The U.S. women’s national team bowed out early at the 2023 World Cup. But the 2024 Olympics are just around the corner, and Sam Mewis expects the USWNT to contend for the gold medal.

The 30-year-old midfielder starred at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 but has not appeared for the USWNT since then due to a lingering knee injury. After a second surgery on her knee in January, she is taking her recovery “one day at a time,” and she still wants to return to the pitch, she told GOAL in July.

The USWNT would benefit from a healthy Sam Mewis at the Paris Games, with the women’s tournament set to kick off on July 25, 2024, in France. And while Mewis did not address her own recovery, she expressed optimism in the USWNT’s chances on Just Women’s Sports‘ World Cup podcast “The 91st.”

“We have a lot of young players. Some players that have been injured who could be back,” she said. “So I am really excited to see the U.S. have this quick turnaround. What we can do to come back and be a contender in just a year?”

Mewis identified several other teams — in addition to World Cup champion Spain — that could make a run at the gold medal. Take Sweden, who finished in third place at the World Cup but has been knocking at the door of a championship for years.

“Sweden has been at the top for a bunch of tournaments in a row,” she said. “My gosh, they had such an incredible tournament and to just see it slip away from them was really disappointing.”

England and Japan also impressed her with their play, as did up-and-comers Nigeria and Colombia, “who pushed further than people maybe expected,” she noted.

While her USWNT teammate Midge Purce poked fun at Mewis for choosing too many teams as possible contenders, Mewis said she remains content to be “a diplomat” as she evaluates the field for next year’s tournament.

The 2023 World Cup is down to two teams, with England and Spain set to face off in the championship match. Both teams are competing in their first World Cup final, so a first-time champion will be crowned in Sydney on Aug. 20.

Check out the complete schedule and knockout stage results below, and catch up on the semifinals with our coverage of La Roja’s 2-1 win against Sweden and the Lionesses’ 3-1 victory over Australia.

2023 World Cup: Schedule and how to watch

All remaining World Cup matches are available to watch on Fox, Telemundo and Universo. They can be streamed on the Fox Sports app and on Peacock.

Third place

  • Saturday, Aug. 19
    • 4 a.m. — Sweden vs. Australia (Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane)

Championship match

  • Sunday, Aug. 20
    • 6 a.m. — Spain vs. England (Stadium Australia, Sydney)

For fans of the U.S. women’s national team, the World Cup quarterfinals might feel like a landmine of missed opportunities. After the reigning champions suffered the earliest World Cup exit in team history, fans back in the States are now in the unfamiliar position of finding a new squad to support with three rounds still to be played.

The good news for USWNT fans is that there are a number of other teams ready to make history that are worthy of a now neutral fan’s attention. After a group stage that saw underdogs rise up and favorites fall, it feels like anything is possible on the path to the 2023 World Cup title.

Here’s a quick guide for USWNT fans looking to get caught up before the quarterfinal round begins.


For fans of: Hometown heroes, attacking football, good vibes

Australia is trying to advance past the World Cup quarterfinals for the first time in team history, and for lack of a more descriptive term, the vibes are strong. They looked confident against Denmark in the Round of 16, progressively finding their feet without star striker Sam Kerr. The game was Kerr’s first appearance at the World Cup after sustaining a calf injury in training, and she’ll continue to build fitness the longer the tournament progresses. Australia’s defense in transition is still a major question mark, but who doesn’t love a team that only moves in one direction: forward.


For fans of: Redemption, clarity of purpose, towering headers

France wasn’t perfect going into the knockout rounds, but they got the performance they needed against Brazil in the group stage to move onto the Round of 16, where they defeated Morocco 4-0. Under new head coach Herve Renard, France has appeared less caught up by decision-making in transition, moving the ball with purpose and providing service to Kadidiatou Diani, who has four goals and three assists so far in the tournament. France failed to advance past the quarterfinals at home four years ago, and they have the chance to wipe that memory away in 2023.


For fans of: The underdog, singular generational talent, a larger movement

Colombia’s success has quickly become one of the most fun storylines of the tournament, following an impressive group-stage performance and a clinical win over Jamaica in the Round of 16. They’ve played in front of raucous crowds and awoken the sleeping giant in South American soccer. They also have a superstar of both the present and future in 18-year-old Linda Caicedo, who terrorizes defenders by scoring goals herself and creating space for her teammates. They face European champion England next, with a chance at pulling off an upset for the ages.


For fans of: The favorites, tactical flexibility, a good plan coming together

Everything was going well for England after three wins in the group stage, but a bad decision resulting in a red card for star playmaker Lauren James in the Round of 16 leaves the team even more shorthanded. The good news for the Lionesses is they’ve already made necessary tactical shifts, and there’s no reason to believe head coach Sarina Wiegman can’t make similar adjustments against Colombia. England is now the consensus favorite to win it all, with the mentality to match, but their roster has cracks they’ll need to fill.

Chloe Kelly scored the game-winning penalty kick for England in the Round of 16. (Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)


For fans of: A new style of winner, club investment leading to international success

Spain has been almost stereotypical in their approach to the World Cup thus far. Outside of one tough loss to Japan, they’ve looked ready to overpower their opponents with ease. They are willing to pass endlessly to find the right entry point through a defense, and they’ll keep shooting until they find the right moment to slip the ball into the back of the net. Aitana Bonmati has been particularly excellent for a Spanish side ready to prove that their style of soccer can win the program its first major championship.


For fans of: Individual quality, riding the wave, big game experience

Fans might be surprised at the Netherlands’ resilience as they’ve dealt with roster transition and injury to star forward Vivianne Miedema, but perhaps their ability to progress this far shouldn’t come as such a shock. They have a number of quality players with big-game experience both at the club and international level, and they survived the Round of 16 thanks to a fair amount of problem-solving. In two big games against the U.S. and South Africa, the Dutch haven’t been able to control entire matches, but they capitalize on their chances when they arrive and can ride the wave of momentum to positive results.


For fans of: Youthful exuberance, incisive passing, clinical finishing, NWSL stardom

Japan has looked like the most complete team in the World Cup through four games, as their multi-year development plan is coming to fruition at exactly the right time. They can both out-possess their opponent and make them pay on the counter-attack, with a cutting passing ability that can collapse a defense with ease. Hina Sugita and Jun Endo are two NWSL stars fans in the U.S. might know well, and they also have two of the best kits left at the World Cup.

Hinata Miyazawa has a team-leading five goals for Japan at the World Cup. (Maja Hitij - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)


For fans of: Old frenemies, finding a way to win

As U.S. fans will likely rue for a while, Sweden keeps finding ways to win even when the going gets tough. They had their moments of dominance in the group stage, but in difficult matches they’ve stepped up in the margins in order to survive and advance. Against Japan, they’ll rely on their ability to unlock defenses on set pieces and perhaps another staunch performance from goalkeeper Zećira Mušović. Lina Hurtig joked she might get a tattoo of the goal-line technology that declared Sweden the winner in the Round of 16. There’s a lot to like about Sweden’s never-say-die attitude.

Quarterfinal Schedule

Thursday, Aug. 10

Spain vs. Netherlands, 9 p.m. ET (FOX)

Friday, Aug. 11

Japan vs. Sweden, 3:30 a.m. ET (FOX)

Saturday, Aug. 12

Australia vs. France, 3 a.m. ET (FOX)
England vs. Colombia, 6:30 a.m. ET (FOX)

Claire Watkins is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @ScoutRipley.

The U.S. Women’s National Team faces a stiff test in the Round of 16 against Sweden. The teams last played in the group stage at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021, with Sweden earning the 3-0 victory.

If the USWNT can atone for that defeat and advance to the World Cup quarterfinal, things will hardly get easier. Coach Vlatko Andonovski’s team would then play Japan, which defeated Norway, 3-1, in its Round of 16 match on Saturday.

For all of the USWNT’s struggles in the group stage, Japan was dominant, out-scoring its opponents 11-0 en route to three victories.

Japan outshot Norway, 16-8, on Saturday and controlled possession for 61 percent of the game. Hinata Miyazawa iced the game for Japan with a goal in the 81st minute, her fifth of the World Cup.

Spain was also victorious on Saturday, defeating Switzerland, 5-1. Should the USWNT advance to the semifinal round, it would play either Spain or the winner of Netherlands/South Africa. But first, Andovoski’s team needs to get past Sweden.

“For everyone who wants to see more, we promise we’re going to do everything we can,” Andovoski said. “We are preparing ourselves the best that we can to provide success and meet the expectations. But first and foremost, we want to make sure we meet our own expectations.”

The 2023 Women’s World Cup knockout rounds are here, with several powerhouse teams missing from the show. Yet despite a nail-biting end to the group stage, the U.S. women’s national team advanced, avoiding the ignominious fate of Germany, Brazil and Canada.

The Round of 16 features a number of intriguing matchups, from the USWNT vs. Sweden to England vs. Nigeria, which could set the tone for the rest of the tournament. Just Women’s Sports is breaking down the eight matchups before the action starts Saturday.

Sweden vs. USWNT

Head-to-head: USWNT: 27 wins — Sweden: 7 wins — 12 draws
When: 5 a.m. ET Sunday
TV: Fox, Peacock, Telemundo, Universo

Much has been made about this match, and for good reason. The No. 1- and No. 3-ranked teams in the world, the USWNT and Sweden last met at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 in a group-stage match that Sweden won 3-0. But in the World Cup, the USWNT holds a 4-1-1 edge in the rivalry. Their most recent World Cup clash came in the 2019 group stage, a 2-0 win for the USWNT.

While the USWNT historically holds a significant advantage, the clubs split their last 10 meetings, with four wins each and two draws. Nine of the last 10 meetings have been decided by two or less goals.

Switzerland vs. Spain

H2H: Switzerland: 2 wins — Spain: 1 win — 0 draws
When: 1 a.m. ET Saturday
TV: FS1, Peacock, Universo

Another intriguing matchup, Spain had a topsy-turvy group stage that ended in a 4-0 rout by Japan. Meanwhile, Switzerland enters the knockout rounds having drawn seven of its last 10 international matches, but the squad is one of just three at the World Cup not to concede a goal in the group stage.

These two teams have met just three times, with Switzerland holding the edge. Their last matchup came in 2019, with Spain finally recording its first win against La Nati.

Japan vs. Norway

H2H: Japan: 6 wins — Norway: 3 wins — 0 draws
When: 4 a.m. ET Saturday
TV: FS1, Peacock, Telemundo, Universo

Japan blew through the group stage, outscoring opponents 11-0 as one of just three teams to win all three group stage games.

Norway, meanwhile, finished second in Group A, outscoring opponents 6-1 even without star forward Ada Hegerberg, who hasn’t played in more than two weeks. Her status hasn’t been confirmed, although Norway coach Hege Riise said Hegerberg has been “successful” in the recovery plan.

“She’s been following the medical plan and been successful in every step of that plan,” Riise said. “So we will see her in training (Friday) and see how she reacts to that, like the last step before the game. And we prepare for Ada to play or come in.”

Netherlands vs. South Africa

H2H: Netherlands: 8 wins — South Africa: 0 wins — 0 draws
When: 10 p.m. ET Saturday
TV: FS1, Peacock, Telemundo, Universo

After winning Group E over the USWNT, the Netherlands will face South Africa, who finished as Group G runner-up. South Africa has been able to get out ahead early but can run out of steam late. Still, the squad managed to clinch its first round of 16 appearance. South Africa finished with an even goal differential in the group stage, while the Netherlands outscored opponents 9-1 – including an astounding 7-0 rout of Vietnam to close out the group stage.

Through eight meetings, South Africa has never beaten the Netherlands, which holds a 22-5 scoring edge.

England vs. Nigeria

H2H: England: 1 win — Nigeria: 2 wins — 0 draws
When: 3:30 a.m. ET Monday
TV: FS1, Peacock, Universo

Led by Asisat Oshoala, Nigeria had a dream run in the group stage to advance past Canada and into the knockout rounds. That run included a win over Australia, though the Matildas took the top spot in Group B.

England, meanwhile, won all three of its group stage matches, outscoring opponents 8-1. Lauren James has been electric for the Lionesses and will look to continue her run of form. History favors Nigeria, however, as the Super Falcons have beaten England twice in three tries.

Australia vs. Denmark

H2H: Denmark: 2 wins — Australia: 1 win — 1 draw
When: 6:30 a.m. ET Monday
TV: FS1, Peacock, Universo

For the second time in less than a year, Australia and Denmark will face off. Last October, the Matildas secured a come-from-behind victory – their first win over Denmark in their history.

Denmark won two games and lost one to England in the group stage. Australia, meanwhile, was upset by Nigeria but still managed to win its group. Denmark managed just three goals in the group stage, compared to seven for Australia. One big question mark surrounds the status of Sam Kerr, who missed the group stage for the Matildas. She reportedly was cleared to play in their final group stage game but did not feature.

Colombia vs. Jamaica

H2H: Colombia: 1 win — Jamaica: 1 win — 0 draws
When: 4 a.m. ET Tuesday
TV: FS1, Peacock, Universo

Whichever team wins will advance to the World Cup quarterfinals for the first time. These two teams have met just twice before, with one win apiece.

Linda Caicedo has starred for Colombia at this tournament, helping them to a shocking 2-1 upset of Germany. Jamaica, meanwhile, finished second in Group F behind France, allowing no goals through three matches in the group stage.

France vs. Morocco

H2H: N/A
When: 7 a.m. ET Tuesday
TV: FS1, Peacock, Universo

World Cup debutante Morocco made it out of a tough group after recovering from a 6-0 defeat by Germany in its opening match. But it hasn’t allowed a goal since then, including against a tough Colombia team.

France, meanwhile, played Jamaica to a scoreless draw before beating Brazil and Panama, outscoring them 8-4 overall. This will be the first meeting between France and Morocco.

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: Australia advances to knockout stage with emphatic win

Australia entered its final group-stage match against Canada on the brink of elimination. But even before halftime, the Matildas silenced any doubts about their chances to advance in their home World Cup en route to an emphatic 4-0 win.

Hayley Raso had a brace before the half to put her team up 2-0. A third would-be goal for Australia was ruled offside on a VAR review. And the goals didn’t stop coming after the half, with Mary Fowler and Stephanie Catley both adding their names to the scoresheet.

While Australia held possession for just 38% of the match, the lopsided win put the World Cup co-hosts through to the knockout stage. Canada was eliminated with the loss, while Nigeria will advance as the runner-up from Group B.

Australia star Sam Kerr, who missed the first two matches with a calf injury, was available but did not feature in the victory. She will have another week to get rested and ready for the Round of 16, which kicks off Saturday.

Today’s top highlight: Christine Sinclair leaves World Cup pitch ‘one last time’

Canada captain Christine Sinclair paused to pick blades of grass as she exited the pitch after the loss to Australia, which brought to an end her sixth career World Cup appearance.

“It’s the end of the World Cup and I’m probably not going to play in another one,” the 40-year-old told TSN’s Claire Hanna. “I’m leaving the pitch one last time in a World Cup.”

Sinclair reflected on her team and their journey together while speaking with TSN after the match.

“We go through everything together,” she said. “Winning and losing, it’s all part of the game. It’s why we love this sport. We’ve always said we’re a family, and we do it together. Whether we win an Olympic gold medal or lose in the group stage of a World Cup, we do it together.”

Today’s results:

  • Japan 4, Spain 0
  • Zambia 3, Costa Rica 1
  • Republic of Ireland 0, Nigeria 0
  • Australia 4, Canada 0

More World Cup news to know:

  • Spain’s Aitana Bonmatí didn’t mince words after the 4-0 loss to Japan. “[The team is] p—-d off, I am very p—-d off,” she said. “We have to be able to move forward however possible; you have to ride with the punches in football. Today was not our best game and we know we have to improve a lot of things if we want to continue in the tournament.”
  • Despite holding the lowest FIFA ranking in Group B at No. 40, Nigeria has advanced to the Round of 16 thanks to a dream group stage, which ended in a scoreless draw with Ireland. The Super Falcons likely will play England in the Round of 16.
  • Germany needs to play “smarter” after a 2-1 group stage loss to Colombia, according to coach Martina Voss-Tecklenburg. “I think you have to play deep then, I don’t think that we should have acted like this. And that’s where we need to learn our lessons, we needed to focus on ending the game 1-1 but I think my team rather tried to win 2-1,” she said. “We need to be smarter than that, we need to think of the result. Because of our goal difference, with a draw we would have still been first [in the group] which would have been good for us mentally.”

Every team at the 2023 World Cup has now played their first group stage match, with a number of fun surprises and close matchups underlining the competitive nature of this year’s tournament.

With no 13-0-style blowouts in sight, players from across the globe had to step up their games to ensure three points for their teams. In a strong first week for World Cup debuts, players participating in their first major international tournaments are quickly making their mark on the competition.

Here are a few of the top performers from the first round of the group stage who might be the key to their squads going all the way.

Ary Borges, Brazil

Borges, a star forward for Racing Louisville in the NWSL, kicked off Brazil’s World Cup campaign with a bang against Panama. The 23-year-old scored a hat trick in her first career World Cup start, leading the way as Brazil cruised to a 5-0 win. The forward also notched an assist, contributing to four of Brazil’s five goals.

Brazil’s next generation is eager to win the country’s first Women’s World Cup title in honor of the legacy of players like Marta and Formiga, and Borges is one of those players who has been building toward this moment. She connects well with World Cup talent in Louisville, such as the USWNT’s Savannah DeMelo and China’s Wang Shuang. She’s scored two goals in all NWSL competitions so far in 2023, but her introduction to the world stage could not be denied.

Sophia Smith, United States

Going into this World Cup, the USWNT’s hopes for a three-peat placed a lot of pressure on 22-year-old Sophia Smith, the reigning NWSL MVP. If Smith felt the pressure in first major international tournament, she didn’t show it as she contributed to all three of the USWNT’s goals against Vietnam.

With the USWNT, Smith is tasked with being more versatile from her winger position, something that has not slowed down her scoring output. She’ll be relied upon once again in the reigning World Cup champions’ next group stage match against the Netherlands on Wednesday night. A win would put the USWNT in control of their own destiny in Group E.

Alexandra Popp scored a brace for Germany in their opener after missing last year's Euros final. (Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

Alexandra Popp, Germany

At the age of 32, Alexandra Popp is playing some of the best soccer of her career, just in time for Germany’s chance to lift the World Cup trophy for the third time. Playing in her fourth World Cup, Popp is Germany’s imposing target striker, scoring with her head as well as her feet. She made her presence felt with a brace in Germany’s 6-0 opening win over Morocco, the biggest margin of victory in the World Cup thus far.

When Germany made a surprise run to the European Championship final in 2022, Popp missed the eventual loss to England due to injury. Her form has not waned in the year since then, with the forward scoring a goal for her club, Wolfsburg, in the 2023 Champions League final. Popp’s presence on the field at this World Cup could be the difference-maker that puts Germany over the top.

Linda Caicedo, Colombia

The 2023 World Cup is 18–year-old Linda Caicedo’s third in the past year: She starred at both the U-17 and U-20 World Cups before taking the 2022 Copa America Femenil by storm with Colombia’s senior team. In her senior World Cup debut against South Korea, she looked like the most technically advanced player on the field, controlling play and notching her first senior World Cup goal to put the game out of reach.

Caicedo is just getting started, signing with Real Madrid earlier this year to take her game to the next level. She’ll need to step up even more in Colombia’s next two games, as her team aims to make it out of Group F alongside Germany. Colombia is making its return to the world stage after missing the tournament in 2019, but with Caicedo leading the way, they won’t stay under the radar for long.

Angel City's Jun Endo is off to a hot start for Japan at the World Cup. (Saeed Khan/AFP via Getty Images)

Jun Endo, Japan

The vision for Japan’s rebuild materialized in their opening 5-0 victory over Zambia, not least due to the contributions of World Cup debutante Jun Endo. A force with Angel City FC in the NWSL, Endo gave Zambia’s defenders very little time to compose themselves, often getting to the endline and cutting in centrally to generate an overwhelming pace of attack.

Endo finished the match with a goal and an assist, as well as a number of good chances called back for marginal offsides. But what sets the winger apart is her ability to control the tempo of the match while still executing with the perfect timing to find her teammates in space. All the more impressive is that the performance came after Endo suffered a knee injury at the club level, briefly putting her World Cup dreams in doubt. The 23-year-old brings an edge that her teammates feed off of, and that energy could lead Japan — who also defeated Costa Rica 2-0 on Wednesday — all the way to the final.

Melchie Dumornay, Haiti

Haiti has a difficult task ahead of them to get out of their group, after a slim 1-0 loss to England in their tournament opener, but they still have a global star on their hands. Nineteen-year-old Melchie Dumornay looked like the generational talent she’s been heralded as in the game against the reigning European champions. The new Olympique Lyon signing came into the tournament as one of the breakout stars of Concacaf W qualifying in 2022, and she raised her game to a new level on the biggest stage.

With Haiti as heavy underdogs, Dumornay needed to not only generate attack, but also retain as much possession as possible to relieve pressure on the defense behind her. Her constant motor is an underrated facet of her game, allowing her to push back into Haiti’s defensive midfield and defense to get the ball, and then evade defenders with her dribbling as she progresses into the attacking third.

Haiti will have to get through Denmark for a shot at extending their stay at their first World Cup, but with Dumornay on the field, anything is possible.

Claire Watkins is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @ScoutRipley.

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: Rose Lavelle available to start for USWNT

Rose Lavelle is cleared to start for the U.S. women’s national team against the Netherlands, USWNT head coach Vlatko Andonovski said Wednesday. The 28-year-old midfielder is recovering from a knee injury, and she played her first minutes since April in the World Cup opener against Vietnam.

“Rose is fine, and I’m happy she’s available for selection,” Andonovski said.

Whether Lavelle will get the starting nod remains to be seen, but she said Wednesday morning that she feels “pretty good” and “ready for the second match.” She played just 27 minutes against Vietnam, but she generated 0.24 expected assists, the fourth-highest of any USWNT player.

“Every time we play them, it’s a very physical and intense match,” she said of the Netherlands. “They have a lot of different threats, they’re technical, good on set pieces, so I think it’s going to be a tough game, but we’re really excited for it.”

Lavelle brings a history of success against the Netherlands, having scored in the 2019 World Cup final. But she warned Wednesday that this matchup will look “completely different.”

“Both teams are completely different — new players, new coaches — so I think that it’s a fun memory, but we have a new mindset going into this game,” she said. “We know every time we play the Netherlands, it’s going to be a great game. They have a lot of experience on the field.

“I think it’s going to be fun.”

More top World Cup news: Canada battles back against Ireland

Ireland’s Katie McCabe scored her team’s first-ever World Cup goal in thrilling fashion, putting an Olimpico into the net in the fourth minute.

Yet after the rare goal conceded by goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan, Canada pushed back to take a key 2-1 victory in Group B.

Canada’s first goal came late in the first half, when Julia Grosso – through wet and rainy conditions – put a shot on net that resulted in an own goal from Ireland. Adriana Leon added another goal in the 53rd minute that proved to be the game-winner.

Today’s top highlight: Spain’s Alba Redondo shares moment with her family

After scoring two goals in Spain’s 5-0 win over Zambia, Alba Redondo paused to soak in the moment with her family. It’s giving us all the feels.

Today’s results:

  • Japan 2, Costa Rica 0
  • Spain 5, Zambia 0
  • Canada 2, Ireland 1
  • USWNT vs. Netherlands — 9 p.m. ET

More World Cup news to know:

  • Spain and Japan are advancing to the knockout stage. Both won their second Group C matches in commanding fashion and will feature in the Round of 16 regardless of what happens when they face off in their third and final group-stage match.
  • Caroline Graham Hansen issued an apology to Norway coach Hege Riise for her comments after being dropped to the bench for Tuesday’s scoreless draw against Switzerland. Even in the apology, Graham Hansen still said she “strongly disagreed” with Riise’s decision to leave her out of the starting lineup. “I just want to apologize for my statements after the match. I’m just a human being with a lot of feelings,” she told reporters Tuesday. “Emotions got the better of me.”
  • Mary Fowler and Aivi Luik have joined Sam Kerr on Australia’s injured list for Thursday’s game against Nigeria. Both players sustained mild concussions in separate incidents during training Tuesday, according to Football Australia. Both have recovered but are following return to play protocols. Football Australia’s concussion guidelines from Jan. 2018 state that return to play protocols “provides for a minimum of six days before the player can play a competitive game.”

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.

There is no doubt in anyone’s mind: The 2023 Women’s World Cup is going to be the most competitive the world has ever seen. With an expanded 32-team field, expect twists and turns as the exponential growth of the game in the last four years culminates in a tournament where any one of the top teams could hoist the trophy.

Let’s take a look at a few perennial contenders in alphabetical order, all of whom have the ability to win it all. One of the exciting aspects of the 2023 event is that no team is perfect, with strengths and weaknesses that should make for instant classics.


Players to watch

Sam Kerr, Caitlin Foord, Steph Catley, Mary Fowler

Why they could win the World Cup

The Matildas have arguably never looked more comfortable going into a major tournament as they have in 2023. Manager Tony Gustavsson has the team firing on almost all cylinders, with wins over Spain, England and France in friendlies just this calendar year. Australia as a group has the creative instincts and forward-facing talent that allow them to score at will against even the most seasoned backlines. They’ve integrated younger players into the squad to shore up positions of need, and have played with a more complete style than in 2019 or even the Tokyo Olympics, with a vastly improved defensive performance in recent months. Even without star forward Sam Kerr, who strained her calf in training this week, Australia grabbed a 1-0 win over the Republic of Ireland in their World Cup opener on Thursday.

Why they won’t win the World Cup

Heavy is the head that wears the host’s crown at a World Cup, with no host country winning the event on the women’s side since the U.S. achieved the feat in 1999. While the Matildas will have home-crowd advantage throughout the tournament, they’ll face an extra amount of pressure that even the steadiest teams can struggle with — the kind that also saw them falter in the 2022 Asian Cup. Australia has historically been a team that can be goaded into a shootout, with the ability to concede goals as well as score them.

Brazil forward Marta announced the 2023 World Cup will be her last. (James Williamson - AMA/Getty Images)


Players to watch

Kerolin, Geyse, Rafaelle, Debinha

Why they could win the World Cup

Four years after Marta’s impassioned speech encouraging the next generation of Brazilian stars to commit to the hard work of playing for the crest, the Brazil roster looks as balanced as ever. Marta actually encouraged a number of her protégés to join her in the physical, highly transitional NWSL, where stars like Kerolin and Debinha have thrived. Passion for an elder is a galvanizing force, and Brazil will do everything in its power to win one for its legendary leader, who has announced this World Cup will be her last.

Why they won’t win the World Cup

Brazil’s weaknesses are almost baked into the team’s identity as much as their overwhelming strengths. They’re a creative team whose poise on the ball and tenacity in quick transition puts opponents on their heels. But they also can fall victim to their own approach, conceding more goals than they can score. It will take organization in the back combined with attacking fireworks to win a World Cup.


Players to watch

Kailen Sheridan, Vanessa Gilles, Ashley Lawrence, Jordyn Huitema

Why they could win the World Cup

Canada is a contender for World Cup gold for the same reason they are reigning Olympic champions: Their defensive spine is very hard to penetrate, and they have enough attacking discipline to grind out results. Coach Bev Priestman has done a very impressive job infusing the squad with a balance of youth and experience, with players from top clubs across the globe coming together to form a tight unit.

Why they won’t win the World Cup

The way Canada won Olympic gold isn’t foolproof, as the team used a defensive clampdown and penalty opportunities to keep games close and grit out wins. They’ve also had their fair share of injuries, giving them less time to gel on the pitch as in former years. They also haven’t had sufficient federation support to show up as their best selves, with few camps and friendlies in 2023 due to Canada Soccer’s financial distress. The team greatly struggled through the 2023 SheBelieves Cup tournament while playing under similar duress.

Rachel Daly and England are considered one of the favorites to win it all. (Naomi Baker - The FA/The FA via Getty Images)


Players to watch

Lauren James, Kiera Walsh, Alessia Russo, Millie Bright

Why they could win the World Cup

England, the reigning European champions, still appear to be the most balanced and deepest team in the world despite suffering injuries to both their defense and their frontline. Lauren James and Alessia Russo are ready for significant roles in the attack, and the Lionesses’ midfield is second to none as orchestrated by maestro Kiera Walsh. They also have one of the most consistent managers in all of women’s international football in Sarina Wiegman, whose trademark as England’s coach has been a team playing with singular purpose.

Why they won’t win the World Cup

There are two main barriers between the Lionesses and their first World Cup title, and they go hand in hand. With a grueling 2022 schedule that included the fall-to-spring club seasons running alongside their Euros campaign, England suffered injuries to key players, namely captain Leah Williamson and star forward Beth Mead. Outside of obvious absences, the downside of great success is the fatigue that can follow. The postponed Euros were held only one year before this year’s World Cup, and top teams have always struggled with calendar back-to-back tournaments. England has had trouble scoring in recent friendlies, perhaps indicating that the gas tank is beginning to empty.


Players to watch

Wendie Renard, Grace Geyoro, Kadidiatou Diani, Selma Bacha

Why they could win the World Cup

France at times this year has looked like a squad with a new lease on life. After the effective ouster of longtime manager Corinne Diacre, once-alienated leaders have been brought back into the fold under new head coach Hervé Renard, who is well respected in both the men’s and the women’s game. France has long had the ability to dominate through possession and force tempo when necessary, and under Renard, they’ve introduced an urgency that can steamroll opponents.

Why they won’t win the World Cup

The FFF should have made the coaching change long before their hand was forced. Now, the roster has had less time to gel under new management than is ideal. France has also dealt with their share of injuries, most notably to Marie-Antoinette Katoto and Amandine Henry. If France has trouble unlocking their opponent’s defense for long stretches of play, they’ll need to avoid falling into bad patterns that have led to early exits in the past.

Lena Oberdorf, Germany's midfield anchor, will miss the World Cup opener. (Sebastian Widmann/Getty Images)


Players to watch

Lena Oberdorf, Alexandra Popp, Sara Däbritz, Jule Brand

Why they could win the World Cup

In 2022, Germany turned what was supposed to be a learning experience for a young group into a run that almost ended in Euros glory. A balanced team with both rising and experienced talent, Germany has seemed to address what ailed them in 2019 by developing a much stronger spine. Lena Oberdorf is arguably the most dominant No. 6 in the world who can disrupt opposing play while resetting her team’s attack.

Why they won’t win the World Cup

When Oberdorf is not on the pitch, some of Germany’s old defensive issues persist. The center-backs can be stretched out of position, particularly in a fast-paced, highly transitional game. The team’s recent 3-2 loss to Zambia in a tune-up game is a good example of what can go wrong for the squad when Oberdorf needs to rest her legs (the midfielder will miss the tournament opener with muscle tightness). Their belief and attacking firepower never waver, but they can’t let their defensive discipline rely too much on one player who won’t play every single minute of the tournament.


Players to watch

Maika Hamano, Jun Endo, Hina Sugita, Yui Hasegawa

Why they could win the World Cup

Aesthetically, Japan has been one of the most enjoyable squads to watch in 2023. A young, hungry group with tactical flair and an impeccable ability to exploit space, Japan can progress the ball through build-up play as well as any other contender on this list. After losing ground following their 2011 World Cup win and 2015 World Cup final appearance, the roster has been completely refreshed under new management after a disappointing Tokyo Olympic campaign. Japan’s approach has been to lean into what is already working on the youth levels, and they’re beginning to see results.

Why they won’t win the World Cup

This World Cup may have simply come a little too soon for a project that needs more time. Currently, Japan is a team that makes the hard parts look easy and the easy parts look difficult, as they try to convert their dominance in between the penalty areas into comfortable wins. Japan has a few lethal attackers, particularly on the wings, but it would take a big step forward in real time for the team to overcome opponents who have had more time to prepare.

Spain star Alexia Putellas returned to the roster from an ACL injury just in time for the World Cup. (Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images)


Players to watch

Alexia Putellas, Ona Batlle, Aitana Bonmati, Salma Paralluelo

Why they could win the World Cup

If you’ve been following the domestic game in Europe over the last four years, Spain’s ascendency into the upper echelon of international soccer has been all but guaranteed. Spain’s roster pulls heavily from domestic talent developed through the country’s two main powerhouses, Real Madrid and FC Barcelona, who have been the premier clubs in the world in recent years. They can move the ball with ease and control games well after taking leads through passing combinations.

Why they won’t win the World Cup

Unlike France, Spain’s federation has stuck with embattled manager Jorge Vilda after a number of stars refused call-ups to the team over their unhappiness with the direction of the squad. RFEF’s refusal to concede to player concerns has already had quantifiable impact, with sure starters Patricia Guijarro and Mapi Leon choosing to sit the tournament out in protest. In short, Spain might still be talented enough to fight through adversity, but the federation’s refusal to get out of their own way greatly hampers the team’s potential.


Players to watch

Fridolina Rolfö, Stina Blackstenius, Magdalena Eriksson, Kosovare Asllani

Why they could win the World Cup

The USWNT’s longtime adversary, Sweden has shown their blueprint for success at a number of international tournaments. In their silver-medal performance at the Tokyo Olympics, they humbled the U.S. 3-0 in their first match of the tournament. Sweden’s willingness as a group to do the dirty work defensively to disrupt opponents and send the ball the other way has been an attribute that puts them on even footing with any opponent.

Why they won’t win the World Cup

Sweden has been another team dealing with injury: Olympic star Hanna Glas is out indefinitely as she recovers from a knee injury, and fellow defender Hanna Lundkvist recently went down in the team’s final closed-door friendly. Sweden’s dependable core of elite players are also aging, which could pose problems for the team in a difficult group-stage draw.

United States

Players to watch

Sophia Smith, Naomi Girma, Trinity Rodman, Rose Lavelle

Why they could win the World Cup

The U.S. still has one of the deepest player pools in international soccer, bringing a number of strengths to their quest for a third straight World Cup title. Their attacking firepower will be difficult to match, especially on the wings. They also had room to bring creative midfielders and specialists who can beat their opponents in a number of different ways.

Why they won’t win the World Cup

Frankly, there is a reason why no team has won three straight titles before. The U.S. will be up against their own roster rotation, injuries to key contributors, positional imbalances and the challenge of forcing tempo for a full 90 minutes. There’s also the fact that the rest of the field has grown in talent with every passing year. Unwilling to commit fully to 2023 as a development year, the U.S. under Vlatko Andonovski is trying to do many things at once, sometimes without executing those things well. It could simply take one day where the mental discipline slips, and the U.S. has to go back to the drawing board.

Claire Watkins is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @ScoutRipley.