Although South Africa’s prospects for the 2023 Women’s World Cup are modest, there are countries that carry heavy expectations and are vying for the gold medal.
Here’s a look at those teams and some tournament players.
Four years ago, in France, the United States became the third team to successfully defend the World Cup since World War II, joining the Brazilian men (in 1962) and the German women (in 2007).
Vlatko Andonovski’s side have maintained a six-year streak at the top of the FIFA rankings and headed into this year’s World Cup as underdogs. However, the Americans’ quest for an unprecedented third consecutive world title was anything but clear amid a turbulent generational transition.
The Americans had to rearrange their roster after a lackluster bronze medal finish with a veteran heavyweight team at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. There, their sloppy offense struggled to get ideas in the final third, despite ample time on the ball.
The United States has won the World Cup four times and has never finished worse than third in the tournament. They’ve added four Olympic gold medals along the way.
As the once widening gap to their competitors narrows, this masterpiece promises to be their toughest test yet.
England travel down under to win the 2022 European Championship, bent on world domination. Crucially, Sarina Wiegman’s side understands the dangers of more haste and less speed and will remain patient during his quest for world conquest.
They also have few concerns about the shape shift from their preferred 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 formations. When England looked on the verge of defeat during the Euro quarter-final against Spain, Wegman converted to 3-4-3 and was rewarded with a decider victory.
Additionally, it helps that the Ducks’ Dutch coach and influential assistant, Arjan Vurink, are not slaves to philosophy and happily tailor the team’s style and tactics to the opponent’s strengths and weaknesses.
The confidence of the two-time world champion Germany, which had been lost for a short time, was restored. After quarter-final defeats at Euro 2017 and the 2019 World Cup, the Germans are no longer considered a powerhouse. That changed at Euro 2022, when they reached the final.
However, there was a problem ahead of this summer’s training camp, as Germany were not always convincing in their warm-up matches. They recently went to Zambia for a World Cup prep match.
However, Martina Voss-Tecklenburg, coach of the national team, does not worry, perhaps because the situation was similar before last summer’s European Championship. She said, “I’m still relatively comfortable because I have so much faith in our players.”
Spain is entering its third World Cup strong as a world power. La Roja has become a fixture in the top ten of the world rankings. The team travels to Australia and New Zealand optimistic about a long run in the tournament, despite recent big upsets in their preparation.
Late last year, 15 Spain national team players walked away from the squad in protest against coach Jorge Vilda and his backroom squad. This forced Vilda to resort to players of a lower order. Since then, a passionate and re-formed group has been going in the same direction.
After a tumultuous few months, Spain succeeded in bringing the foundations back on its side. They welcome back three rebels: Mariona Caldente, Una Batli, and Aetana Bonmati — plus star Alexia Potellas.
players to watch
Sam Kerr (Australia)
There are few, if any, superlatives left to describe the scoring phenomenon that is Sam Kerr. Attacker in her life form. She comes on the back of a goal-laden double-win season with Chelsea, during which she picked up a host of individual honours.
She holds the Australian record for international goals – her 63 helped beat England earlier this year in her 120th international appearance – and such is her importance to Matildas that there is a sense that she carries the hopes of the host nation on her shoulders.
Alexia Potellas (Spain)
The 29-year-old is undoubtedly the star of the Spain national team. This World Cup presents a golden opportunity for the midfielder to shine as the world watches.
Last summer, Potellas was denied the chance to shine on the big stage when a torn anterior cruciate ligament ruled her out of the European Championships. Having recently returned from 10 months on the sidelines, the back-to-back Ballon d’Or winner is set to pull Spain’s strings once again.
There is little doubt as to whether it will be a decent fit from the start. Their 7-0 win over Panama in a friendly in June was their first start of the year, with Potellas scoring after 22 minutes.
Alexandra Pope (Germany)
Undoubtedly, Alexandra Popp is the most famous player of the German national team. This is partly because of her sense of humor.
The 32-year-old’s qualities should not be underestimated. She often doesn’t know how to score the goals she has. Popp scored in every match at Euro 2022 up until the final – which was crucially absent due to injury.
In Australia, Germany’s talented side will be looking to her to work her magic again – especially if they are to win their third World Cup.
Six-time FIFA World Player of the Year winner, MARTA is leading the South American champions in her sixth World Cup final. She is a major figure on and off the field, and is considered one of the best global players of all time.
This will be her first World Cup final, and she would love to mark her exit by winning the title for the first time.
Her teammates struck an agreement: “We take inspiration from what Argentina did for Messi. We want to do the same for Marta,” said fellow striker Kerolin Nicoli.
Oshoala Asis (Nigeria)
Playing for a club of Barcelona’s stature, scoring numerous goals, being nominated for the Ballon d’Or, and winning African Women’s Player of the Year four times is a strong case for being the star player in any team.
Oshoala’s speed, agility, and amazing eye mean the Super Falcons often look to her for inspiration. This is not always positive for the team as a whole but it does challenge the rest of the team to raise their level.
A role model off the field too, she has a foundation and academy for girls, striving to create the kind of opportunities she was denied when she was growing up. She is also the first African woman to win the UEFA Champions League. DM
This article first appeared in The Daily Maverick’s weekly sister publication DM168 and is available nationwide for R29.