2023 Women's World Cup preview
We are a matter of days away from the 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup, with the ninth edition of the tournament promising to be bigger and better than ever. For the first time, the action will take place across two countries. Kicking off in New Zealand on July 20th with the final being hosted in Sydney, Australia on August 20th.
This year will see more nations than ever involved after two additional four-team groups have been added. Thirty countries emerged from the various qualification campaigns, with the hosts being awarded their places automatically. The top two teams in each group qualify for the round of 16, at which point each game is on a knockout basis over just one leg.
Eight teams will be lining up at the finals for the first time, as world top 20 ranked sides Iceland, Austria and Belgium all failed to qualify. So, let’s look at who are the likely candidates to go deep into the tournament and have a genuine opportunity to lift the trophy.
Four-time winners and reigning back-to-back champions USA are the +250 favorites to take the World Cup home for a record-breaking third consecutive time. Since the victorious 2019 campaign, Vlatko Andonovski has replaced double World Cup winner Jill Ellis in charge. As a result, some familiar faces on the playing roster have also moved on, with the Macedonian-born head coach favoring a more youthful USWNT lineup.
Last year’s European champions England are second favorites at +475. The Lionesses followed that tournament win by defeating the USA at Wembley and won an impressive 10 games during the UEFA qualifying tournament. Head Coach Sarina Wiegman will look to keep building that momentum and go one better here, with England the losing semi-finalists in the last two tournaments.
That task has been made tougher following anterior cruciate ligament injuries to both star striker Beth Mead and key defender Leah Williamson. The absence of Fran Kirby (injury) and record Lioness goalscorer Ellen White (retired) are also big blows.
By no means is this a two-horse race, so although understandable, those prices on the top two do not appeal to me at all. There are a few sides that can make a justifiable case that they could be the next winners of the Women’s World Cup. I will pick out three I think offer some value.
After reaching the Quarterfinals in three successive tournaments, Australia would have been disappointed to bow out at the round of 16 in 2019. Home advantage cannot be underestimated, with partisan and patriotic support roaring them on.
Head Coach Tony Gustavsson could not have hoped for a better result to take into the tournament. Defeating England 2-0 in London should certainly see the Aussies being given plenty of respect. They will have to come out of a tough group containing Canada, Nigeria and Ireland, but should they do so will fear no opponent on home soil in a one-off game, which may spell danger for potential opponents England in the Round of 16. The odds of +1400 more likely reflect their tough route to the final rather than their overall ability to get there.
If you are looking for a fairytale story to mirror Lionel Messi winning the men’s World Cup in Qatar last December, look no further than Brazil at odds of +3300. Legendary Swedish coach Pia Sundhage leads the South Americans.
The 63-year-old knows how to go all the way in this competition, having been in charge of the USA team that lost the 2011 final on penalties to Japan. Sundhage would love to add a World Cup winners medal to her honors list, having already won Olympic gold and silver medals, a Copa America Femenina title, and being named FIFA women’s coach of the year in 2012.
As would Brazilian legend Marta who has announced that this, her sixth Women's World Cup, will be her last. Her country’s leading scorer with 117 goals and scorer of the most goals overall in this competition with 17. In echoes of Messi’s influence with Argentina, Marta has united both fans and teammates in desperation to see Brazil win this tournament. North Carolina Courage forward Kerolin going on record to say she and the rest of the team are “inspired by Argentina” and “want to win the World Cup for their captain.”
Finally, it looks to me that Canada is being undervalued, possibly for the same reason as their Group B opponents Australia, in that their route to the final is not the easiest. However, this is the seventh-ranked nation in the world, and odds of +4500 deserve a little bit of pizza money.
After being appointed head coach in October 2020, Bev Priestman led the team to the gold medal in the Tokyo Olympics the following year. The English-born coach has meticulously planned for what she describes as a 52-day body of work. Day 52 is the World Cup final.
The Canadians arrived in Australia at the end of June, giving enough time not only for tactical preparation but also for team bonding as well as overcoming jet lag and the time difference. Viewers keep in mind the competition will use 10 stadiums, with Perth being four hours behind fellow host city Wellington!
If star players Jessie Fleming, who continues to impress in the colors of Chelsea domestically, and Christine Sinclair perform to their best, that +4500 price will be smashed to pieces. Sinclair is currently the all-time leading goal-scorer in international football, having plundered an incredible 190 goals in 319 appearances for her country. Putting that into context, in the men’s game Cristiano Ronaldo is currently on 123 goals.
Talking of goal scorers, let’s end by taking a look at the ever-popular Top Goalscorer (Golden Boot) futures. The tournament features a host of hotshots from around the globe, with the market headed by USA duo Alex Morgan and Sophia Smith.
If more than one player finishes the tournament with the same number of goals, the title goes to the player who has contributed the most assists. With goals per minute, the decider if there is still a tie. Morgan narrowly missed out on the award in 2019, having scored six goals, the same as official top scorer and teammate Megan Rapinoe but had recorded fewer assists.
The 34-year-old is the current holder of the National Women's Soccer League Golden Boot, having scored 16 goals last term and has five from her 11 appearances in the current campaign—five less than Smith, who leads the way.
My biggest concern for anyone taking either of the US strikers is their game time and their head coach’s ability to rotate either, knowing both are elite. So as with the outright market, let’s look at contenders further down the list.
Although total and average goals have declined since the tournament began, the number needed to be the top scorer has remained fairly consistent. There was an average of 3.81 goals per match in 1991, with the last two tournaments producing identical numbers of 146 goals from 52 fixtures at 2.81.
After the inaugural tournament, which saw Michelle Akers top score with 10 goals, no one player has hit the back of the net more than seven times. That number claimed the Golden Boot in 1999, 2003 and 2007, with six the winning total in 1995, 2015 and 2019. Just five was enough for Japan’s Homare Sawa in 2011.
I am putting up two players against the field here. First, it is Sam Kerr of Australia at +1300. The “Matildas” come into the tournament in fantastic form, having won eight of their last nine internationals. The last was that 2-0 win over European champions England, where Kerr opened the scoring.
The Chelsea star had another prolific season domestically, firing in 29 goals, including the winner in the FA Cup Final. She is the record Aussie goalscorer with 63 goals in 120 internationals. A record made even better when considering she started as a wide player before moving more central. The 29-year-old has scored 55 of those goals in the last 72 appearances.
Known as one of the best finishes on the planet, it is her ability in the air where she can get a lot of joy here, especially with an exciting supply line behind her. The likes of Arsenal’s Caitlin Foord and Cortnee Vine of Sydney know their role in the side is to feed their captain chances, all given the platform to do so by the outstanding Kyra Cooney-Cross in midfield.
Kerr hit five goals in 2019 as her nation was eliminated in the Round of 16. Repeating that performance of a goal every 78 minutes on home soil should see her go very close in the battle to take home the Golden Boot.
It is not often you will see a two-time Ballon D’Or winner priced at +1800 to be top goalscorer in a tournament. But that is the case here with Spain’s Alexia Putellas, who has actually won the award in each of the last two years.
This could be an overreaction to her incredibly not having scored at a World Cup or the fact she has only recently recovered from the ACL injury that ruled her out of Euro 2022. But a fresh and hungry Putellas is a very dangerous player, and I want her onside at a nice price.
Despite not playing as a striker, the Barcelona star scored a superb 34 goals in 42 games for her club in 2021/22 before her injury. The ability to find space, perfectly time her runs to join the attack from midfield, and her formidable shooting from distance, are all assets that allow her to hit the back of the net regularly.
A group containing Japan, Costa Rica and Zambia should allow “the Queen,” as she is known, to break her World Cup scoring duck. Those games give her a fantastic platform to make a claim for the Golden Boot at a very nice price.
Another award to add to the many Putellas already has like the Creu de Sant Jordi, one of the highest civilian orders in Catalonia. One of only three footballers to have received the award. The other two? Lionel Messi and Johan Cruyff. That is the company this Spanish maestro rubs shoulders with.