Women's football on all-time high ahead of biggest World Cup draw

By AFP   October 19, 2022 | 11:46 pm PT
Women's football on all-time high ahead of biggest World Cup draw
Sherida Spitse (L) and Megan Rapinoe of the U.S. tussle for the ball in 2019 World Cup final. Photo by AFP/Christophe Simon
The draw for next year's FIFA Women's World Cup takes place Saturday with the women's game at an all-time high and the United States and England the teams to beat.

Germany, Sweden, France and Spain will also be sides to watch out for when the draw is held in New Zealand's largest city from 7:30 p.m. (0630 GMT).

The World Cup will be staged at 10 stadiums in New Zealand and Australia from July 20 to August 20, 2023.

With 32 teams it will be the largest FIFA Women's World Cup since the tournament began in 1991.

"Given the expanded format in 2023, there's going to be even more excitement globally when the eyes of the football world focus on Auckland this Saturday," said Carli Lloyd, the American two-time World Cup winner who will help conduct the draw.

The Women's Euros final in July between hosts England and rivals Germany at Wembley drew 87,192 spectators, a record for either a men's or women's European championship.

Chloe Kelly scored in extra-time to give England a breathless 2-1 victory in front of a sell-out crowd and their first major title in women's football.

Sarina Wiegman's side backed that up with a 2-1 win over a young US team, in front of another bumper crowd at Wembley Stadium, earlier this month.

The US then lost 2-0 to Spain in another friendly.

But Vlatko Andonovski's team remain the top-ranked side in the FIFA rankings and the team to beat at the World Cup, where they are the holders and most successful side in tournament history with four titles.

Emerging nations

Led by veteran forward Megan Rapinoe, the Americans are going for a third crown in a row.

Andonovski said losing to a buoyant England in front of a big crowd was perfect preparation for the World Cup nine months from now.

"I wouldn't mind facing them in the (World Cup) final again," he told reporters in London.

While women's football is growing fast in countries such as England and is already well established in France, some nations are only really getting started.

The Philippines, Morocco, Republic of Ireland, Vietnam and Zambia will all be competing at the Women's World Cup for the first time.

A play-off tournament in February will decide who takes the remaining three spots of the 32.

About 800 people, including coaches, FIFA president Gianni Infantino and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern are expected to attend the draw ceremony at the Aotea Centre.

"It brings us a step closer to hosting what will be the world's largest women's sporting event ever," said Ardern.

She described co-hosting the tournament with Australia a "key part" of plans to accelerate her country's economic recovery after New Zealand shut its borders at the height of the Covid pandemic.

New Zealand's government has invested NZ$45 million ($25.5 million) in upgrading sporting facilities and training venues "to ensure that we provide a top-notch sporting infrastructure for the beautiful game", said Ardern.

Australia and New Zealand will host one semi-final each, with the August 20 final at the 83,000-capacity Stadium Australia in Sydney.

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