The ninth edition of the FIFA Women’s World Cup gets underway in Auckland on Thursday as co-host New Zealand takes on Norway.
The US Women’s National Team (USWNT) arrives as the two-time defending champion and arguably the favorite to win an unprecedented third consecutive title and a record-extending fifth overall.
Where is it?
For the first time ever, the Women’s World Cup will be hosted across two countries: Australia and New Zealand. It is also the first to be held in the Southern Hemisphere.
Games will be held in six stadiums across Australia – in Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth, Melbourne and Sydney – and four in New Zealand – in Dunedin, Auckland, Hamilton and Wellington.
More than a million tickets had been sold by June, but the majority of those had been purchased for matches in Australia. Ticket sales in New Zealand have been less forthcoming, which a FIFA official has attributed to the sport’s lower profile in the country.
How to watch
In the US, games will be aired on FOX Sports, while Telemundo is providing Spanish-language coverage.
Seven Network and Optus Sport are broadcasting matches in Australia and the BBC and ITV have the rights in the United Kingdom.
A full breakdown of media rights holders in each country is available on the FIFA website.
Who is competing?
That includes some familiar faces – the United States, two-time champion Germany, European champion England and 2019 runner-up Netherlands – as well as eight teams making their debuts: Haiti, Morocco, Panama, the Philippines, Portugal, the Republic of Ireland, Vietnam and Zambia.
Who are the favorites?
However, this year’s edition promises to be a tighter affair, with Sweden and Germany both given an 11% chance of winning by Gracenote, France a nine percent chance, and England, Spain, and Australia all an eight percent chance.
This broadly reflects the FIFA women’s rankings, which currently has the US, Germany, Sweden, England and France as the top five teams in the world.
You can see Gracenote’s knockout-round predictions, including an expected final between the US and Germany, here.
What are the groups?
There are eight groups of four teams with the top two from each group progressing to the round of 16.
Players to watch
This tournament is likely to present Australia’s best chance of getting beyond the quarterfinals of a Women’s World Cup for the first time and captain Kerr is at the heart of the home nation’s grand ambitions.
For some veterans of the women’s game, this tournament will mark the end of an era. Brazilian superstar Marta, 37, is set to end her international career having scored a record 17 Women’s World Cup goals, while the USWNT’s Megan Rapinoe has also announced that she will retire after what will be her fourth and final World Cup.
At 34, Alex Morgan is also among the senior players in the US squad and is joined by young forwards Trinity Rodman, Sophia Smith and Alyssa Thompson, all looking to make an impression during their World Cup debuts.
Spain’s Alexia Putellas is a back-to-back Ballon d’Or Féminin winner – awarded to the best player in the women’s game – and earlier this year made a comeback from an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury.
Two other Barcelona stars – England midfielder Keira Walsh and Nigerian striker Asisat Oshoala – will both also be crucial for their nations’ chances.
Ada Hegerberg, the inaugural Ballon d’Or Féminin winner in 2018, is part of a talented Norwegian team alongside Caroline Graham Hansen, while Wendie Renard (France), Pernille Harder (Denmark) and Alexandra Popp (Germany) are all expected to feature prominently for their countries.
The Netherlands’ all-time leading women’s scorer Vivianne Miedema, England captain Leah Williamson and her teammate Beth Mead are all set to miss the tournament with ACL injuries.
Also on the ACL injury list are USWNT star Cat Macario, Germany’s Giulia Gwinn and Swiss teenager Iman Beney.
The ACL is one of the key ligaments inside the knee, helping to stabalize the joint by joining the thigh and shin bone. Tearing an ACL is one of the most serious injuries an athlete can suffer, but the plight, as this year’s World Cup absentee list will testify, is especially common in women’s football.
How much is the prize money?
FIFA has announced that prize money for the tournament will increase to $110 million. A further $31 million has been awarded to teams for preparations and $11 million to clubs for their players.
The $110 million prize money is a nearly three-fold increase on the 2019 figure and almost seven times more than in 2015, but still considerably lower than the $440 million total prize money awarded at the men’s World Cup in Qatar last year.