The FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023 will be remembered for the unforgettable stories. It was also the tournament when the world took notice of women’s football. The sport worldwide will never be the same. It was only in June when the event faced the threat of an international television blackout following ongoing negotiations between FIFA and broadcast companies that highlighted a limited broadcast infrastructure for the women’s sport. Last-minute deals allowed the Women’s World Cup coverage to air in over 200 territories and through FIFA’s own platform FIFA+.
1.7 million tickets were sold for the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, smashing the record of 1.3 million tickets set in Canada in 2015. It was also the first tournament expanded to 32 participating teams from 24 teams in France 2019, FIFA’s expansion of the Women’s World Cup meant that this year there were eight teams making their first appearances, the eight debutantes brought richness and variety and contributed to some seismic shocks. The Philippines, Ireland, Zambia, Haiti, Vietnam, Portugal, Panama and Morocco all played their part in making this an unforgettable World Cup. Morocco shocked the world by making it out of the group that contained Colombia, Germany and South Korea. Morocco became the tournament’s first Arab team to reach the knockout phase despite losing 6-0 against Germany.
Morocco’s Nouhaila Benzina made history by becoming the first player to wear a hijab at a World Cup. It was Morocco’s second World Cup fairy-tale within the last year, with the men’s team having made the semi-finals in Qatar.
The 2023 World Cup will be remembered for the high standard of performances from the outside traditional strong nations, co-hosts Australia made it to the semi-finals, and New Zealand pulled off one of the major upsets by beating Norway in the opening group stage game and Colombia reached the quarterfinals. The Colombian team held their own throughout and took the continent’s mantle from Brazil and were the only Latin American side to reach the quarterfinals. Nigeria and South Africa also made through to the knockout round, further highlighting the rise and potential of women’s football in Africa.
Jamaica became the first Caribbean nation to reach the knockout phase of the tournament. Considering how the Jamaica ‘Reggae Girlz’ exited the previous World Cup in France after three heavy defeats, they won global admiration as they eliminated Brazil and broke through the knockout phase. This was a highly significant achievement in that context especially given that the Jamaican Football Federation had cut its pre-tournament funding and the players needed the financial assistance of both the Bob Marley Foundation and Adidas on their journey to the tournament. They were not the only team that had issues with their federations; South Africa, Haiti, Nigeria, as well as Canada, Spain, France and England, were all involved in disagreements with their respective federations.
This was the World Cup of goalkeeping; the tournament has demonstrated a new level of respect for the world’s best keepers. Australia goalkeeper Mackenzie Arnold became a hero during the penalty shootout against France. Alyssa Naeher was the first goalkeeper to take and score a penalty in a men’s or women’s World Cup. Sweden’s Zećira Mušović impressed the world with her performances and Jamaica’s goalkeeper Rebecca Spencer kept a clean sheet throughout Jamaica’s group stage games.
Only four teams had won the Women’s World Cup before this edition and each member of that elite quarter had bowed by the quarterfinals. Nations such as Brazil, Germany failed to get out of their respective groups; traditional powerhouse nations were dispatched long before the final rounds. Shockingly reigning and two-time champions US women’s national team were knocked out by Sweden on penalties in the round of 16. This was a game of high drama, as the world waited for goal-line technology to confirm that Lena Hertig’s penalty had in fact crossed the by a millimetre. It condemned the US to the worst World Cup performance in their history creating a sense of crisis in the process.
The historic win for Spain’s women’s team belongs to their players; growth has been the theme of this tournament with its record attendance, viewing figures and unprecedented levels of interest. This was the moment when it became clear that women’s football worldwide would never be the same again. “Women’s football is on a growth trajectory unlike any other sport in this world,” said Sarai Bareman, FIFA’s chief women’s football officer. “It is the biggest growth opportunity that FIFA as an organisation has today but more importantly our sport, football has today. It is the biggest growth opportunity there is”.
The success of the Women’s World Cup may pressure FIFA to fast-track its long-term goal of gender parity.
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