The Women’s World Cup enters a new era with stars and stories taking center stage

TOAs the national teams have been adjusting to Australia and New Zealand over the last few weeks, many coaches and staff have been doing what everyone else is doing and checking news from the different teams to see how they are doing. That’s when an international tournament takes on that tantalizingly self-contained quality. All eyes are still on the US, especially since this is Megan Rapinoe’s last World Cup, and her team looks to send her off with a historic third straight win.

However, when defending champions look around the field, they don’t see what they used to. There is the usual confidence, of course, but also some caution. The difference with the rest is not that big. Rapinoe’s retirement may well close out a larger era, as the dominant factor in women’s soccer for the past decade has been how the US has enjoyed much longer-term development than the rest of the game. That has been seen as especially influential when it comes to fitness, but the general feeling is that the European game and Australia have caught up.

England certainly wouldn’t be scared there, especially considering the way they beat the US in that indicator match back in October.

This could very well be a threshold tournament. In many ways, of course, that’s the way to describe almost every women’s tournament at this stage of the game’s development. It is evolving at such a rate that each one brings something new. Australia and New Zealand will still have had much more than most when viewed from the perspective of history.

It is fittingly the biggest ever, pairing the men with 32 teams and crossing two countries for the first time, just at a time when football cultures like England’s are enjoying a boom in interest and Spain’s is seeing some of the matches with the highest attendance on the planet. . Then there’s the joyous buzz in both New Zealand and Australia, the latest host nation looking to carry that emotional drive all the way to the trophy itself. If ever there was a time to expand the tournament, it’s now.

That has still brought up the counterargument that it has expanded too quickly, and will simply create a group stage that is essentially a pre-tournament characterized by mismatches. There’s a real feeling, especially among the eight to 12 teams that truly believe they can go all the way, that the “real World Cup” won’t start until the round of 16 in August.

That’s probably one of the costs of expansion, but the real question is whether the value is worth it.

That could be a resounding yes, especially when you consider the unmeasurable value. That is the emotion that will be felt in the competing countries, especially the eight rookies who reach this stage for the first time, or those who are not used to such a level. Simply put, new heroes and influences are born. New memories are created. That may sound trite, but you only have to look at last summer in England to see the truth. There is nothing like the excitement that participation generates.

Ireland is almost the perfect example in this regard. They are part of a burgeoning middle class of sides, between the favorites and minnows, who are mostly hoping to develop in this campaign. There are so many banners put up all over the country and the team has been regularly featured on TV. Imagine this repeated multiple times, particularly in the Philippines and Morocco. Many traditional men’s soccer cultures feel the same way. Argentina is desperate for a first victory. Italy, Portugal and Denmark are looking for the next step.

This has played in the second game of the tournament, being perhaps the biggest event of the opening stage. Hopefully Australia-Ireland will set a tone in terms of atmosphere. As well as launching what the hosts hope will be a victorious campaign, he has seen great interest from the large Irish diaspora in the region. That has already seen it move from Sydney Football Stadium to the 82,500-capacity Stadium Australia.

Sam Kerr will lead Australia to a historic World Cup


It’s a game to savor, for all sorts of reasons.

It’s also one that inadvertently points to some of the other challenges posed by the specific stage of this World Cup.

As glorious hosts as Australia and New Zealand are, it’s a shame this tournament comes just as Europe is getting so involved in women’s football and many of the continent’s teams see themselves as winners. Their games will be far from prime time.

That played into the unfortunate delay in broadcast rights in Europe, even if there was a feeling that some broadcasters cynically tried to use this excuse to put FIFA down. Morning and afternoon starts are still great for the many children who make up the Women’s World Cup audience, given their more diverse demographics.

However, it is not just time that is a problem. There’s the distance, which has meant that Ireland is one of the few nations to accept anything close to their full allocations. Some sources within fan groups have criticized the sales campaigns of both FIFA and the associations, arguing that they did not undertake anything close to the same processes as with the men’s World Cup.

“Some just didn’t bother to sell tickets,” says a connected figure. “Others only gave fans a few days. There should be an extra push for a women’s tournament, but it was the opposite. A collective failure.”

Distance has played a role in another concern. It is enormously expensive for federations to travel. In fact, this has been brought up in contentious negotiations between the Football Association and the England team, as players seek bonus payouts that match similar elite nations in the US and Australia. Surprisingly for a team that could win the entire competition, the issue has not been resolved by the time the World Cup begins, with Sarina Wiegman’s team simply willing to postpone discussions. The players have pointed out that this shows that there is still a lot to fight for in women’s football. South Africa and Nigeria have faced more extreme disputes.

Lucy Bronze said England are ’empowered’ but will not be distracted by a pre-tournament spat over bonuses


This remains an area where, despite all the justified criticism in so many other areas, FIFA deserves the credit. The landmark stipulation that 60 percent of prize money is guaranteed to each individual player is game-changing and, in many cases, life-changing.

Again, it’s appropriate for a tournament that feels new, and is itself infused with an exciting sporting vibrancy. There has never been a women’s World Cup as open as this one. If the group stage can be characterized by mismatches, the playoffs are likely to be the opposite, featuring an exciting concentration of quality and truly unpredictable games.

USA remain the favourites, but injury issues which have been an unfortunate issue of the overall build up, with so many ACL issues, have ensured they are not what they used to be. A powerful Germany now drives them very close, leading a good group of sides where the gaps between them are narrowing. England, of course, defeated that German side in the Euro 2022 final, before beating the world champions, and they are confident of that even amid their own injury woes. Spain is perhaps the most technically exquisite team in the World Cup, France the most outrageously talented. Australia has many of those qualities and more as Sweden and the Netherlands look to move on.

All of this is fueled by the kind of compelling stories that truly create great tournaments, as well as moments that create memories.

Rapinoe is one of the few greats to retire, as Marta brings her experience to an exciting generation of young Brazilians, and Canada looks to properly close out the career of the great Christine Sinclair.

Megan Rapinoe to play in her last World Cup as USA aim for a ‘three-peat’

(AFP via Getty Images)

Meanwhile, Alexis Putellas returns to Spain, determined to take command and risk the kind of tournament she should have had at Euro 2022 before being denied by injury. This is framed by all the controversy surrounding his squad, and the refusal of some players to appear under the orders of coach Jorge Vilda. He may be looking to enjoy some redemption, as another men’s coach in the charismatic Herve Renard becomes the first manager in history to participate in two World Cups in the space of one year. The Frenchman can take his home country much further than he did a fearsome Saudi Arabia in Qatar.

However, the stage is really being set for the real stars. They are Putellas, Rapinoe, Sinclair, the Dutch Jill Roord, the French Wendie Renard, the German Alexandra Popp, the Swedish Stina Blackstenius, the American Sophia Smith, the Nigerian Asisat Oshoala and, perhaps above all, the local star Sam Kerr, all leading a supreme cast.

Some will score goals that will go into the archives. Some players will dazzle out of nowhere. Others will suffer mishaps and misfortunes. Very few will enjoy those individual campaigns that define the legacies of their teams and, ultimately, the tournament itself.

This is everything a World Cup does. This one has factors like no other before it. History will be made in many ways. For that big takeaway, England are one of the few countries to realistically dream of their first World Cup. The United States is going for an unprecedented third consecutive.

Most eyes remain on the champions. More eyes than ever are on the Women’s World Cup itself.

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