After the Women’s World Cup co-hosts Australia and New Zealand kicked off the tournament, the focus now shifts to the upcoming group stage matches and the top three contenders taking the field: Canada, Spain and the United States.
Spain and the United States are no strangers to the final rounds of the Women’s World Cup and will have to endure the pressure of having a target on their backs. Canada faces a different kind of pressure: its hitherto unfulfilled expectations on the World Cup stage.
After these games, there will be a clearer indication of which of these contenders are on the cusp of the championship and which have issues to work out.
nigeria vs canada
Both teams are battling with their federations for equal investment and pay. There were some rumors that Nigeria might boycott their opening game against Canada, whose players are close to a new contract with Canada Soccer. But both teams came into the tournament saying they were putting wage disputes to rest and focusing on the field.
Canada, the reigning Olympic champions, reached the quarter-finals of the World Cup in 2015 but lost in the round of 16 in 2019. Nigeria have won the African Cup of Nations 11 times but face a tough challenge in a group that includes hosts Australia.
Philippines vs Switzerland
The Philippines, in its first Women’s World Cup, features a squad of 18 players born in the United States. She will face Switzerland, a team with only one participation in the Women’s World Cup, in 2015. The two countries have never faced each other; none of them should advance much in this tournament.
Spain vs Costa Rica
Spain, whose roster contains several players from the mighty European club Barcelona, only lost once last year. Spain is one more program in a battle with its federation: a truce was established before the team left for the tournament, but tensions remain.
When Spain and Costa Rica played in the opening match of the 2015 Women’s World Cup, the Costa Ricans managed to hold Spain to a 1-1 draw, a performance they intend to repeat.
United States vs Vietnam
Vietnam, playing their first game at the Women’s World Cup, are only 50,000 to one to win the tournament, but they gave the German side a scare on 24 June by holding a friendly – the final score was 2-1.
The United States came under fire after its debut in 2019, when the team beat Thailand 13-0. In the run-up to the Women’s World Cup, none of this year’s players would commit to avoiding a similar goalscoring frenzy, and as a team looking to make history with a third straight title, the United States would win anyway.
The third time around, Megan Rapinoe’s reaction to a career-ending knee injury was nothing more than an eye roll. She had torn the anterior cruciate ligament. She could defy the recovery schedule in her head. She could see, with crystal clear clarity, the next nine to 12 months unfolding ahead of her.
The surgery, the painstaking rehabilitation, the grueling weeks at the gym, the first anxious steps onto the grass, the slow journey back to who she had been. As she considered this in 2015, she felt something closer to exasperation than despair. “I was like, ‘I don’t have time for this,’” she said.
The first time had been different. She had torn the anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee at age 21, when she was a rising star in her sophomore year at the University of Portland. At that time, she felt what she called “fear” – the worry that it might all end before it started.
Over the past year, that fear – and the questions it raises – has rippled through women’s football. The sport at times appeared to be in the grip of an ACL injury epidemic so widespread that at one point it sidelined a quarter of last year’s Ballon d’Or nominees.
Vivianne Miedema of the Netherlands, whose knee injury will keep her out of the World Cup, pointed out that this season alone, nearly 60 players in Europe’s top five leagues have had their ligaments injured. “It’s ridiculous,” she said earlier this year. “Something needs to be done.”
Calculating precisely what it might be, however, is more complicated than anyone would like.