We’re just months away from the 2023 World Cup (July 20-August 20) and it’s shaping up to be one of the most competitive ones in recent memory. A number of teams across the globe have grown into serious contenders, and even though bettors still have the USWNT +300 (bet $10 tin win $30) as favorites, recent form suggests they shouldn’t be.
So who should you be keeping your eye on?
Suddenly, England are the best team in the world. It may not be so sudden, they won last summer’s EUROs by rolling through some of the continent’s best, including a loaded Germany squad in the final. A few months later they welcomed the USWNT into Wembley Stadium and sent them home with a 2-1 loss. England are loaded in attack, solid in midfield, and sturdy enough in defense. World Cups are grueling and the squad will be tested more than they have been under manager Sarina Wiegman, but as of today, no team is better prepared to face that challenge.
(Plus they’re adding 21-year-old phenom Lauren James, who’s already proving to be an unstoppable force with the ball at her feet.)
As mentioned, if a few things break right (or don’t break, such as talismanic striker Alex Popp missing the EUROs final due to injury), Germany could have rained on England’s parade. They’re a talented team with a good mix of young, fearless talent and savvy veterans who know how to manage and control games. They also have the best defensive midfielder in the world, Lena Oberdorf, whose expert cleaning up of play allows Germany to be one of the most aggressively high pressing national teams in the world.
During the last two World Cup cycles, the USWNT and their supporters have heard “the rest of the world is catching up”, only for the team to lift the trophy in the end anyway. However, this year the statement is truer than it’s ever been, and the USWNT under new head coach Vlatko Andonovski don’t appear to be fully prepared to go on similar runs as 2015 & 2019. They’re still disjointed in midfield and lack the dynamism to put pressure on defenses from central areas.
However, perhaps no attacking unit is as deep as the USWNT’s. The amount of star talent up front, from young phenoms (Sophia Smith, Mallory Swanson, Trinity Rodman, Catarina Macario) to still dangerous veterans (Alex Morgan, Lynn Williams, Megan Rapinoe), is their biggest advantage. If they can capitalize on their minimal or low-percentage chances, they can change and win games against anybody. That’s asking a lot, and it really shouldn’t have to be that way given the depth of talent in the country, but it remains a possibility, and their best chance.
Since beating (read: embarrassing) the USWNT, 3-0, in the Olympics, Sweden had seemingly stalled. The win was supposed to catapult them to gold, instead they failed to score and lost in penalty kicks to Canada. In the EUROs they were torn apart by England. 4-0. But Sweden have a ton of talent and have had much better results recently, including drawing with Germany during the latest international break.
While some of their golden generation players are on the downside of their prime, they still have young talent eager to take the reins, but it remains to be seen whether they can do so during this run or will need to be handed the keys in the buildup to the next World Cup.
If France do the right thing, clean house and provide their elite players the national team environment they deserve, their squad is talented enough to beat anybody.
President of Canada Soccer, Nick Bontis, recently resigned due to players highlighting incompetency within the federation and threatening to strike in the SheBelieves Cup. If Canada Soccer are serious about a long overdue restructure and support the team, their golden generation has the talent to give every team in the tournament a tough game – which is how they won a gold medal just two years ago.
Until the 2023 SheBelieves Cup, Japan looked like they weren’t going to be much of a factor during this World Cup. They have ultra talented players, but hadn't found the correct scheme to maximize their talents. That changed, and now Japan seem to be contenders again. They still need to figure out how to generate more chances at goal, but a 3-0 thumping of Canada in their final SheBelieves game suggests they’re on the right track.
Host nations are always tough to predict. Due to hosting, they get automatic entries and therefore don’t play qualifiers, and can struggle to find the competition switch once games get tougher and home field advantages wear off.
However, Australia haven’t taken the easy road. They’ve played some of the stiffest competition in the world over the past couple years, and seem to be peaking as a team because of it. They have a fun style of play, one of the best goalscorers on the planet in Sam Kerr, and recently decided as a team to score bangers for fun.
Their federation appears to be more dug-in against the changes 15 players have been demanding since last September. As of now, unpopular coach Jorge Vilda and the Spanish Football Federation have refused to budge, even saying the players would only be welcomed back if they "asked for forgiveness." It's a shame, they have some of the best players in the world and shouldn't have to sacrifice their careers to force much needed change.