Shortcuts / 18 July 2023

The FIFA Women’s World Cup

It’s nearly kick-off time for the biggest women’s sporting event ever held in Australia, and our own Matildas will be centre stage. So in this Squiz Shortcut, we look at the rise of women’s football around the globe, the who’s who of the 32 nations competing, and how the Aussies will measure up.

So this is pretty big, huh?
It sure is… Ticket sales reached 1.25 million across Australia and New Zealand last week, making it the biggest standalone women’s sporting event ever.

Mind = blown…
Yep, and the tournament hasn’t even started yet… Just last week, the Matildas had a friendly warm-up match against France in Melbourne, and the crowd topped 50,000. That’s an Aussie record for a women’s soccer match.

Has Oz always had this much interest in women’s football?
It’s fair to say it’s a new thing. It’s only really been in the last 10 years or so that women could make a living from playing soccer – the Matildas of the 80s, 90s and 2000s had to have other jobs on the side.

Do we have a strong domestic competition?
The women’s league – now called the A-League Women – kicked off in 2008, so it’s pretty extraordinary how the Matildas have been competitive on the international stage for some time. We made the quarter-finals of the Women’s World Cups in 2007, 2011 and 2015 and the Round of 16 in 2019.

So we’ve been punching above our weight?
That’s for sure. But one thing that has changed since the last World Cup is that a lot more of our top players have headed to Europe to play for the big teams: Sam Kerr with Chelsea; Ellie Carpenter with Lyon; Mackenzie Arnold with West Ham. And that’s just the start of the list…

So the UK/Europe’s where it’s at?
Yep, just like the men’s game. It’s where the money is, and it’s allowed the best female players to make a living from professional football like the men. 

But the women still aren’t getting the big bucks…
Nope – just this week, the Matildas released a video putting pressure on FIFA as well as Football Australia to remind everyone that there is still a long way to go in terms of pay equity for women, including the prize money.

Gotcha. So can our Matildas win this thing?
It’s a big ask, but the good news is they are officially coming in hot. They’re ranked 10th in the world, but our lineup is in top form.

Do tell…
Well, Sam Kerr doesn’t need any introduction, but she kicked the winning goal in the FA Cup final back in May. That’s the best women’s league in the world, and Kerr’s been dominant there.

Who else have we got?
There’s Steph Catley and Caitlin Foord, who have been playing for Arsenal in the same league – they’ve had brilliant seasons. So has Mary Fowler, who, despite coming back from injury, got us that 1-0 win against France last week.

Was that a big deal?
It sure was, considering we won against a country that’s ranked 5th in the world. Commentators said our defensive structure is looking super solid, the team was comfortable on the ball all night, and the nerves didn’t creep in with that massive crowd.

So we’re a genuine contender?
For sure, but we shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves – we’ve never made it past the quarter-finals in a World Cup before.

Who is the favourite to win?
So the top 4 teams in the world are the USA, Germany, Sweden and England, and the US are the clear favourites after winning the last 2 World Cups. Unfortunately, we won’t see much of them in the opening rounds because they’re based in New Zealand for all their group matches. So it’s only if/when they get past the group stage they’ll be coming to play in Oz.

And are the top 4 all expected to do well?
Interestingly, most of the pundits and bookies are favouring 4th-ranked England to go deeper in the tournament than 2nd-ranked Germany or 3rd-ranked Sweden. The Germans had a surprise defeat to Zambia recently, while the England Lionesses are in great form – they won the European Cup last year.

Who else do we need to watch?
Spain is ranked 6th in the world and arguably has the world’s best female footballer Alexia Putellas.

Umm, isn’t Sam Kerr the best?
We might be a bit biased, but Putellas did beat out Kerr for the top football award – the Ballon d’Or – 2 years running… So if she can find her best form, Spain will be a genuine contender. And don’t write off France either, because although we beat them, they will certainly be fired up to turn things around.

When are the Matildas playing?
They’re kicking off the tournament with a group match against Ireland this Thursday night at 8pm. Then we face Nigeria on 27 July, and our final group match against Canada is on 31 July. We’ve got to place at least 2nd in the group to get through to the Round of 16.

And if we manage that?
Hopefully, we’re able to avoid a clash with England in the next stage – so fingers crossed for that. Go the Matildas….

Squiz recommends:

Group-by-group guide to the 2023 FIFA Women’s World CupThe Sydney Morning Herald

Matildas: The World at Our Feet – Disney+

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