The Fifa Women’s World Cup, being hosted in Australia and New Zealand, has been in the news before it started not just because of it being a premier world tournament, but because of the sheer numbers – a record 32 teams playing, eight more than the 24 who qualified for the 2019 edition in France.
The expansion of playing teams meant that surprises were bound to be thrown up with the likes of Morocco, Portugal, Vietnam, the Philippines and more making their debut on the world stage. But as the group leg, featuring eight groups of four teams each, came to a close on Thursday, nobody could have predicted the list of teams that had made it to the Round of 16.
From defending champions United States barely scrapping through, to Olympic champions Canada and world No 2 Germany being knocked out, the World Cup group stage has had its upsets and moments of brilliance – Colombia’s rout of Germany, Nigeria beating co-hosts Australia and the Moroccan women emulating their men’s team from a year ago.
Aside from team outcomes, there were also a fair share of disappointments. Stars like Brazil’s talismanic forward Marta and the leading goal scorer in international football, Christine Sinclair of Canada, playing (what is most likely) their final international match for their respective countries.
But as the older generation began to bid adieu to the game, there were sparks among the younger generation on display – Colombia’s Linda Caicedo, an Under-17 World Cup star and a cancer survivor, was on song in Colombia’s win against Germany, Hinata Miyazawa netting two goals in Japan’s clinical 4-0 win over Spain and England’s Lauren James having a hand in five of the six goals England scored against China (two goals and three assists)
Here’s a brief round-up of how each group shaped up:
Final standing: 1. Switzerland; 2. Norway; 3. New Zealand; 4. Philippines
It was supposed to be a fairytale for co-hosts New Zealand, when they beat Norway 1-0 to get their first ever World Cup win, and that too on home soil. But a defeat at the hands of the Philippines and a listless draw with eventual group-toppers Switzerland meant that the Football Ferns became the first host nation to be knocked out of the World Cup in the group stage.
A special mention goes out to Sarina Bolden who became the Philippines’ first ever Fifa World Cup goal scorer when she netted the only goal in a 1-0 win against New Zealand.
Final standing: 1. Australia; 2. Nigeria; 3. Canada; 4. Republic of Ireland
Tokyo Olympic champions Canada were touted as one of the favourites coming into the tournament Down Under but the first shock of the group stage was delivered when co-hosts Australia, hampered by injuries to their forwards including captain Sam Kerr, secured the top spot in the group by beating Canada 4-0 in the final group game.
This win boosted the crowd at Melbourne who were on edge after the Matildas had been subjected to a shock 3-2 loss by Nigeria. The African side then cruised to the Round of 16 on the back of two draws against Canada and debutants Republic of Ireland with 22-year-old captain and goalkeeper Chiamaka Nnadozie standing tall and even denying Sinclair when the latter stepped up to take a penalty.
Final standing: 1. Japan; 2. Spain; 3. Zambia; 4. Costa Rica
One of three teams to not concede in the group stage, 2011 champions Japan showcased some of their brilliance in a 5-0 rout of Spain to seal the top spot in the group.
What has been incredibly gripping about Japan’s play has been their ability to score despite not having a majority of possession – they only had 23% possession in the game against Spain and have scored the most number of goals (11) in the this World Cup’s group stage.
Despite finishing third and losing their matches against Japan and Spain, Zambia will be proud not just because they managed to get their first World Cup win, beating Costa Rica 3-1, but also because of their captain Barbra Bandi scoring the tournament’s 1000th goal via a penalty at the half-hour mark to write her name in the history books.
Final standing: 1. England; 2. Denmark; 3. China; 4. Haiti
One of the other contenders for the title, European champions England weren’t at their most fluent when cruising through opponents like Haiti and Denmark, but did enough to secure qualification to the next round and top the group with three wins in three games. Lauren James’ double in the 6-1 rout against Asian champions China showcased the calibre of the Lionesses.
Haiti may have lost all their matches but Melchie Dumornay, their 19-year-old forward, troubled the English midfield and along with her teammates, gave hope to a country that is still recovering from a devastating earthquake in 2010.
Final standing: 1. Netherlands; 2. US; 3. Portugal; 4. Vietnam
This was supposed to be the ‘Group of Death’ with the presence of defending champions US and 2019 runners-up the Netherlands. While both teams did eventually make it out of the group and into the Round of 16, it wasn’t in the order that everyone expected.
The Americans did not live up to their tag as tournament favourites and four-time champions as they struggled against the Netherlands in a 1-1 draw and were nearly dumped out of the tournament had Portuguese striker Ana Capeta’s shot not hit the goal post in the 91st minute of their goalless draw.
Stars like Megan Rapinoe, who didn’t start any of the group games, and Alex Morgan did not light up the field as expected and despite boasting young talents like Trinity Rodman and Sophie Smith, the US limped to a second-place finish. This was the first time the US had finished a group stage with only one win.
Portugal, in their first ever World Cup, will feel incredibly hard done with the multitude of chances they had to score in their game against the US. Fellow debutants Vietnam, representing their country for the first time ever at a Fifa World Cup, were on the receiving end of Dutch brilliance after a 7-0 thumping in their final group game.
Final standing: 1. France; 2. Jamaica; 3. Brazil; 4. Panama
Jamaica, the only other team from the CONCACAF (North American) region to qualify for the knock-out stages, have had to climb immense hurdles just to make it to the World Cup. From starting a crowd-funding campaign to sponsor their trip to dealing with payment issues because of their federation, the Reggae Girlz lit up the tournament, beating Panama in their first World Cup win and dumping out tournament favourites Brazil in a goalless draw, much to the heartbreak of Marta fans.
France, the hosts of the 2019 edition, topped the group with two wins and a draw but survived a shaky final group game against Panama. The latter, playing in their first World Cup, opened the scoring in a blistering fashion when Marta Cox whipped in a free-kick just two minutes into the game and scored the fastest goal of the tournament (so far). There were goals galore with France’s Kadidiatou Diani netting a hat-trick, including two penalties but despite the 3-6 loss and finishing bottom of the table, Panama jumped around in celebration as the final whistle blew.
Final standing: 1. Sweden; 2. South Africa; 3. Italy; 4. Argentina
Imagine scoring an own goal in a tight match, only for that to be one of the reasons your team is eliminated from the World Cup? This was how Italy’s Benedetta Orsi felt when an error in judgement saw her roll a backpass into her own net to give South Africa an equaliser in a game that the latter ultimately won 3-2 and secured the second spot in the group at the expense of Italy.
The Banyana Banyana were level on points with Argentina going into the final group game and it was a three-way race between South Africa, Argentina and Italy for the second spot, Sweden having qualified on the back of consecutive wins.
But despite a double by Arianna Caruso, the South Africans capitalised on the mistake by Orsi to secure their first ever World Cup win since their debut in 2019.
Final standing: 1. Colombia; 2. Morocco; 3. Germany; 4. South Korea
The final day of group games involved mathematical calculations to understand who needed to do what to secure qualification to the Round of 16. With Germany having routed Morocco and Colombia beating Germany and South Korea, the Africans needed to win to knock out Germany, should the latter not be able to defeat South Korea, who had already exited the tournament on the back of two losses.
South Korea’s Cho So-hyun barrelled in a surprise opener in the 6th minute and captain Alexandra Popp scored a crucial equaliser three minutes before the first half ended. On the other side, Morocco’s Anissa Lahmari netted the only goal of the match against Colombia in first half stoppage time.
The Moroccan women waited anxiously for the result of the Germany-South Korea game and despite Popp’s best efforts, including getting a goal overturned for being offside, and a flurry of chances testing the mettle of the Korean backline led by veteran Kim Hye-ri, the Euro 2022 finalists exited the World Cup for the first time ever – emulating their men’s side in a not-so-eye-catching statistic.
2023 Women’s World Cup Round of 16 matches
Saturday, August 5 at 10:30AM IST – Switzerland vs Spain
Saturday, August 5 at 1:30PM IST – Japan vs Norway
Sunday, August 6 at 7:30AM IST – Netherlands vs South Africa
Sunday, August 6 at 2:30PM IST – US vs Sweden
Monday, August 7 at 1PM IST – England vs Nigeria
Monday, August 7 at 4PM IST – Australia vs Denmark
Tuesday, August 8 at 1:30PM IST – Colombia vs Jamaica
Tuesday, August 8 at 4:30PM IST – France vs Morocco