four years ago in France.
Also, Canada will have to work to advance out of Group B, which some have labelled the Group of Death. After Thursday night’s matchup vs. 40th-ranked Nigeria, Canada faces No. 22 Ireland on July 26 at 8 a.m. ET and 10th-ranked host Australia on July 31 at 6 a.m. ET.
If the Canadians, as expected, place second in the group, their opponent in the round of 16 will likely be fourth-ranked England, who many consider the second-best team in the tournament behind the U.S.
For coach Bev Priestman’s team to go deep, it will need to tap into the nourishing team spirit that carried it to that surprising Olympic gold medal in 2021. An “us against everybody” attitude might be even more ingrained now as the squad wages its bitter labour fight with Canada Soccer, the dilapidated federation that failed to provide the Olympic champs with a first-class World Cup prep.
Injuries have already put a dent in the tournament.
The somewhat mysterious cascade of wrecked knees in women’s soccer has knocked some key players out of the World Cup. They include Canadian forward Janine Beckie, rising U.S. star Catarina Macario, Netherlands forward Vivianne Miedema, and England’s Leah Williamson, Fran Kirby and Beth Mead.
Other standout players made it back from torn ACLs but could be diminished. Marta might come off the bench for Brazil, while Putellas raised doubts about her health by leaving Spain’s practice early today, putting her status for Friday’s match vs. Costa Rica in question.