The Women’s World Cup is back and bigger than ever. The field has been expanded from 24 to 32 teams, with eight nations making their debuts in Australia and New Zealand.
The diluted field could create some mismatches early, but a strong list of contenders will look to prevent the United States from becoming the first team — men or women — to win three straight World Cups.
This is also the first World Cup since the US women’s team settled its lawsuit against the US Soccer Federation over equal pay, which became a rallying cry during the run to the 2019 title. Similar controversies have plagued other nations.
Ada Hegerberg, one of best players in the word, is back for Norway after a five-year absence protesting the federation’s treatment of its women’s team. Spain, however, is without 12 players who continue to make themselves unavailable for selection, claiming the atmosphere created by coach Jorge Vilda has negatively impacted their physical and mental health.
Fans in the United States will be facing many early mornings — or very late nights — to catch games live. Whether you decide to set your alarm or wait for the reruns, here’s everything you need to know:
Dates: July 20-Aug. 20
TV: Fox Sports and Telemundo have had the US rights for the World Cup since 2015. All 64 matches will be broadcast on Fox or FS1 in English, and Telemundo or Universo in Spanish. Every game will also stream on Foxsports.com (English) and Peacock (Spanish).
Kickoff times: This is the first World Cup to be played across five time zones. Most games are scheduled for 1 a.m-6 a.m. Eastern, with a sprinkling of games starting at 8 a.m. or 8 p.m. or later.
Washington’s city council responded by passing an amendment allowing the city’s bars and restaurants to remain open 24/7 during the tournament (albeit with a moratorium on selling alcohol from 4 a.m.-6 a.m.), just as it had for the 2022 men’s tournament in Qatar.
The host nations
Australia and New Zealand combined for the first successful joint bid to host a World Cup since the 2002 men’s edition in Japan and South Korea. (The 2026 men’s World Cup will be played in Canada, Mexico, and the United States.)
The countries — bolstered by a slick #AsOne campaign and a joint letter from their prime ministers — won the vote to host the tournament convincingly in July 2020. However, the results revealed a stark continental divide: All representatives from the European and South American confederations voted for Colombia’s bid, while every representative from Asia, Africa, and CONCACAF (North and Central America and the Caribbean), backed Australia and New Zealand.
Ready to welcome the world #AsOne! 🇦🇺⚽️🇳🇿— AsOne2023 (@AsOne2023) July 30, 2020
The @FIFAWWC Australia-New Zealand 2023™ will be an historic event
✅ first in the southern hemisphere
✅ first to be co-hosted by 2 confederations
✅ first to feature 32 teams
Share in all the stories on the path to 2023 ➡️ @FIFAWWC pic.twitter.com/wQeg25FIMR
FIFA gave the joint bid a 4.1 rating out of 5, compared with Colombia’s 2.8. UEFA explained that it felt Colombia’s bid represented a “strategic opportunity for the development of women’s football in South America,” per the Guardian.
Australia and New Zealand’s women’s teams are established on the national stage. Australia, also known as the Matildas, have reached the knockout rounds of the last four World Cups and are seen as outside contenders after reaching the semis of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Meanwhile, the Football Ferns have qualified for every World Cup since the first edition in 1991, but haven’t won a match in their last five appearances.
More than 1 million tickets had been sold as of last week, but most are for games in Australia, where the sport is more popular. Last week, FIFA and a corporate sponsor said they would be giving away a total of 20,000 tickets for games at the four sites in New Zealand.
Both host nations’ federations wrote to FIFA in protest when Visit Saudi, Saudi Arabia’s state tourism authority, was marked as a potential sponsor for the tournament. In March, FIFA president Gianni Infantino said that Visit Saudi would not serve as a sponsor for this tournament but did not rule out future deals with the kingdom.
Sydney is the only host city that will feature two stadiums. The tournament’s largest venue, Stadium Australia (capacity 81,500) — also known as the Accor Stadium — was originally scheduled to host one game in each knockout round, including the final on Aug. 20. However, the Matildas’ opening game against Ireland was moved 30 minutes west from Sydney Football Stadium (capacity 38,841) — which opened in August 2022, making it the the tournament’s newest stadium — because of surging ticket demand. The 36,109 who watched the Matildas take on the United States at Stadium Australia in 2021 set a home attendance record sure to be broken on July 20.
The Melbourne Rectangular Stadium (capacity 24,870), or Aami Park, has the most distinct design of all the venues thanks to a roof and exterior shaped as geometric clouds. The stadium is connected to the site of the Australian Open — Melbourne Park and Rod Laver Arena — with walkways and footbridges.
Brisbane Stadium (capacity 46,851) will host eight games, including the third-place match, making it the tournament’s second-busiest venue. The second-oldest venue is Perth Rectangular Stadium (capacity 13,932), built in 1910 and last used for a Harry Styles concert in February. Finally, Hindmarsh Stadium (capacity 13.327), or Coopers Stadium, is known for hosting an intimate, rocking atmosphere for the city’s A-League soccer team.
Auckland’s Eden Park (capacity 40,356) has been the spiritual home of sport in New Zealand since the cricket and rugby ground opened in 1900. It will host the opening game of the tournament when New Zealand faces Norway, as well as the opening ceremony. New Zealand’s national stadium will host nine games, including two group games for the United States, making it the tournament’s busiest venue.
The US will also play a group match at Wellington Regional Stadium (capacity 31,089), which sits near the city’s harbor and is known as the “Cake Tin” for its circular shape and metal exterior. Dunedin Stadium (capacity 24,243) has a roof to shield spectators from icy weather on the country’s southeastern coast and is one of the few stadiums in New Zealand not built to accommodate cricket. The latter is also true of Hamilton’s Waikato Stadium (capacity 16,271), whose rectangular layout puts fans almost on top of the pitch.
The groups and format
Group A: Norway, Switzerland, New Zealand, Philippines
Group B: Canada, Australia, Nigeria, Ireland
Group C: Spain, Japan, Costa Rica, Zambia
Group D: England, Denmark, China, Haiti
Group E: United States, Netherlands, Portugal, Vietnam
Group F: France, Brazil, Jamaica, Panama
Group G: Sweden, Italy, Argentina, South Africa
Group H: Germany, South Korea, Colombia, Morocco
The group stage is played in a round-robin format with each team playing each other once; the two teams with the most points (3 points for a win, 1 for a draw, 0 for a loss) advance to the knockout stages. The rest of the tournament, beginning with the Round of 16, is single elimination.
US schedule and outlook
Friday, July 21: United States vs. Vietnam, 9 p.m. (Fox, Telemundo)
Wednesday, July 26: United States vs. Netherlands, 9 p.m. (Fox, Telemundo)
Tuesday, Aug. 1: United States vs. Portugal, 3 a.m. (Fox, Telemundo)
Vlatko Andonovski, coaching the United States in his first World Cup, has ushered in a new generation of talent as the Americans aim for a three-peat. Thirteen members of the 23-women squad will be making their World Cup debuts. There are also 13 players that were not on the roster for the Tokyo Olympics in 2021, when the United States failed to make the final but won the bronze medal.
The United States will be without one of its most exciting talents, with 23-year-old Catarina Macario announcing in May that setbacks recovering from a torn ACL suffered last June would prevent her from taking part. The United States lost another goal-scoring threat when Mallory Swanson, who leads the Americans with seven of the team’s 19 goals this year, tore her patellar tendon during a friendly against Ireland in April.
The injury bug has also hit key veterans, punctuated by the absence of longtime captain and center back Becky Sauerbrunn, 38, because of a foot injury. Hanson native Sam Mewis — a key midfield anchor for the Americans in the 2019 tournament — is rehabbing from her second knee surgery in two years, though older sister Kristie is making her World Cup debut.
The United States still boasts a number of experienced stars, with Alex Morgan, Kelley O’Hara, and Megan Rapinoe playing in their fourth World Cup. The Americans are favored to win the tournament and give a victorious sendoff to Rapinoe, who announced she is retiring.
The Americans will likely be challenged for the top spot in Group E by the Netherlands, which they beat in the 2019 final. If the United States does win the group, it will likely land on the lighter side of the knockout bracket, though Spain and back-to-back world player of the year Alexia Putellas could be waiting in the semis. European powerhouses England, Germany, and France, as well as Australia and Tokyo gold medalist Canada, are potential opponents in the final.