One of the 2023 Women’s World Cup host countries, Australia will be backed by a strong home contingent as they look to progress past the group stages for the fifth straight edition.
Tony Gustavsson’s 23-player squad, announced on Monday in Melbourne, will be tested, with 11-time African champions Nigeria, 2020 Olympics gold medallists Canada and the Republic of Ireland also included in Group B.
Entering the tournament with high hopes, how will ‘The Matildas’ fare? Oliver Walker-Peel dissects Group B.
Previous Women’s World Cup appearances: 7 (last in 2019)
2019 tournament: R16 (defeated by Norway on penalties, 1-1 aet)
Best finish: 3x QF (last in 2015)
Nickname: The Matildas
Manager: Tony Gustavsson (Sweden)
World ranking: 10th
The hopes of millions donning the green and gold will rest with ‘The Matildas’, who will appear at an eighth-straight tournament, after failing to qualify for the tournament’s inaugural iteration in 1991. Closing out the top 10 in FIFA’s World Rankings, and leading the AFC in that regard, Tony Gustavsson’s charges have a chance to make a real impression at a tournament that will define a generation of Australian footballers. Despite a disappointing showing at last year’s Asian Cup, where Sam Kerr’s seven goals could not prevent an exit in the quarter-finals, a win away at European champions England in April provided glimpses of how devastating Australia can be, as a full squad of former A-League Women talents prepare to take on the world.
Key player: Sam Kerr
Club: Chelsea (England)
Sam Kerr has no doubt shaped this era of Australian football, on and off the pitch.
A mainstay in Australia’s plans since her debut a decade and a half ago, Kerr has left a path of success wherever she has plied her trade, including winning the last four Women’s Super League titles with Chelsea, alongside assistant coach and fellow Australia Tanya Oxtoby.
Scoring 53 goals in her last three league campaigns with the Blues, as well as scoring at better than a goal every two games while on national duty, the former Perth Glory and Sydney FC attacker will be key to any Australia success on home turf in this tournament.
Breakout star: Charlotte Grant
Club: Vittsjö GIK (Sweden)
A tough decision to single out one player given the strength of the Matildas’ next wave, Grant seems like a starlet destined to make the next step.
Making 14 appearances for Vittsjö GIK in the Swedish top flight on loan from FC Rosengård of Sweden, the versatile talent has impressed at her second European club after initially joining FC Rosengård of Sweden in 2021.
Scoring her first goal in Brentford against the Lionesses three months ago, a strong tournament could see Grant become one of the world’s most-revered full-backs as the next Asian Cup approaches.
Goalkeepers: Lydia Williams (Brighton and Hove Albion), Teagan Micah (FC Rosengård), Mackenzie Arnold (West Ham United)
Defenders: Courtney Nevin (Leicester City), Aivi Luik (BK Häcken), Claire Polkinghorne (Vittsjö GK), Steph Catley (Arsenal), Alana Kennedy (Manchester City), Clare Hunt (Western Sydney Wanderers), Ellie Carpenter (Olympique Lyonnais), Charlotte Grant (Vittsjö GIK, on loan from FC Rosengård)
Midfielders: Clare Wheeler (Everton), Alex Chidiac (Racing Louisville), Emily van Egmond (San Diego Wave), Tameka Yallop (Brann), Katrina Gorry (Brisbane Roar), Kyra Cooney-Cross (Hammarby IF)
Forwards: Cortnee Vine (Sydney FC), Caitlin Foord (Arsenal), Mary Fowler (Manchester City), Hayley Raso (No club, last with Manchester City), Kyah Simon (Tottenham Hotspur), Sam Kerr (Chelsea)
July 20: AUSTRALIA v Republic of Ireland (Stadium Australia, Sydney/Gadigal, 8pm)
July 27: AUSTRALIA v Nigeria (Brisbane Stadium, Brisbane/Meeanjin, 8pm)
July 31: Canada v AUSTRALIA (Melbourne Rectangular Stadium, Melbourne/Narrm, 8pm)
Verdict: Despite a tough group on paper, Australia, with the likes of Kerr, Raso, and Fowler to call upon, should top the group. 1st.
Previous Women’s World Cup appearances: 7 (last in 2019)
2019 tournament: R16 (defeated by Sweden 1-0)
Best finish: 4th (2003)
Manager: Bev Priestman (England)
World ranking: 7th
Entering this World Cup campaign as the current Olympic champions, Canada have come a long way since being bounced out by Sweden in France four years ago. Perennial underachievers on the world stage aside from a strong fourth-place finish in 2003, this feels like a huge opportunity to right the wrongs of tournaments gone by. With legendary striker Christine Sinclair set to appear at a sixth World Cup after featuring in the United States two decades ago, manager Bev Priestman has a real opportunity to help show what Canada can do with the eyes of the world watching.
Key player: Jessie Fleming
Club: Chelsea (England)
Position: Central midfielder
While it almost doesn’t feel right not featuring Christine Sinclair here given her 190-goal exploits, Fleming is poised to lead the next generation of Canadian women’s football forward.
Featuring 36 times in midfield in all competitions, Fleming starred in Chelsea’s league and cup double, with Arsenal’s League Cup triumph in the final coming in between the Blues and another treble.
A midfielder who is able to both control the game and score goals, as evidenced in her 19 goals for her country, she will certainly be among a number of players in red to keep an eye on.
Breakout star: Olivia Smith
Club: No club
Becoming the youngest player to make her debut for the Canada women’s national team at 15 years at 94 days, Smith has the world at her feet.
On the verge of switching the classroom for a first professional contract with a European club yet to be revealed, Smith is an attack-minded player who has featured on the right for Canada at youth level.
As the starlet is about to embark on a new journey at club level, the Women’s World Cup could be the tournament where Smith was first seen shining for all to see.
Goalkeepers: Sabrina D’Angelo (Arsenal), Kailen Sheridan (San Diego Wave), Lysianne Proulx (Torreense)
Defenders: Kadeisha Buchanan (Chelsea), Ashley Lawrence (Chelsea), Allysha Chapman (Houston Dash), Shelina Zadorsky (Tottenham Hotspur), Jayde Riviere (Manchester United), Vanessa Gilles (Olympique Lyonnais, on loan from Angel City), Gabrielle Carle (Washington Spirit)
Midfielders: Sophie Schmidt (Houston Dash), Jessie Fleming (Chelsea), Quinn (OL Reign), Julia Grosso (Juventus), Simi Awujo (USC Trojans)
Forwards: Christine Sinclair (Portland Thorns), Adriana Leon (Manchester United), Nichelle Prince (Houston Dash), Jordyn Huitema (OL Reign), Cloé Lacasse (Arsenal), Evelyn Viens (Gotham), Clarissa Larissey (BK Håcken), Olivia Smith (No club, Penn State Nittany Lions)
July 21: Nigeria v CANADA (Melbourne Rectangular Stadium, Melbourne/Narrm, 12:30 pm)
July 26: CANADA v Republic of Ireland (Brisbane Stadium, Brisbane/Meeanjin, 8pm)
July 31: CANADA v Australia (Melbourne Rectangular Stadium, Melbourne/Narrm, 8pm)
Verdict: Despite a tough group on paper, Canada should have enough to get through. From there, they are not a side you would want to come up against. 2nd.
Previous Women’s World Cup appearances: 8 (last in 2019)
2019 tournament: R16 (defeated by Germany, 3-0)
Best finish: QF (1999)
Nickname: The Super Falcons
Manager: Randy Waldrum (United States of America)
World ranking: 40th
14-time champions of Africa, one would assume success on the world stage would follow, but ‘The Super Falcons’ have progressed to the quarter-finals only, with that coming before the turn of the millennium. Despite winning the previous three tournaments before 2022, Nigeria failed to make the top three in last year’s edition, falling to Zambia in the third-place playoff. Despite this, Randy Waldrum’s side have obvious quality in attack, which could trouble each defence they will face, while stalwart defender Onome Ebi will spearhead the defence in her sixth Women’s World Cup.
Key player: Asisat Oshoala
Club: FC Barcelona (Spain)
A key reason why La Blaugrana lifted the Women’s Champions League at the end of 2022-23 with five goals in nine games, Asisat Oshoala is a star for club and country.
A five-time African Footballer of the Year, who has previously plied her trade with Liverpool and Arsenal, Oshoala is a constant goal threat, who often uses intelligence and positioning wonderfully in order to find a path to goal.
Set to appear at her third Women’s World Cup, Oshoala will have to be pivotal in Nigeria’s attack if they are to progress past the group stage.
Breakout star: Rofiat Imuran
Club: Stade de Reims (France)
The youngest player in Nigeria’s Women’s World Cup squad for 2023, Rofiat Imuran looks to be the a key part of the next group of Super Falcons.
The Ibadan-born defender is formerly of Rivers Angels in her homeland, but late last year made the move to Stade de Reims in October last year, alongside national teammate Tosin Demehin.
Starting in a recent 3-0 win over co-hosts New Zealand, Nigerian fans have had a glimpse into their future with Imuran, which the world may have the chance to see later this month.
Goalkeepers: Chiamaka Nnadozie (Paris FC), Tochukwu Oluehi (Hakkarigucu Spor), Yewande Balogun (Saint-Etienne)
Defenders: Onome Ebi (Abia Angels), Glory Ogbonna (Besiktas), Ashleigh Plumptre (Leicester City), Rofiat Imuran (Stade de Reims), Michelle Alozie (Houston Dash), Tosin Demehin (Stade de Reims)
Midfielders: Halimatu Ayinde (FC Rosengård), Rasheedat Ajibade (Atletico Madrid), Toni Payne (Sevilla), Christy Ucheibe (Benfica), Deborah Abiodun (Pittsburgh University), Jennifer Echegini (Florida State)
Forwards: Uchenna Kanu (Racing Louisville), Gift Monday (UDG Tenerife), Ifeoma Onumonu (Gotham), Asisat Oshoala (FC Barcelona), Desire Oparanozie (Wuhan Jianghan University), Francisca Ordega (CSKA Moscow), Esther Okoronkwo (UDG Tenerife)
July 21: NIGERIA v Canada (Melbourne Rectangular Stadium, Melbourne/Narrm, 12:30 pm)
July 27: Australia v NIGERIA (Brisbane Stadium, Brisbane/Meeanjin, 8pm)
July 31: Republic of Ireland v NIGERIA (Brisbane Stadium, Brisbane/Meeanjin, 8pm)
Despite experience at both ends of the park, Australia and Canada look stronger on paper. 3rd.
REPUBLIC OF IRELAND
Previous Women’s World Cup appearances: First appearance in 2023
2019 tournament: Did not qualify
Best finish: N/A
Nickname: The Girls in Green
Manager: Vera Pauw (The Netherlands)
World ranking: 22nd
One of the feel-good stories of this World Cup, the Republic of Ireland will make an overdue first appearance at a major tournament. Led by manager Vera Pauw and captain Katie McCabe, ‘The Girls in Green’ stunned Scotland 1-0 at Hampden Park in order to get to Australia and New Zealand, with County Donegal native Amber Barrett scoring the all-important winner. Since taking the job in September 2019, Pauw has elevated the nation 11 places in the FIFA World Rankings, and now will look to mastermind a way out of Group B.
Key player: Katie McCabe
Club: Arsenal (England)
Position: Left midfielder
Now an Ireland regular after making her senior debut as a 19-year-old in 2015, McCabe is the inspirational captain behind her country’s ascent.
Part of a successful team at club level in Arsenal, with world-class players to call her teammates, McCabe was crucial as the red side of North London finished the recent WSL season in third.
Capable of playing on at full-back as well as further forward, McCabe looks set to add another impressive feat to a CV that already precedes her, becoming the first woman to captain the Republic of Ireland at a World Cup. Expect her to lead from the front.
Breakout star: Abbie Larkin
Club: Shamrock Rovers (Republic of Ireland)
The only teenager part of Vera Pauw’s squad for the tournament, Larkin has had a wonderful start to her young career.
A former youth team captain, wearing the armband during the U17 European Championship Qualification process, the 19-year-old striker joined Shamrock Rovers from Shelbourne, where she was part of a league and cup double in 2022.
Highly thought of in Irish circles, Larkin has the attributes to succeed at the highest level in club football and a path there could be accelerated with good performances in this tournament.
Goalkeepers: Courtney Brosnan (Everton), Grace Moloney (Reading), Megan Walsh (Brighton and Hove Albion)
Defenders: Claire O’Riordan (Celtic), Chloe Mustaki (Bristol City), Louise Quinn (Birmingham City), Niahm Fahey (Liverpool), Diane Caldwell (Reading), Isibeal Atkinson (West Ham United)
Midfielders: Megan Connolly (No club, last with Brighton and Hove Albion), Ruesha Littlejohn (No club, last with Aston Villa), Diane O’Sullivan (North Carolina Courage), Katie McCabe (Arsenal), Lily Agg (London City Lionesses), Lucy Quinn (Birmingham City), Sinead Farrelly (Gotham), Ciara Grant (Hearts)
Forwards: Amber Barrett (Standard Liège), Áine O’Gorman (Shamrock Rovers), Heather Payne (Florida State Seminoles), Kyra Carusa (London City Lionesses), Abbie Larkin (Shamrock Rovers), Marissa Sheva (Washington Spirit)
July 20: Australia v REPUBLIC OF IRELAND (Stadium Australia, Sydney/Gadigal, 8pm)
July 26: Canada v REPUBLIC OF IRELAND (Brisbane Stadium, Brisbane/Meeanjin, 8pm)
July 31: REPUBLIC OF IRELAND v Nigeria (Brisbane Stadium, Brisbane/Meeanjin, 8pm)
Verdict: This will be a watershed moment for Irish football regardless of results on-field, but a lack of major tournament experience could count against them. 4th.