27/02/2024

France will hope their new coach can take them to World Cup glory (Photo: France Women's Soccer Team Twitter)

Over the next four weeks, 32 nations will take part in the biggest football tournament to hit Australian shores since the 2000 Olympics, this time co-hosting with New Zealand.

As the commencement of the World Cup edges closer, The Inner Sanctum will be analysing and previewing all eight groups in what should be a fascinating month of football.

Four time World Champions and current World Cup holders USA headline Group E alongside 2019 finalists the Netherlands, while Vietnam and Portugal are set to make their Women’s World Cup debut.

All eyes will be on the legendary Marta as she embarks on her last dance on the world stage with Brazil in Group F, but they will face stiff competition from France to top the group. Panama is making their first-ever appearance, a piece of history for the Central American nation.

Group E:

USA

The USA are looking to become the first nation from the men’s or women’s side of the game to achieve a World Cup three-peat in 2023.

The most successful nation in Women’s World Cup history, the current holders have won four of the eight iterations of the tournament and never finished off the podium.

While the world’s number one ranked side will begin their quest as one of the heavy favourites, injuries to key players and recent performances may have caused doubts over the camp.  

Familiar names making the trip include veterans Alex Morgan, Julie Ertz and 2019 Player of the Tournament, Megan Rapinoe. However, missing through injury is captain Becky Sauerbrunn, leading scorer Mallory Swanson and star playmaker Catarina Macario.

In 2022, the USWNT also lost three successive games for the first time in over two decades, but still breezed through qualification.

Head coach Vlatko Andonovski is headed to Australia and New Zealand with a vastly different list to the triumphant 2019 squad. More than half of the players in the final 23 are experiencing World Cup football for the first time.

Such is the depth of the talent pool in the United States, the next generation is ready to carry on the mantle and will be expected to make a deep run in the knockout stages.

Full squad:

Goalkeepers: Aubrey Kingsbury (Washington Spirit), Casey Murphy (North Carolina Courage), Alyssa Naeher (Chicago Red Stars)

Defenders: Alana Cook (OL Reign), Crystal Dunn (Portland Thorns), Emily Fox (North Carolina Courage), Naomi Girma (San Diego Wave), Sofia Huerta (OL Reign), Kelley O’Hara (NJ/NY Gotham), Emily Sonnett (OL Reign)

Midfielders: Savannah DeMelo (Racing Louisville), Julie Ertz (Angel City FC), Lindsey Horan (Lyon), Rose Lavelle (OL Reign), Kristie Mewis (NJ/NY Gotham), Ashley Sanchez (Washington Spirit), Andi Sullivan (Washington Spirit)

Forwards: Alex Morgan (San Diego Wave), Megan Rapinoe (OL Reign), Trinity Rodman (Washington Spirit), Sophia Smith (Portland Thorns), Alyssa Thompson (Angel City), Lynn Williams (NJ/NY Gotham)

Coach: Vlatko Andonovski

One to watch: Sophia Smith (Age: 22 – Forward/Portland Thorns)

Having already made a name for herself at club level, Smith is ready to make her World Cup debut as the face of the USA front line. As good at providing goals as she is at scoring them,  the reigning NWSL MVP is touted to take on the mantle from Alex Morgan once she retires.

Group prediction: First

Vietnam

Another nation making history by appearing in a World Cup for the first time is Vietnam.

A nail biting 2-1 victory over Chinese Taipei in the AFC Women’s Asian Cup play-off in 2022 clinched qualification, which was followed by victory in the Southeast Asian Games competition.

Head coach Mai Duc Chung has been involved in Vietnamese football since the mid 1990’s, with several spells in charge of the women’s team. Chung has enjoyed plenty of success during Vietnam’s rise in the footballing world, including five gold medals at the Southeast Asian Games.

His versatile coaching style sees his side adapt their set up to tackle each opponents strengths, while streamlining their own offensive game.

As the 32nd ranked team in the world and heavy underdogs in Group E, expect Vietnam to be set up to defend stoutly and counterattack through star player Huynh Nhu. Nhu is her country’s record goal scorer and became the first female Vietnamese footballer to sign for a European Club, joining Portuguese side Lank Vilaverdense last year.

Despite the steep competition they face in their group, Vietnam have nothing to lose in their first foray onto the world stage and the proud nation will not be there to just make up the numbers.

Full squad:

Goalkeepers: Tran Thi Kim Thanh (Ho Chi Minh City), Khong Thi Hang (Than KSVN), Dao Thi Kieu Oanh (Hanoi)

Defenders: Chuong Thi Kieu (Ho Chi Minh City), Tran Thi Thu Thao (Ho Chi Minh City), Tran Thi Thu (Ho Chi Minh City), Luong Thi Thu Thuong (Than KSVN), Le Thi Diem My (Thank KSVN), Tran Thi Hai Linh (Hanoi), Hoang Thi Loan (Hanoi), Nguyen Thi My Anh (Thai Nguyen T&T), Tran Thi Thuy Nga (Than KSVN)

Midfielders: Duong Thi Van (Than KSVN), Tran Thi Thuy Trang (Ho Chi Minh City), Nguyen Thi Bich Thuy (Ho Chi Minh City), Thai Thi Thao (Hanoi), Ngan Thi Van Su (Hanoi), Nguyen Thi Tuyet Dung (Phong Phu Ha Nam)

Forwards: Huynh Nhu (Lank Vilaverdense), Pham Hai Yen (Hanoi), Nguyen Thi Thuy Hang (Than KSVN), Vu Thi Hoa (Ho Chi Minh City), Nguyen Thi Thanh Nha (Hanoi)

Coach: Mai Duc Chung

Nguyen Thi Thanh Nha (Pictured left) (Photo: Women’s World Cup Twitter)

Player to watch: Nguyen Thi Thanh Nha (Age: 21 – Forward/Hanoi)

Bursting onto the national scene with her goal in the gold-medal match at the South East Asian Games, the young attacker is leading the next generation of talent in Vietnam. A versatile player able to operate anywhere across the front three, her speed and control will be tough to handle.

Group Prediction: Fourth

More Football News:

Netherlands

After a heartbreaking loss to the USA in the final in 2019 and a disappointing European Championship campaign in 2022, the Netherlands are hoping to find their feet as a powerhouse of world football once again.

Since parting ways with Sarina Weigman, who led them to European Championship glory in 2017 and the World Cup final in 2019, the OranjeLeeuwinnen have endured a lean run.

New head coach Andries Jonker was tasked with orchestrating the Dutch resurgence, and in his second game in charge they defeated Iceland 2-1 to earn direct qualification to Australia & New Zealand 2023.

A former assistant to the iconic Louis Van Gaal, it’s easy to see where Jonker’s ideals for a high pressing, quick transition game stem from.

The Netherlands are spoilt for talent and the likes of Lieke Martens, Jill Roord, Sherida Spitse and Danielle Van de Donk all have a wealth of experience for club and country.

They will be without star striker Vivianne Miedema, who suffered an ACL tear in December. Miedema’s absence from the team at the start of last year’s European Championships had a noticeable impact on the team.

The Dutch enter the tournament as the ninth ranked nation, but also as somewhat of an unknown. A relatively new manager and a squad still re-finding its identity, they will expect to make the knockout stages but beyond that is far from certain.

Full squad:

Goalkeepers: Daphne van Domselaar (Twente), Lize Kop (Ajax), Jacintha Weimar (Feyenoord)

Defenders: Kerstin Casparij (Manchester City), Caitlin Dijkstra (Twente), Merel van Dongen (Atletico Madrid), Stefanie van der Gragt (Inter Milan), Aniek Nouwen (AC Milan), Lynn Wilms (Wolfsburg), Dominique Janssen (Wolfsburg)

Midfielders: Danielle van de Donk (Lyon), Damaris Egurrola (Lyon), Jackie Groenen (Paris Saint-Germain), Jill Baijings (Bayer Leverkusen), Sherida Spitse (Ajax), Victoria Pelova (Arsenal), Wieke Kaptein (Twente), Jill Roord (Wolfsburg)

Forwards: Esmee Brugts (PSV), Lineth Beerensteyn (Juventus), Renate Jansen (Twente), Lieke Martens (Paris Saint-Germain), Katja Snoeijs (Everton)

Coach: Andries Jonker

Daphne van Domselaar (Photo: UEFA Women’s EURO Twitter)

Player to watch: Daphne van Domselaar (Age: 23 – Goalkeeper/Aston Villa)

Thrust into the first team at last year’s European Championships for the injured Sari van Veenendaal, the young shot stopper showed ability and composure well beyond her years. Since then, she has cemented herself as the consensus first choice between the sticks, and will have a big part to play if the Netherlands are to be successful.

Group prediction: Second

Portugal

Portugal’s qualification campaign to become one of the eight nations making their debut on the world stage was a journey to say the least.

The 10 group stage matches were followed by two European playoffs, before a final Inter-Confederation play-off against Cameroon. That match in itself was fraught with drama, with 94th minute penalty from Carole Costa finally booked their ticket to the Women’s World Cup.

The Portuguese have risen to 21st place in the FIFA rankings, the highest the women’s side have ever been. They put the football world on notice when they held European Champions England to a 0-0 draw on July 1st.

Head coach Francisco Neto has been with the side since 2014 and has helped to develop women’s football in Portugal over the past nine years.

The aforementioned Costa, Jessica Silva and Diane Silva are some of stars that shone at the European Championship and in qualification last year, all of which will be key if Portugal are to make some waves in Group E.

They will fancy their chances against Vietnam, and will hope they can generate one of the upsets of the tournament against the Netherlands or USA.

Goalkeepers: Rute Costa (SL Benfica), Ines Pereira (Servette FC), Patricia Morais (SC Braga)

Defenders: Ana Seica (SL Benfica), Carole Costa (SL Benfica), Catarina Amado (SL Benfica), Diana Gomes (Sevilla FC), Joana Marchao (Parma Calcio 2022), Lucia Alves (SL Benfica), Silvia Rebelo (SL Benfica)

Midfielders: Ana Rute (SC Braga), Andreia Norton (SL Benfica), Andreia Jacinto (Real Sociedad), Dolores Silva (SC Braga), Fatima Pinto (Deportivo Alaves), Kika Nazareth (SL Benfica), Tatiana Pinto (Levante UD)

Forwards: Ana Borges (Sporting CP), Ana Capeta (Sporting CP), Carolina Mendes (SC Braga), Diana Silva (Sporting CP), Jessica Silva (SL Benfica), Telma Encarnacao (CS Maritimo)

Coach: Francisco Neto

Kika Nazareth (Photo: Kika Nazareth Twitter)

Player to watch: Kika Nazareth (Age: 20 – Midfielder/Benfica)

Dubbed by many as the ‘golden girl’ of Portuguese football, it’s no surprise the electric attacking midfielder’s rise has coincided with Portugal’s emergence on the world stage. Her international debut was at just 17, and last season she provided 23 score involvements as Benfica won its third straight league title.

Group prediction: Third

Group F:

France

The French have a new coach and a new lease on life as they prepare to finally reach the summit of world football.

Under former coach Corinne Diacre, Les Blues made the semi-finals of the 2022 European Championships and dominated their World Cup qualifying campaign without dropping a point.

Trending in the right direction it would seem after an underwhelming quarter-final exit at the 2019 World Cup on home soil, but all was not well behind the scenes. Diacre was sacked in March after a player-led revolt against her, with captain Wendie Renard and star players Kadidiatou Diani and Marie-Antoinette Katoto refusing to play under her.

Former Ivory Coast, Morocco and Saudi Arabia men’s coach Herve Renard was hired shortly after and enjoyed a positive start to life at the helm with wins in friendlies over Colombia and Canada.

Renard has kept a similar group of players to those that were preferred by Diacre, and France can be expected to line up in a 4-3-3 formation. Diani will look to impress again, and will be supported up front by the recalled Eugenie Le Sommer, as well as the silky Grace Geyoro in midfield. However, Les Blues will be without the aforementioned Katoto who has been sidelined with a knee injury.

With a wealth of talent through the first XI and quality depth on the bench, France will be expected to make some waves in the knockout stages.

Full squad:

Goalkeepers: Solene Durand (Guingamp), Pauline Peyraud-Magnin (Juventus), Constance Picaud (Paris Saint-Germain)

Defenders: Estelle Cascarino (Manchester United), Elisa De Almeida (Paris Saint-Germain), Sakina Karchaoui (Paris Saint-Germain), Maelle Lakrar (Montpellier), Eve Perisset (Chelsea), Wendie Renard (Lyon), Aissatou Tounkara (Unattached)

Midfielders: Kenza Dali (Aston Villa), Laurina Fazer (Paris Saint-Germain), Grace Geyoro (Paris Saint-Germain), Lea Le Garrec (FC Fleury 91), Amel Majri (Lyon), Sandie Toletti (Real Madrid), Selma Bacha (Lyon)

Attackers: Viviane Asseyi (West Ham United), Vicki Becho (Lyon), Kadidiatou Diani (Paris Saint-Germain), Naomie Feller (Real Madrid), Eugenie Le Sommer (Lyon), Clara Mateo (Paris FC)

Coach: Herve Renard

Player to watch: Vicki Bècho (Age: 19 – winger/Lyon)

With the injury to club teammate Selma Bacha, who was already given an opportunity for the injured Katoto, Bècho may find herself thrust into the starting line-up. Boasting impressive technical ability and hunger and desire to press high, she will be a thorn in the side of any defender she comes up against.

Group prediction: First

Jamaica

After a tumultuous past, Jamaica is about to embark on their second consecutive Women’s World Cup.

The national team program was cut entirely by the Jamaican Football Federation in 2010, and they disappeared from the FIFA rankings all together a year later after prolonged inactivity.

In 2014, the Reggae Girlz were handed a lifeline in the form of Cedella Marley, daughter of music icon Bob Marley, who spearheaded the fundraising campaign to bring the team back to life.

By 2017, the national team was back on the global ladder, and the ascent continued when they became the first Caribbean nation to participate at the Women’s World Cup in 2019.

Now currently ranked 43rd in the world, head coach Lorne Donaldson has had mixed results since taking the reins in his second stint in charge. In the dozen games since his re-appointment, Jamaica have only won four of those, while trying out three different formations in the process.

The Reggae Girlz squad is full of talent, but if they are to cause an upset in their group Khadija Shaw will be involved. The striker has 55 goals in 38 international appearances, and is coming off a 20-goal season for Manchester City.

Full squad:

Goalkeepers: Sydney Schneider (Sparta Prague), Liya Brooks (Washington State Cougars), Rebecca Spencer (Tottenham Hotspur)

Defenders:  Allyson Swaby, (Paris Saint-Germain), Chantelle Swaby (Fluery), Vyan Sampson (Hearts), Konya Plummer (unattached), Deneisha Blackwood (GPSO 92 Issy)

Midfielders: Trudi Carter (Levante Las Planas), Peyton McNamara (Ohio State Buckeyes), Atlanta Primus (London City Lionesses), Havana Solaun (Houston Dash), Drew Spence (Tottenham Hotspur), Solai Washington (Concorde Fire), Paige Bailey-Gayle (Crystal Palace)

Forwards: Jody Brown (Florida State Seminoles), Cheyna Matthews (Racing Louisville), Kalyssa Van Santen (Notre Dame Fighting Irish), Kameron Simmonds (Tenessee Volunteers), Tierney Wiltshire (unattached), Khadija Shaw (Manchester City), Tiffany Cameron (unattached), Kayla McKenna (Rangers)

Coach: Lorne Donaldson

Player to watch: Jody Brown (Age: 21 – Winger/Florida State)

Brown has come a long way since being the youngest member of the Jamaica squad that made their World Cup debut in 2019. Fresh off an 18 goal campaign for Florida State, the 21-year-old has pace to burn and can operate on either flank.

Group prediction: Third

Brazil

A Seleção are ready to finally go all the way in Marta’s last dance on the world stage.

Despite having arguably the greatest player to ever play the women’s game for the best part of two decades, Brazil’s World Cup campaigns have not met expectations.

However, the current regime has brought about fresh optimism and recent results would suggest Brazil will be a force to be reckoned with.

Legendary former Sweden and USA coach, Pia Sundhage was hired after the disappointing 2019 round of 16 exit at the hands of France, and in the four years since then the Brazilians have been steadily building.

In 2022, Brazil won the Copa America scoring 20 goals without conceding across the six games. Earlier this year they pushed European Champions England all the way in the Finalissima before beating Germany 2-1 a week later.

The focus of coverage on A Seleção will undoubtedly be on Marta, but the talents of Geyse and Debinha cannot be overlooked, while vice-captain Rafaelle will spearhead the revamped backline.

Sundhage has preached a pragmatic and flexible approach to tournament football, that may have once seemed foreign to the free-flowing Brazilian school of thought, but so far it’s working.

Full squad:

Goalkeepers: Barbara (Santos), Camila (Corinthians), Leticia Izidoro (CR Flamengo)

Defenders:  Antonia (Levante), Bruninha (NJ/NY Gotham), Kathellen (Real Madrid), Lauren (Madrid CFF), Monica (Madrid CFF), Rafaelle (Arsenal), Tamires (Corinthians)

Midfielders: Adriana (Orlando Pride), Ana Vitoria (Benfica), Ary Borges (Racing Louisville), Duda Sampaio (Corinthians), Kerolin (North Carolina Courage), Luana (Corinthians)

Forwards: Andressa Alves (AS Roma), Bia Zaneratto (Palmeiras), Debinha (Kansas City Current), Gabi Nunes (Madrid CFF), Geyse (FC Barcelona), Marta (Orlando Pride), Nycole Raylsa (Benfica)

Coach: Pia Sundhage

Player to watch: Kerolin (Age: 22 – Forward/North Carolina Courage)

Described by Sundhage as an ‘unpredictable player who knows how to use that gift’, the attacker was recalled almost immediately in 2021 after her two year drug suspension. She has been a regular first team feature ever since and could prove to be the X factor in this Brazil side.

Group prediction: Second

Panama

It was third time lucky for Panama in 2022, finally qualifying for the Women’s World Cup for the first time, after narrowly missing out in 2015 and 2019.

Las Canaleras finished third at the 2022 CONCACAF W Championship before beating Papua New Guinea and Paraguay in the play-offs to book their ticket.

Head coach Nacho Quintana has been an integral figure for women’s football in Panama since his appointment. Off the field, he was part of a lobbying group that ensured equal pay between the men’s and women’s national teams, while on the field he has taken the team to new heights.

The duo of captain Natalia Mills and Marta Cox are the beating heart of the Panamanian side. Mills is the veteran presence and will likely lead the line while Cox, who was handed her first senior cap at 14, pulls the strings in midfield and has an eye for goal.

The 52nd ranked nation in the world face a tall order of causing a stir in a group, consisting of the might of France and Brazil, but as a relative unknown they are a wild card to keep an eye on.

Full squad:

Goalkeepers: Yenith Bailey (Tauro FC), Farissa Cordoba (Club Nanas), Sasha Fabrega (CAI De La Chorrera)

Defenders: Katherine Castillo (Taour FC), Rebeca Espinosa (Sporting San Miguelito), Hilary Jaen (Jones College), Wendy Natis (America De Cali), Nicole De Obaldia (CS Herediano), Yomira Pinzon (Deportivo Saprissa), Carina Baltrip-Reyes (CS Maritimo), Rosario Vargas (Rayo Vallecano)

Midfielders: Laurie Batista (Tauro FC), Emily Cedeno (Tauro FC), Marta Cox (CF Pachuca), Schiandra Gonzalez (Tauro FC), Natalia Mills (LD Alajuelense), Carmen Montenegro (Sporting San Miguelito), Aldrith Quintero (Alhama CF), Deysire Salazar (Tauro FC)

Forwards: Lineth Cedeno (Sporting San Miguelito), Erika Hernandez (CD Plaza Amador), Karla Riley (Sporting FC), Riley Tanner (Washington Spirit)

Coach: Nacho Quintana

Player to watch: Riley Tanner (Age: 23 – Forward/Washington Spirit)

American born to a Panamanian mother, Tanner caught the eye of coach Quintana through clips of her play on social media. The attacker made quite the impression on debut in the qualifying play-off tournament, dribbling past four defenders to score an incredible goal to defeat Papua New Guinea.

Group Prediction: Fourth

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