Just Women’s Sports is here with your daily World Cup Digest, breaking down all of the biggest storylines from each day of action in Australia and New Zealand.

Today’s top World Cup news: Marta’s sixth World Cup ends in group stage

A legendary World Cup career came to an end Wednesday, as Marta and Brazil bowed out in the group stage in a scoreless draw with Jamaica. She leaves her final World Cup as the top goalscorer in tournament history.

Marta nearly added another Wednesday in her first start of the tournament for Brazil. She came inches from finding the back of the net in the fifth minute.

Ultimately, though, Brazil fell short, marking the first time since 1995 that the team has failed to advance out of the group stage. In contrast, Jamaica earned its first trip to the knockout rounds. Marta and Jamaica’s Khadija “Bunny” Shaw shared a moment after the match in a symbolic passing of the guard.

And Marta herself issued a call to action in a passionate postgame interview.

“Continue supporting women’s football,” she said. “I am grateful to have had the opportunity to play in another World Cup… Hugely grateful. … But for (my teammates) it’s not over, for Brazil and the world, continue to support. For Marta, that is the last World Cup. For me, that is the end, but it’s just the beginning for the others.”

The 37-year-old forward won’t be retiring from the game just yet, but ahead of the tournament she said that “we have to understand that a time comes for us to prioritize other things.”

She not only stands as the top goalscorer in tournament history but also the first player to score in five consecutive World Cups, though she did not score in this one.

“I knew that she was big, she’s a famous player,” Brazil coach Pia Sundhage had said before the game. “[But I] couldn’t even imagine how big she is in Brazil. … I get very emotional just being around such a good player. Not only what she’s going to do tomorrow, but what she’s done for so many years and been a fantastic role model.”

Today’s top highlight: Bunny Shaw and Jamaica celebrate knockout round berth

After crowdfunding their way to the World Cup, Jamaica will advance to the knockout rounds for the first time. The unforgettable moment was celebrated by the players and coaches after Wednesday’s draw with Brazil to close out the group stage.

“This is one of the best days I’ve ever had in my life,” Jamaica coach Lorne Donaldson said. “To see a country like Jamaica be able to do this, it’s unbelievable. The girls are doing it for the country, the country should be proud.

“We had resilience, fight. We are going into a war and we need to be ready,” he added. “And it was a war, and we stayed in the battle.”

Today’s results:

  • Sweden 2, Argentina 0
  • South Africa 3, Italy 2
  • France 6, Panama 3
  • Jamaica 0, Brazil 0

More World Cup news to know:

  • Marta Cox scored first against France on a banger, but it didn’t take long for Les Bleues to get going – particularly Kadidiatou Diani, who notched a hat trick for her first goals of the tournament. In the end, France put up six goals despite resting some of their big-name players.
  • The USWNT will face Sweden, which won Group G and maintained its perfect World Cup record with a 2-0 win over Argentina. The last time these two teams met resulted in a 3-0 loss for the USWNT at the Tokyo Olympics. Still, World Cup history favors the USWNT, which holds a 4-1-1 record against Sweden in World Cup competition.

The 2023 World Cup is just getting started, but it’s never too early to look at the possible path to the title for the U.S. women’s national team.

What opponents could the USWNT face on its route to a third consecutive World Cup championship? Just Women’s Sports used the FIFA world rankings to pick projected winners for each group and then for each match in the knockout stage, all the way through to the World Cup final on Aug. 20.

Check out the projected bracket and the USWNT’s projected opponents.

Round of 16: Italy

As the No. 1 team in the FIFA rankings, the USWNT would be expected to advance as the top team out of Group E. After starting the tournament with a 3-0 win against Vietnam, the U.S. still has to face the Netherlands and Portugal to close out the group stage.

The winner from Group E will face the runner-up from Group G in the first round of the knockout stage. Based on FIFA rankings, No. 16 Italy would be expected to finish second to No. 3 Sweden in Group G. Striker Cristiana Girelli could be dangerous for Italy, but the multifaceted USWNT would be a tough draw.

Quarterfinals: Japan

Japan sits at No. 11 in the FIFA world rankings, which puts them as the projected runner-up out of Group C behind Spain. But after a 5-0 win in their World Cup opener, the 2011 World Cup champions are ahead of every team in chaotic Group A, which could open a path to the quarterfinals.

Japan and the USWNT have recent World cup history, facing off in back-to-back championship matches in 2011 and 2015. But this year’s younger Japan squad is relatively unknown to the USWNT — and the same could be said in reverse, as the USWNT features 14 World Cup debutantes itself. Japan does have urgency on its side, as the players want to provide a clear path forward for women’s soccer in their country.

Semifinals: Sweden

Sweden gave the USWNT its toughest match in the group stage at the 2019 World Cup, then reached the tournament semifinals before falling to runner-up Netherlands. The squad also has had good Olympic luck against the USWNT, winning 3-0 in the group stage in 2021 and winning 4-3 on penalties in the semifinals in 2016.

Barcelona star Fridolina Rolfö headlines a group of world-class players for Sweden, which also features Sofia Jakobsson, Anna Sandberg, Stina Blackstenius and Kosovare Asllani. Sweden has all the tools to beat the USWNT — it’s just a question of whether the team can put all the pieces together.

Final: England or Germany

England and Germany met in the 2022 Euros final. The teams could be headed for a rematch at the 2023 World Cup, and the projected quarterfinal clash between the heavyweights would hold the import of a tournament final. Certainly, the winner of a match between world No. 4 England and No. 2 Germany would emerge as the favorite to reach the championship from that half of the bracket.

Both teams bested the USWNT in friendlies last fall. England scored a 2-1 against the USWNT at London’s Wembley Stadium in October, and then Germany and the USWNT split a pair of friendlies stateside in November. Germany had the more impressive start to the World Cup, but the Sarina Wiegman-led Lionesses are just as formidable.

As the U.S. women’s national team prepares for the 2023 World Cup, Just Women’s Sports is taking a look at its opponents — including its three group-stage adversaries and its likely matchups in the knockout rounds.

Next up is a team the U.S. is on a crash course to facing in the Round of 16: Italy.

Manager: Milena Bertolini

Milena Bertolini, 57, has helmed the Italian squad since 2017, helping the team to its third World Cup in 2019 and its first in 20 years. An accomplished player, Bertolini was inducted into the Italian Football Hall of Fame in 2018.

Key Player: Cristiana Girelli

Cristiana Girelli is one to watch. A striker for Juventus, the 33-year-old is one of the few high-powered goal scorers on the Italian squad. Back in February, she became the first Juventus player to reach 100 goals for the club.

“Besides (being) a technical player on the pitch, in my opinion when you see that you have a striker like her, you feel more at ease playing,” Juventus and Italy teammate Barbara Bonansea said of Girelli. “She makes all her teammates more at ease.”

Notably, longtime captain Sara Gama was left off the squad after leading Italy to the World Cup quarterfinals in 2019. The roster does, however, feature 16-year-old midfielder Giulia Dragoni, who plays professionally for FC Barcelona.

World Cup history

The Italian squad will be making its fourth World Cup appearance, having last gone in 2019 – its first appearance in 20 years at the tournament. They made the quarterfinals in 2019, tying their best-career finish from 1991.

Group stage schedule

Italy will play in Group G alongside Sweden, South Africa and Argentina. Take a look at the schedule below, or check out the full World Cup schedule.

  • Monday, July 24 – 2 a.m. (FS1)
    • Italy vs. Argentina
  • Saturday, July 29 – 3:30 a.m. (FS1)
    • Italy vs. Sweden
  • Wednesday, Aug. 2 – 3 a.m. (FS1)
    • Italy vs. South Africa

Sweden is the highest ranked team in the group (No. 3 in the FIFA world ranking), followed by Italy (No. 16). If the rankings hold true in the group stage, Italy would advance as the runner-up from Group G and would be in line to play the Group E winner — likely the No. 1 USWNT — in the round of 16 to start the knockout stage.

Keys to beat the USWNT

Italy went winless at last year’s Euros, with one draw and two losses. The squad scored just two goals, drawing 1-1 with Iceland but losing 5-1 against France and 1-0 against Belgium. But Italy played much better in World Cup qualifying matches, winning nine matches and losing just one to clinch a berth in the tournament.

In April, the Italians beat Colombia 2-1 before drawing 0-0 with Morocco in a pair of friendlies. In order to make it out of their group, they’ll need to find some consistent goal-scoring, especially against a high-powered team like Sweden. (Italy played Sweden to a 1-1 draw last February before losing in penalties.)

If Italy manages to advance out of the group, it will need to find a second gear against its likely opponent in the USWNT. Even a stout defense could be hard-pressed to stop the explosive potential of the USWNT’s front line, which features Trinity Rodman, Sophia Smith, Alex Morgan and more. And the USWNT has shown it can wear down a defense over the course of a game. Italy will need to maintain its composure for a full 90 and likely will need to get some goals out of its top scorers.