The United States and England — the reigning world and European champions — are on course to meet in next year’s Women’s World Cup final in Sydney after being kept apart in the draw for the 2023 tournament, to be co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand.
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Vlatko Andonovski’s USWNT are aiming to become the first team in either the men’s or women’s game to win three successive World Cups, having emerged as champions in 2015 and 2019, but they face a battle to top Group E having been paired with Netherlands in a repeat of the final in Lyon, France, four years ago.
England, who beat Germany in the final of Euro 2022 at Wembley, could face co-hosts Australia in the round of 16 if they top Group D as expected, after being paired with China, Denmark and the winners of the Chile/Senegal/Haiti playoff path.
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New Zealand will face 1995 world champions Norway in the opening game of the tournament at Eden Park, Auckland, on July 20, with Australia kicking off their campaign against Republic of Ireland at the Sydney Football Stadium later the same day.
In other stand-out pairings, France will meet Brazil in Group F, with Sweden and Italy pitched together in Group G.
How will it all play out? ESPN’s Marissa Lordanic (Groups A, B), Mark Ogden (Groups C, D), Sophie Lawson (Groups E, F) and Becky Thompson (Groups G, H) have assessed each group to predict the big games and the teams who will advance.
Jump to: Group A | Group B | Group C | Group D | Group E | Group F | Group G | Group H
New Zealand, Norway, Philippines, Switzerland
If ever there was a time for New Zealand to nab their first-ever Women’s World Cup win, 2023 is surely it.
The perks of hosting are such that the Football Ferns may never have a better chance at creating a little bit of Kiwi history. Standing in their way, however, are Norway, Switzerland and the Philippines.
Norway’s Euro 2022 campaign was nothing short of a disaster so redemption will be front of mind for Hege Riise’s side. Switzerland, meanwhile, will be enjoying their return to the world stage for the first time since 2015 but will likely be just as disappointed at their group stage exit from this year’s continental tournament. The Philippines are one of a number of countries who will taste World Cup football for the first time. Alen Stajcic has big-tournament experience, after his stint with Australia, but can he impart that wisdom into his side and get a historic first win as well?
Must-see match: New Zealand vs. Norway
Is it a little bit of a cop out to put the opening game as the must-watch one? Maybe so. But opening matches truly are something special.
In countries like Australia and New Zealand, who don’t get to experience moments like these in football very often, if ever, the enthusiasm of a home crowd will be worth the price of admission.
X factor: Can Hegerberg do it on a cold night in Auckland?
Ada Hegerberg had long been the asterisk when it came to Norway’s chances at big tournaments, but her return to the national team certainly didn’t go to plan in England for the Euros. In what will be her first Women’s World Cup since 2015, Hegerberg will once again be the focus of a Norwegian team which has plenty of big-name players but has yet to put in a big-team performance on the world stage.
Predicted finish: Norway, Switzerland, New Zealand, Philippines
Australia, Republic of Ireland, Nigeria, Canada
Australia’s hopes of a best-ever result at a Women’s World Cup will be dependent on how Tony Gustavsson’s team navigates Canada, Republic of Ireland and Nigeria.
Canada’s gold medal at the Olympics signified progress from Bev Priestman’s side, though the team will undoubtedly be disappointed that they could not best the United States in the CONCACAF W Championship final this year.
Republic of Ireland’s historic run will see them take part in a Women’s World Cup for the very first time, while Nigeria are a perennial presence at the biggest tournament in women’s football. However, Nigeria will enter this tournament without a WAFCON title behind them, failing to win the competition for only the third time.
Must-see match: Canada vs. Australia
This clash, the final one of Group B, could well determine who finishes top and who finishes second. The teams have a history at major tournaments, most recently at the 2016 Olympics, as well as in friendlies, with Canada earning two wins on Australian shores in the September window. Only six places separate the two sides in the world rankings and this closeness is replicated on the pitch. With Sam Kerr vs. Christine Sinclair, it is sure to be a knockout contest.
X factor: How will Sinclair’s (assumed) swan song play out?
An undisputed GOAT in world football, the all-time leading international goal scorer, Sinclair’s legacy is already secured. The Canadian gold medal in Tokyo ensured that Sinclair would always end her career with some level of international success, but a World Cup is a different beast. A fourth-placed finish is Canada’s best-ever result but there is no doubt they will want to send Sinclair out a little better than that.
Predicted finish: Canada, Australia, Nigeria, Republic of Ireland
Spain, Costa Rica, Zambia, Japan
Spain had been tipped to win Euro 2022 before losing to hosts England in the quarterfinals, but with 2022 Ballon d’Or winner Alexia Putellas likely to be back in action after missing the Euros with a cruciate knee ligament injury, they will be among the favourites at the World Cup.
But an ongoing dispute between several players and the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) over the management style of coach Jorge Vilda — the RFEF claimed 15 players said they would refuse to play for the team last month unless Vilda was removed — remains unresolved and could yet affect Spain’s prospects.
But with Japan the only likely threat to claim the top spot in Group C — Costa Rica and World Cup debutants Zambia complete the group — Spain should progress comfortably, despite their problems.
With a second-round clash against the winners of Group E — likely to be the U.S. — waiting for the runners-up, the key for Spain and Japan will be to avoid that by topping the group for a more favourable route through the latter stages.
Must-see match: Japan vs. Spain
It’s all about Japan vs. Spain in the final group game on July 31.
If this group goes to form, the two teams are likely to meet at the Wellington Regional Stadium with top spot up for grabs and the need to avoid a possible meeting against the USA.
While both Japan and Spain are capable of testing the world champions, it is a tie that neither would choose, so the stakes will be high when they meet in New Zealand.
Japan, ranked 11th in the FIFA World Ranking, will be outsiders against Spain, but could take advantage of problems within the Spanish camp to win this game.
X factor: How will the group’s minnows perform?
The group lacks the unpredictability and tension that we are likely to see in Group B, F and G, but with the World Cup expanding into a 32-team tournament, the focus will be on how the likes of Costa Rica and Zambia shape up against two heavyweights in Spain and Japan.
During their first World Cup in 2015, Costa Rica claimed surprise draws against South Korea and Spain in the group stage and were only denied a place in the second round by a narrow defeat against Brazil.
Measuring Costa Rica’s progress on the big stage will be fascinating, while Zambia are making their debut in the tournament after finishing third in the Africa Cup of Nations this year.
But having suffered a 10-3 defeat against Netherlands in 2021, the World Cup could be a steep learning curve for Zambia.
Predicted finish: Japan, Spain, Costa Rica, Zambia
England, Group B playoff, Denmark, China
While this group looks to be a routine section for European champions England, the Lionesses will be wary of the strength of China, despite their relatively low world ranking of 15 going into the tournament.
The Chinese are seasoned performers at the World Cup, finishing as runners-up in 1999, and will be aiming to qualify for the knockout stages for the eighth successive tournament.
With Denmark ending a 16-year absence from the World Cup next year and the final spot in the group to be taken by the winners of the Chile vs. Senegal/Haiti playoff, this section should be a straightforward path for both England and China.
But with the group winners and runners-up facing the teams who finish first and second in Group B, there is no clear advantage to topping the section with a likely encounter against either co-hosts Australia or highly rated Canada in the round of 16.
Must-see match: China vs. England
England’s clash with China at Adelaide’s Hindmarsh Stadium on Aug. 1 should be the fixture which decides the winners of the group.
The two nations have met just four times previously, with China winning 2-1 in their most recent encounter in 2015.
Sarina Wiegman’s Lionesses will be favourites to top the group and beat China, especially after ending England’s long wait for major tournament success at Euro 2022.
But China, nicknamed the Steel Roses, are a well-established power in the women’s game and could pull off a shock win if England aren’t fully focused.
Mark Ogden feels Group D is the most perfect scenario for England to go all the way in the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup and how they could be the team to beat the United States.
X factor: Can England live up to the hype?
Having won Euro 2022, England have established themselves as one of the box office teams in the women’s game and are arguably the biggest threat to the USA’s hopes of achieving a World Cup “three-peat.” So all eyes will be on how the Lionesses cope with the pressure of being one of the favourites to win the tournament.
But they passed a big test of their new status by beating the U.S. at Wembley in October, and Sarina Wiegman’s team will want to build on that during the early stages of the World Cup.
With world-class talents such as Leah Williamson, Beth Mead and Lauren Hemp, and emerging youngsters such as Alessia Russo, every game they play in the tournament will attract huge attention.
Predicted finish: England, China, Denmark, playoff winners
United States, Vietnam, Netherlands, Group A playoff
Containing both the winners and the runners-up from the last Women’s World Cup, Group E has the scales firmly tipped in favour of the seeded teams; four-time winners, the U.S. are so far ahead of the rest in terms of ranking and women’s football development.
For Vietnam, who will play their first-ever World Cup match against the U.S. in Auckland on July 23, there were certainly kinder draws out there for a team ranked 34th in the world.
Even against the winners from playoff A (Cameroon, Portugal or Thailand), Vietnam might have a mountain to climb — as do the Netherlands, who find themselves in another period of transition having only just brought in a new coach, and would be right to be fearful of a Cameroon or Portugal team who could make it through the playoffs.
Must-see match: United States vs. Netherlands
It’s the obvious one, with the top two seeds clashing midway through the group stage in Wellington on July 27.
These two teams didn’t just meet in the World Cup final in Lyon back in 2019, they also played out a memorable quarterfinal tie at the 2020 Olympics. With both teams struggling to put their best football on the pitch, anything could happen when they meet in New Zealand next summer.
Sophie Lawson believes USA’s key match could be against the Netherlands and expands on the potential of Group E in the 2023 Women’s World Cup.
X factor: Which U.S. will turn up?
The back-to-back champions, who are going for a “three-peat,” have been far from convincing in recent years and when many expected them to switch into tournament mode at the Olympics, they did just the opposite, looking a shadow of themselves. With the weight of expectation on their shoulders, the U.S. may well sink rather than swim; yet in a group that should be navigable, there is still the chance to tread water.
Predicted finish: U.S., Netherlands, playoff winners, Vietnam
France, Jamaica, Brazil, Group C playoff
It’s very easy to call Group F on paper, but when you actually get to a tournament, things don’t always go to plan — as Jamaica could tell you, with the Reggae Girlz being without key player Bunny Shaw for their debut four years ago.
France, who have a history of peaking too early at major tournaments, will like their chances of having a strong group stage, wrapping up with a match against one of Chinese Taipei, Panama, Papa New Guinea or Paraguay — all four nations potential debutantes.
But Brazil are not to be taken lightly by anyone, the ever-presents with a glut of young talent coming through.
Must-see match: France vs. Brazil
It’s the obvious one, the clash of the top two seeds in Brisbane on July 29, and it should be a litmus test for where both nations are at and just how likely either are to go the long yards at the World Cup.
But it is worth noting that should a team such as Panama qualify for the World Cup through the playoffs, the clash with Jamaica could be one to watch for sheer fun on the pitch.
X factor: Will the real France please stand up?
We have long talked about France as a dark horse or even one of the favourites to win major silverware. Yet, for a multitude of reasons, it has yet to happen. Les Bleues started so well at the Euros and there was a rising belief that it was finally their time to shine, but the team looked less assured with each passing match.
Even without a banana-peel draw, it’s hard to know just which France will turn up and whilst they have the ranking to best anyone they face in the group stage, there are pitfalls everywhere for a team that have historically shown a mental fragility.
Predicted finish: Brazil, France, Jamaica, playoff winners
Sweden, South Africa, Italy, Argentina
Sweden have played in every edition of the tournament and have made the semifinals on four occasions. The Olympic silver medallists will be hard to match in this group with their experience in major competitions.
Sweden’s biggest challenge will undoubtedly be in fellow European nation Italy, who are playing in their third World Cup and have been building momentum in recent years. The Italians topped their group in 2019 and will be looking to replicate that success.
South Africa are playing in only their second World Cup, while Argentina have played in three — and neither have registered a win. They face what seems to be a nearly insurmountable task against Sweden and Italy to get out of the group. However, a Cinderella story for either of these nations cannot be completely ruled out.
Must-see match: Sweden vs. Italy
Who will take the top spot in Group G? It’s a rematch from the Euro 2022 group stage, which saw Italy win in a five-goal thriller 3-2.
Italy had a dominant qualifying campaign, only conceding one goal, to Switzerland. Meanwhile, Sweden, who finished third in 2019, boast experience and will be looking for revenge after their Euros defeat this year.
Sweden have one of the best defenses in the world, led by Chelsea star Magda Eriksson, while Italy’s attacking power is equally exciting with players such as Cristiana Girelli.
X factor: Can Argentina find their first win at the World Cup?
In 2019, Argentina had their best-ever performance at the World Cup. Despite not making it to the knockout rounds, they notched two exciting draws — a 0-0 against Japan and a thrilling 3-3 with Scotland; their only loss was a narrow 1-0 defeat to England.
Four years later, the youth in the squad from 2019 have gained tremendous experience and will be ready to take on the challenges in front of them. While it is hard to imagine Argentina making it out of the group, a win would mark continued growth and success for this team.
Predicted finish: Italy, Sweden, Argentina, South Africa
Germany, Morocco, Colombia, South Korea
Germany will be hard to match in this group. The depth and talent of this squad carried them all the way to the final of Euro 2022, falling just short to England. Germany have qualified for all eight editions of the Women’s World Cup and have topped their group in every appearance. Their route to the top spot here seems locked in; barring any major breakdowns, they should wrap this one up easily.
Colombia’s best World Cup performance was in 2015 when they qualified for the knockout phase, but they failed to make it out of the group in 2019. Group H is well-poised for them to make another run into the elimination rounds, with a key game against South Korea in their way.
South Korea follow the same history as Colombia in the last two editions, making it to the round of 16 in Canada but failing to get out of the group in France.
Morocco will be making their first appearance in the Women’s World Cup. When they take the field in Melbourne, they will make history as the first Arab nation to compete in the tournament. While it’s next to impossible to see a way out of the group, this history-making moment will be another mark of growth for the women’s game and the success of African women’s football.
Must-see match: Colombia vs. South Korea
It’s simple. This match will decide who will progress and who will go home. Both nations will be battling hard with something to prove after not qualifying for the elimination rounds in France. South Korea, led by former Chelsea player Ji So-Yun, boast the depth and experience, while Colombia are full of energy and creativity.
These sides have only met a few times in history, with South Korea beating the Colombians in the Olympic group stages in 2016. However, It has been many years since their last meeting and with everything on the line, this match is an unmissable watch for the tournament.
X factor: Lena Oberdorf
One of the most exciting players at only 20-years-old, Oberdorf is ahead of her time and has been nominated for countless awards this year after marshalling Germany’s midfield at the Euros.
Oberdorf’s expansive and creative play kick-starts Germany’s attack and is a pleasure for any football fan to watch. This young star will be one to watch throughout the tournament next year.
Predicted finish: Germany, Colombia, South Korea, Morocco