Everything you need to know about the FIFA Women's World Cup

July 19, 2023
The 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup (WWC) kicks off from New Zealand and Australia tomorrow at 3 a.m. ET (yeesh!), so we’re here with a complete guide to the ninth edition of the (now) 32-team tournament.
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⚙️ How it works

After battling continental rivals to qualify for a spot at the quadrennial competition, 30 teams join co-hosts (and automatic qualifiers) Australia and New Zealand for a month-long quest to become world champs.

During the preliminary, round-robin stage, the 32 squads are evenly divided into eight groups of four (A through H), where they’ll play three round-robin matches against their group foes. Notably, group stage games can end in draws.

  • At the end of this stage, the top two teams in each group based on points — three for a win, one for a draw, zero for a loss — advance to the Round of 16, the first knockout stage. If teams are tied on points, there’s a handy list of tiebreakers to decide who advances.

Every knockout match is winner-take-all. The Round of 16 teams will duke it out for a ticket to the quarter-finals, before they battle for the semis, then the August 20th final.

  • As for the matches themselves, if the score’s still even after 90 minutes, they’ll play 30 minutes of extra time. If they’re still tied? It all comes down to a nail bed–ruining penalty shootout. Stressed already.

Now that we have a lay of the land, here’s a group-by-group breakdown.

🇳🇿 🇳🇴 🇨🇭 🇵🇭 Group A

The favorite: World No. 12 Norway will be channeling their inner Taylor Swift as they hope to improve their reputation. After advancing to the quarter-finals at the 2019 WWC, the Orange Lionesses shockingly didn’t make it past the group stage at Euro 2022. Time to bounce back.

The dark horses: No. 20 Switzerland and No. 26 New Zealand both have a chance of reaching the knockout round, but only because Group A is considered one of the easiest groups in the tourney.

  • Despite not winning any spring friendlies and losing key players to injury, there’s general positivity around this Swiss squad. And you can’t count out the Kiwis — they’ve been training hard to show out on home soil.
  • Lastly, it’s unlikely the Asian Cup semifinalists No. 46 Philippines will advance, but they’ve already made history by qualifying for their first WWC.

Players to watch: After sitting out the 2019 WWC in protest of the Norwegian soccer federation’s treatment of the women’s team compared to the men’s, superstar Ada Hegerberg is back, baby. The 28-year-old won the inaugural Ballon d’Or Feminin in 2018 and is the UEFA Women’s Champions League’s (UWCL) top scorer.

  • As for New Zealand, Football Ferns and the NWSL’s Angel City FC captain Ali Riley is the name to know. Though she’s from California, her dual citizenship allowed her to develop through the Kiwi’s system.

🇨🇦 🇳🇬 🇦🇺 🇮🇪 Group B

The favorites: There are two top contenders in this “group of death,” No. 7 Canada and co-hosts No. 10 Australia. Coming off their Tokyo 2020 Olympic gold medal — the first time Canada has topped the podium — CanWNT now knows what it takes to win on the international stage.

  • As for the Matildas, with a raucous home crowd behind them, Australia is poised for their best WWC showing yet. Head coach (HC) Tony Gustavsson has come under fire for the team’s poor record in recent years, but he knows a thing or two about winning a WWC — he was an assistant coach with the USWNT in 2015 and 2019.

The dark horse: No. 22 Ireland is looking to wreak havoc. The Girls in Green played two friendlies against the USWNT in April, and looked strong despite losing both matches. Plus, practice against the world’s best is always helpful.

Players to watch: In addition to big names like CanWNT captain and all-time leading international goal scorer Christine Sinclair (who’s likely playing in her last WWC) and Aussie superstar Sam Kerr (who scored five times in the 2019 WWC), keep an eye out for strong defending from CanWNT mainstay Kadeisha Buchanan.

  • On the offensive end, 28-year-old Nigerian striker Asisat Oshoala became the first African player to win the UWCL in 2021, then did it again earlier this year. After scoring in the 2015 and 2019 WWCs, expect more golazos from the five-time African Women’s Player of the Year this time around.

🇯🇵 🇨🇷 🇪🇸 🇿🇲 Group C

The favorites: No. 6 Spain’s last 12 months have been marred by disagreements between the athletes, the Spanish Football Federation, and HC Jorge Vilda. The team is seeking improvements in training methods, game prep, and coaching decisions, which led 15 players to boycott the national team last September.

  • But Spain has played well despite the controversy, including beating the USWNT in an October 2022 friendly.
  • Likely to join La Roja in the knockout round is the 2011 WWC champs, No. 11 Japan. They’re a young, ambitious squad who are desperate to improve upon their Round of 16 appearance at the last WWC.

The dark horse: No. 36 Costa Rica and No. 77 Zambia, making a second and first appearance respectively, are unlikely to trouble Spain regardless of who is on the pitch, or Japan.

Players to watch: Look no further than Japan’s Yui Hasegawa. The star midfielder for Women’s Super League (WSL) squad Manchester City doesn’t just lock it down on defense — she’s also known to join the attack, netting 16 goals in 66 appearances with Japan. Get you a player who can do both.

  • For Spain, now-healthy midfielder Alexia Putellas is one of the world’s best. She’s the two-time reigning Ballon d’Or winner and impresses with her on-field creativity.

🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿 🇨🇳 🇭🇹 🇩🇰 Group D

The favorite: No. 4 England brought it home with their record-setting Euro 2022 victory and have a good chance to hoist some more hardware this summer. That said, this Lioness roster looks different than their Euro-winning one, with captain Leah Williamson, star attacking midfielder Fran Kirby, and Beth Mead all out with knee injuries. Make it stop.

The dark horse: The second team to make it out of Group D? It’ll be a toss-up between No. 13 Denmark and No. 14 China. The squads play wildly different styles of soccer, with both seeing tons of success over the last few months. Group D will no doubt keep us on our toes.

Players to watch: With so many athletes out with injury, English midfielder Keira Walsh and defender Lucy Bronze have the weight of the nation on their shoulders.

  • Speaking of pressure, with over 100 caps, China’s Wang Shuang is the experienced forward they’ll rely on. The country is all in on this team, especially after they won the AFC Women’s Asian Cup last year, China’s first major tourney W in 16 years.

🇺🇸 🇳🇱 🇵🇹 🇻🇳 Group E

The favorite: To absolutely no one’ssurprise, the USWNT is largely expected to three-peat and add a fifth star to their chests. Since the WWC’s inception in 1991, the powerhouse has never finished worse than third and EA Sports FIFA — which has successfully called the last four men’s World Cup victors — predicted that this young, new-look team will hoist the trophy once again.

The dark horse: Having battled with the USWNT in the 2019 WWC final, No. 9Netherlands shouldn’thave a problem advancing to the knockout round. However, they’re without their all-time leading scorer, Vivianne Miedema. You guessed it — Miedema tore her ACL while playing for club team and women’s soccer behemoth Arsenal in December.

Players to watch: Honestly, every USWNT player is a star in their own right, but with forward Megan Rapinoe announcing this will be her last WWC, and 2022 NWSL champion and MVP Sophia Smith surging, keep an extra close eye on these two offensive weapons.

  • The it girl for the Dutch, forward Lieke Martens is another one to watch. Her leadership, tenacity, and ability to find the back of the net make her one-of-a-kind.

🇫🇷 🇧🇷 🇯🇲 🇵🇦 Group F

The favorites: No. 5France sits atop this difficult group after their strong semifinal run at Euro 2022. But they’ll be missing a major piece of their puzzle: Midfielder and former captain Amandine Henry suffered a calf injury during training two weeks ago and will miss the tournament. Très mal.

  • And then there’s No. 8 Brazil. They always seem to show up and show out at international tourneys, playing an aggressive, fast-paced game. The catch? They’ve never won a global tournament.

The dark horse: Don’t underestimate No. 43 Jamaica. The Reggae Girlz infuriatingly had to crowdfundto cover some WWC costs. Expect them to play their hearts out on the big stage.

Players to watch: Another legend who’s said this will be their last WWC, Brazil’s Marta. The Brazillian holds the record for the most World Cup goals (men’s or women’s) with 17, and became the first player to score in five different World Cups in 2019. Can she make it six?

  • As for the French, captain Wendie Renard will lead the way. She’s been a mainstay on the French national team since 2011 and, though she’s a defender, Renard can certainly score in big-time moments.
  • Finally, remember Khadija “Bunny” Shaw’s name. She’s Jamaica's all-time leading scorer (again, men’s or women’s) with 56 international goals.

🇸🇪 🇿🇦 🇮🇹 🇦🇷 Group G

The favorite: Always the bridesmaid never the bride, No. 3 Sweden has consistently come this closeto winning major tournaments, but just can’t seem to get the job done. They lost in penalty kicks to Canada in the Tokyo Olympic final and were thumped 4–0 by England in the Euro 2022 semis. Maybe they can finally turn the tide this year?

The dark horse: Cue up Katy Perry because No. 16 Italy is the definition of hot and cold. They surprisingly advanced to the 2019 WWC quarters, but didn’t win a single game at the Euro 2022. In this relatively easy group, being lukewarm could still be enough to advance to the knockout round.

Players to watch: Sweden’s Stina Blackstenius of Arsenal has played with and against the best of them, and the forward always delivers clutch goals in key moments.

  • Reigning Africa Cup of Nations champs South Africa (who sat out their latest warm-up match due to pay disputes) boast star power of their own, like the NWSL’s Racing Louisville FC attacker Thembi Kgatlana (pronounced TIM-bee cot-LAWN-uh).
  • Known for her skilled goalscoring, Kgatlana will definitely be a thorn in her opponents’ side.

🇩🇪 🇨🇴 🇰🇷 🇲🇦 Group H

The favorite: The first nation to win back-to-back WWCs (2003 and 2007), No. 2 Germany will be looking to put an end to the USWNT’s reign. They’ll need to improve upon their recent performances though — “the National Eleven” were stunned 3–2 by Zambia in a friendly earlier this month.

The dark horse: No. 17 South Korea has been on an absolute tear of late, winning all three of their last matches. They’ve only been to the WWC knockout stage once, reaching the Round of 16 in 2015, and this could be the year they do it again.

Players to watch: At the ripe age of 21, Germany’s Lena Oberdorf has already made a name for herself. The gritty midfielder is known for her tough tackling and reliability in the middle of the pitch, and is a star for Frauen-Bundesliga’s Vfl Wolfsburg.

  • Speaking of young'uns, 16-year-old Korean American Casey Phair is the first player of mixed descent to make the South Korean national team and will also be the youngest to ever represent the country at a WWC. Impressive.