From the U.S. women’s national team posting its worst-ever group-stage result to Olympic champion Canada making an early exit, those watching the 2023 World Cup may notice some differences from years past.
Alongside the obvious markers of change, such as the expanded 32-team format, unexpected results have underscored the shifting women’s soccer landscape. What are some of the signs of history in the making? Just Women’s Sports takes a look.
Canada was eliminated from the tournament in a crushing 4-0 loss to Australia, becoming the first reigning Olympic champions to go out in the group stage. The result caps a months-long dispute with Canada Soccer over their pay, which finally reached a tentative conclusion over the weekend – just before the team was set to fight for its World Cup life. The loss made an already tough couple of months for Canada even tougher. But after the match, players and coach Bev Priestman refused to put the blame on their struggles off the field.
“Has it been a really really tough year? Absolutely,” Priestman said. “But at the end of the day, we came here tonight thinking we should have been able to win. And we didn’t. And we have to reflect on that.”
Christine Sinclair, who was playing in her sixth career World Cup for Canada, agreed, but she did express hope that the result would serve as a “wake-up call” for the national federation.
“We’ve been battling our federation for support but I can’t put this [loss] on [Canada Soccer],” Sinclair said. “We’re 23 players and staff and we didn’t get it done tonight. More of it is a wake-up call for our federation, the lack of a professional league [in Canada], the lack of support for youth national teams, I think you’re just going to continue to see teams reach our level, surpass us, whatever you want to call it, if things don’t change.”
Tournament co-host New Zealand started with a bang, earning its first-ever win World Cup win with a 1-0 result against Norway. It was a historic moment, and it captured everything the World Cup should be: the beauty of the game, the emotions of the players, what women’s football can mean for a country if we let it.
Yet while the Football Ferns made some positive history, they also made an unfavorable mark in the World Cup record books. They followed up their win with a stunning loss to the Philippines in their second game, then a draw with Switzerland, finishing third in their group and becoming the first tournament hosts eliminated before the knockout stage. Still, captain Ali Riley remained upbeat.
“I really think that we’ve inspired the country,” she said. “I hope that little girls across New Zealand and the world now will start playing sport and feel like they can achieve whatever they put their mind to and just dream bigger.”
Colombia has been one of the most exciting countries to grace this tournament, led by 18-year-old Linda Caicedo.
Caicedo provided the team’s first goal against powerhouse Germany, which stood as the lone goal in the match until the 89th minute. While Germany scored at the death, Colombia’s Manuela Vanegas wouldn’t let her team be denied. The 22-year-old scored the game-winner in the seventh minute of extra time to clinch the improbable 2-1 win and a spot in the knockout rounds.
While Germany dominated every aspect of the game, from shots to possession to passes, Colombia notched its biggest win to date — and the first group-stage win over Germany by any team since 1995. Colombia advances to the Round of 16 for just the second time.
“It’s a win that’s very, very important,” Vanegas said. “It’s a win against one of the World Cup favorites for a lot of people. But Colombia obviously played very well. It’s (a product of) all the work that people don’t see. We made history. What happened today is historic.
“We want to keep making history — not only today, but tomorrow, too.”
Four of the eight World Cup debutantes are leaving the tournament with a group-stage win: Morocco, Zambia, the Philippines and Portugal. Their success marks a historic moment for the tournament, which expanded to 32 teams from 24 this year, bringing it in line with the men’s World Cup.
Morocco is the first Arab country to take part in the Women’s World Cup, and it made its mark with a 1-0 win against South Korea. Additionally, Nouhaila Benzina became the first player to wear a hijab in a game in the history of the World Cup.
“We are just so pleased our efforts have paid off,” Morocco forward Ibtissam Jraïdi said. “This victory is for Morocco and Arabs — it’s the fruit of our hard work.”
Add one more statistic to Vlatko Andonovski’s résumé: For the first time, the USWNT finished the World Cup group stage without at least two wins.
A 1-1 draw with the Netherlands and a lackluster performance against Portugal have the USWNT limping into the Round of 16. The possibility of a World Cup three-peat remains alive thanks to a goalpost; if not for a late Portugal shot ricocheting off the post to preserve Tuesday’s 0-0 draw, the USWNT would have made even more unfathomable history.
Perhaps what has been the most infuriating is Andonovski’s refusal to implement (or even consider) tactical changes. The group-stage results made clear that something needs to change, but he is unwilling to change it. The USWNT and its players might still hold the will to win, but what good is will when the way won’t change?
And as the runners-up in Group E, the two-time defending champions now face an even tougher road in the knockout rounds. The USWNT has never bowed out before the semifinals at a World Cup, but that could change this year.