By the time you are reading this article, the winners of the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup (FWWC) will have been crowned. Based on the current standings, Spain and England are set to face each other in the Finals on Sunday, August 20.
This Women’s World Cup has played out vastly differently than it did in 2019. I am specifically referring to the US Women’s National Team (USWNT) here. To say their performance this year was a disappointment would be an understatement. Since the last Women’s World Cup in 2019, the USWNT hired a new head coach, Vlatko Andonovski. He is an experienced coach from North Macedonia who previously coached several teams within the US National Women’s Soccer League. Andonovski took over coaching the USWNT after Jill Ellis left the organization. Ellis is only one of two coaches to ever win back-to-back FIFA World Cups. Ellis played a key role in the UWSNT winning the World Cup in 2015 and 2019. Hence, Andonovski and the USWNT headed into the 2023 FWWC with big shoes to fill.
The coaching change in combination with several veteran players getting older led to the USWNT getting knocked out of the 2023 FWWC in the Round of 16 to Sweden. After the 90 minutes of regulation time, the game was tied 0-0. As the game between the USWNT and Sweden was in the knockout round, this meant 30 more minutes of play. No goals were scored in this extra time period which meant the winner would be decided through a penalty shootout. In a penalty shootout, each team has five shots and whichever team makes more is the winner. However, if the teams tie, the shootout continues until the tie is broken. In this shootout, highly regarded USWNT players; Megan Rapinoe, Sophia Smith, and Kelley O’Hara all missed their penalty kick (PK) shots. USWNT goalkeeper, Alyssa Naeher made history by taking the first PK by a goalkeeper in WWC history. The shootout concluded on the seventh round of PK’s with a shot by Lina Hurtig which Naeher seemed to have deflected, but after the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) turned out to have crossed the plane of the goal line. This was the first time the USWNT has not made it to the semifinals of the FWWC.
Looking at the USWNT roster, there are several players nearing the end of their professional soccer careers. This was Megan Rapinoe’s last professional soccer game of her career. Alex Morgan, Julie Ertz, Crystal Dunn, and Kelley O’Hara are no spring chickens either. I would anticipate that at least some of them announce that the 2024 Paris Olympics will be the final matches of their professional careers as well. It is sad to see the veterans retire, but that is the reality of professional sports as well as coaching changes. We were lucky to have seen the USWNT win two consecutive FWWC Championships within the last ten years.
As the USWNT is clearly not the best women’s soccer team in the world, it is imperative that I also touch on the other nations and their 2023 FWWC accomplishments.
Early on in the tournament, 2023 FWWC co-host, New Zealand, upset Norway to set the tone of upset palooza. To follow, the Philippines scored their first World Cup goal in their nation’s history and won 1-0 against New Zealand.
Next in the group stage was the USWNT’s game against the Netherlands. This was a rematch after the USWNT outscored them 2-0 in the 2019 FWWC final. This match concluded with a 0-0 tie.
Germany was also upset, this time by Columbia who were led by 18-year-old Linda Caicedo. Being ranked 25th in the world, their 2-1 win against Germany was huge for the young team.
The other co-host Australia made it through the group stage with ease, winning 4-0 against 7th-ranked Canada.
The USWNT collected another tie game, this time 0-0 against Portugal. Having scored enough goals in their first game against Vietnam, the USWNT secured their spot in the Round of 16.
Morocco made history in several ways with not only their presence in the FWWC but also with their strong players. They were the first Arab or North African team to play in the FWWC. They also had a player, Nouhaila Benzina, who became the first player in the FWWC to wear a hijab while competing. Through her actions, she inspired girls like her to be proud to be themselves.
After failing to advance beyond the group stage, Brazil’s Marta had an emotional moment waving to the crowd. Another veteran in the sport, she holds the record for most-ever goals scored in a World Cup by any male or female soccer player before. It is expected that Marta will soon retire from professional soccer.
Canada’s Christine Sinclair also had an emotional moment when her team was also knocked out from the tournament in the early stages. Sinclair is the leading goal scorer, among all men and women, in international soccer games.
The Jamaican women’s national team also made history with not only qualifying for the tournament, but also capturing their first ever FWWC win. They won 1-0 against Panama.
The FWWC will have come to a close by the time this has been published. However, considering the current standings of FWWC, the tournament should conclude in an exciting manner.