If it feels as if one World Cup just ended and FIFA is already talking about another one, well, that’s because it is. Argentina may still be celebrating the trophy it won in Qatar — and that celebration may continue for a while — but there’s a women’s championship just around the corner. Here’s what to know.
When is the Women’s World Cup?
The tournament runs from July 20 through Aug. 20. It will kick off with games featuring the co-hosts Australia (against Ireland in Sydney) and New Zealand (against Norway in Auckland) on July 20.
Where is the tournament?
Matches will be held at 10 stadiums in nine cities: five in Australia and four in New Zealand. (Sydney will do double duty, with the smaller Sydney Football Stadium hosting group-stage games before being replaced in the rotation by the much larger Stadium Australia.)
The full list of cities:
Australia: Sydney (two stadiums), Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth.
New Zealand: Auckland, Wellington, Dunedin, Hamilton.
That’s a long way from … most places, yes?
As always, that depends on you. Melbourne is currently 16 hours ahead of New York, and Auckland is 18 hours. (Those numbers jump to 19 and 21 in Los Angeles, in which case you might be better off counting from the other direction.) If you’re a fan of the Australian Open, or insomnia, you will of course have solutions to overcome this.
Who has qualified?
Most of the favorites and usual suspects advanced easily in the original round of qualification, creating an entry list that includes both soccer names fans should recognize and a few that might raise eyebrows:
Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Denmark, England, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Morocco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Norway, the Philippines, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the United States, Vietnam, Zambia.
That’s not 32 teams.
There will be 32 teams at the Women’s World Cup this year, up from 24 from the last tournament in France in 2019, from 16 at the ones before that and from 12 in the inaugural event in 1991. But the field is still being set this week in New Zealand, where 10 teams arrived for playoffs to decide the last three places.
Two of those spots are now set:
Group A: Portugal beat Cameroon, 2-1, on a penalty kick in injury time to earn its first Women’s World Cup trip. Its prize? Portugal landed in a group with the United States, Netherlands and Vietnam.
Group B: Haiti beat Chile, 2-1, on two goals by the teenage midfielder Melchie Dumornay. Haiti, too, will be a World Cup debutante, and in Dumornay, who recently signed with the world’s best club team, France’s Olympique Lyonnais Féminin, and a team of teenagers and twenty-somethings, it offers an abundance of energy and optimism that it will hope can make up for its obvious lack of experience. It had better: The Haitians dropped into a group with England, China and Denmark.
Group C: Paraguay and Panama will play for the final spot in the World Cup on Thursday. Each team, like Portugal and Haiti, would become a first-time qualifier.
Who are the tournament favorites?
The United States, a four-time winner and the two-time defending champion, and Canada, the reigning Olympic gold medalist, headline the North American contingent, but they will share top billing (or perhaps surrender it) in the face of a handful of European powers. England is the current European champion, but has several worthy rivals eager to seize its mantle as the continent’s best team. Germany, France, Spain, the Netherlands and Sweden all might make a strong case that they can win this summer.
How about the rest of the field?
Brazil arrives as the South American champion. Japan, China and South Korea have long histories of achievement in Asia — though only the Japanese have lifted the World Cup — and will be closer to home than usual. Australia, powered by the high-scoring forward Sam Kerr, recently signaled its intent to challenge with a victory over Spain in a warm-up match.
Other teams arrive with big stars but longer odds — Denmark (Pernille Harder), Norway (Ada Hegerberg) and Jamaica (Bunny Shaw) — and seven countries are just thrilled, for now, to be coming at all: Haiti, Morocco, the Philippines, Portugal, Ireland, Vietnam and Zambia all have qualified for their first World Cup.
Who is the U.S. playing?
The U.S. is the defending champion. Its schedule in the group stage includes a familiar face (the Netherlands) and two question marks (Vietnam and Portugal). The top two teams will advance to the round of 16.
The Americans’ three games in the group stage:
Vietnam at Auckland, July 22, 1 p.m. (Friday night in New York.)
Netherlands at Wellington, July 27, 1 p.m. (Wednesday night in New York.)
Portugal at Auckland, Aug. 1, 7 p.m. (Monday overnight in New York.)
How is the equal pay fight going?
That depends. The United States women, after years of tense negotiations, public battles, stinging insults and court filings, emerged with an equal pay deal that has made them one of the best-paid national teams — men or women — in the world.
Other countries, even big ones, have not made similar progress. While many have heralded new contracts guaranteeing equal rates of pay for matches, women’s soccer teams still lag far behind their men’s counterparts when it comes to prize money, staffing and other issues.
Canada is currently at the leading edge of the equal pay fight: Its players briefly went on strike this month before a game against the United States, and have vowed to press their battle for better treatment, and better pay, through future actions and public protests.
Can the Americans win a third straight title?
Of course they can. And while it’s never easy, it’s also going to be harder than ever. The Americans still have decorated veterans like Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe, Crystal Dunn and Becky Sauerbrunn. But in the wake of a disappointing trip to the Tokyo Olympics in 2021, when they had to scramble to take home the bronze, Coach Vlatko Andonovski has continued his efforts to refashion his team for a new generation.
That has seen the emergence of promising new talents like Trinity Rodman, Sophia Smith and Sofia Huerta, but also some uncharacteristic (O.K., worrying might be a better word) results against top teams. Consecutive defeats against England, Spain and Germany last fall — the Americans’ first three-game losing streak in 29 years — were a signal that the team’s transformation still has a way to go.
Time, however, is running short even though the expectations — inside and outside the team — never change.
“For us, we want to win everything, all the time,” Rapinoe said this week before the SheBelieves Cup finale.