FIFA Women’s World Cup Preview: Storylines dominating this WWC and top players to watch out for

Opening its arms to 32 teams instead of the usual 24, the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup is packed with players and stories to watch out for.

Trans-Tasman neighbours Australia and New Zealand will host the ninth edition of the tournament.

The United States of America will hope to make history with a three-peat while Spain, England, and the hosts themselves, will do everything to prevent them from reaching that milestone. Here are some storylines to familiarise yourself with in the run-up to the women’s quadrennial showpiece.

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A World Cup of many firsts

The 2023 edition of the tournament is the first one to be hosted by multiple countries and confederations (Australia belongs to the Asian Football Confederation, while New Zealand is part of the Oceanian set-up).

It is also the first edition of the marquee tournament to be held in the Southern Hemisphere. This chapter, courtesy of the expansion, will also see several teams making their FIFA WWC debut — Zambia, Haiti, Morocco, Panama, Portugal, Vietnam, the Philippines and Ireland.

No debutant has made it to a WWC semifinal in any edition barring the first, with quarterfinal entries by England (1995) and Russia (1999) being the best performances so far by first-timers.

With eight debutants this time, the chances of at least one of them breaking through to the final four are high.

Messi then, Marta now

The anticipation surrounding the men’s World Cup in 2022 centred on Argentine great Lionel Messi, who had previously won every trophy but the prized World Cup title. The kind of pressure he faced then is swarming around Brazilian star Marta this year.

Featuring in her sixth WC at the age of 37, Marta is the top goalscorer in WC history with 17 goals in 24 games. While she battles fitness issues ahead of what will be her final World Cup for the Selecao, she will hope to return home as victorious like her South American compatriot. Supporting her as head coach is another legend who finished a career without a World Cup trophy — Sweden’s Pia Sundhage.

Trend setter: Marta, with her talismanic goalscoring prowess, iconic top knot and bright red lipstick, will make her sixth and final appearance in a Women’s World Cup this year.
| Photo Credit:


Trend setter: Marta, with her talismanic goalscoring prowess, iconic top knot and bright red lipstick, will make her sixth and final appearance in a Women’s World Cup this year.
| Photo Credit:

Besides Marta, USWNT midfielder Megan Rapinoe has also announced the 2023 edition as her last World Cup. The 38-year-old was part of the USA’s successful campaigns in 2015 and 2019 and hopes to tie a bow on an illustrious stint in the American national side with a hattrick of titles. The US has four title triumphs to its name but will be the first to win three in a row if it emerges victorious again this year.

The ACL jinx

The months leading up to the World Cup have seen several high-profile names pull out due to anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries.

From France’s Delphine Cascarino and Marie-Antoinette Katoto to Canada’s Janine Beckie to England’s Leah Williamson and Beth Mead, Germany’s Giulia Gwinn, and the Netherlands’ Vivianne Miedema, the ‘ACL injury club’ is stacked with star players.

In 2022, studies showed that nearly 60 players in the world’s top professional women’s leagues were sidelined due to ACL injuries. Among them was Spain’s Alexia Putellas, who injured her ACL just before the EUROs last July but has recovered ahead of the World Cup.

The frequency and seriousness of the injury have prompted players like Putellas and Miedema to call for attention to player workloads and research into ACL injuries in female athletes.

Players to watch out for

Sam Kerr, Australia

Khadija Shaw, Jamaica

Alexia Putellas, Spain

Ada Hegerberg, Norway

Alex Morgan, USA

More than just sport

Women’s football has almost always been political. From Black Lives Matter and #MeToo to the LGBTQIA+ movement and equal pay, players have used their platforms to initiate discourse on social issues.

After the criticism that FIFA’s ban on the ‘One Love’ armband drew during the last men’s World Cup in Qatar, team captains in the Women’s World Cup will now have the choice of eight different topics as part of FIFA’s ‘Football Unites the World’ campaign, selected in consultation with the 32 participating teams, players, and United Nations agencies.

These include inclusion, gender equality, peace, ending hunger, education, and tackling domestic violence.

Alex Morgan

Alex Morgan
| Photo Credit:
Getty Images


Alex Morgan
| Photo Credit:
Getty Images

Captains will have three options for armbands — one that says ‘Football Unites the World’, another that corresponds with the theme of their choice for the entire tournament, and another matching the theme of the specific match day.

There is a performative element to being ‘allowed’ armbands that takes the sheen off any proactive form of protest.

That’s where Brazil decided to lead the pack, arriving in Australia on a plane that had the faces of slain Iranian protestor Mahsa Amini and incarcerated footballer Amir Nasr-Azadani on its body and tail.

The aircraft also bore the phrases — “No woman should be forced to cover her head” and “No man should be hanged for saying this” on its sides.

Incidentally, the Brazilian Football Confederation said it had nothing to do with the statements, pointing out that it was a private aircraft that brought the players to Australia.

Broadcast concerns

With the growing popularity of the women’s game, FIFA’s chief women’s football officer Sarai Bareman had told Australian media that she expected more than two billion viewers to watch the event — twice that of the previous edition hosted by France in 2019.

However, the months leading up to the 2023 edition have seen a lack of clarity regarding broadcasters and even a blackout threat from FIFA in the European market.

Prize money

A total of 110 million USD has been allocated to the 2023 edition, three times more than that of the 2019 edition. Each of the 732 players in this year’s WC is guaranteed to earn at least 30,000 USD while members of the title-winning squad will pocket 270,000 USD

In October 2022, FIFA rejected multiple bids from several public and private broadcasters, lambasting them for underpricing their pitches. FIFA president Gianni Infantino, in a FIFA Council meeting, said that broadcasters were offering “100 times less” compared to what they would for the men’s tournament, something that he felt was not keeping up with the growth of the women’s vertical.

European bidders raised timezone differences as a reason for not offering higher investment. In May 2023, Infantino threatened a blackout for Europe’s five major football markets — the UK, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain — by asking them to raise their bids given they earn more from sports and its broadcasting than others.

Former FIFA Council member Moya Dodd pointed the finger back at the Federation for the tournament historically being undervalued given that broadcast bids for the Women’s World Cup were, until now, bundled with the men’s editions.

For the Indian subcontinent, 1Stadia is the official broadcaster, which has sub-licensed the digital streaming rights to FanCode while DD Sports has got the television rights, as per confirmations that came ahead of the tournament’s opening day.

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