Saturday marks the start of the intercontinental playoffs in New Zealand for the last three Women's World Cup berths. But as most of the nations involved aren't traditional women's football powers, you might be wondering who's involved and how likely it is that they'll get through to book those final spots in this summer's tournament.
Here is a closer look the upcoming qualification playoffs for the Women's World Cup, which will be hosted in Australia and New Zealand in July.
Group A: Thailand, Cameroon, Portugal
Thailand play Cameroon on Feb. 18, with the winner of that match playing Portugal on Feb. 22. The winner of this group will face the USA, the Netherlands and Vietnam in Group E at the World Cup in July.
Failing to advance beyond Japan in the Asian Cup quarterfinals, Thailand finished last in the three-team playoff to ensure they'd be facing another playoff scenario in order to reach the World Cup. Thailand are ranked just 41st in the world by FIFA, and many may remember Thailand's outing at the 2019 World Cup when they, rather unfortunately, got taken apart by the USA in the group stage by a 13-0 margin.
Should Chaba Kaew advance, Australia/New Zealand would be the third World Cup for the nation that also featured at the 2015 tournament in Canada. In fact, Thailand had a better showing at the World Cup in Canada, managing a group stage win over the Ivory Coast.
The 2019 World Cup was more difficult, however. Not a traditional powerhouse in Asia, Thailand's women's football struggles were well-documented during their outing in France: three games, three defeats, one goal scored and 20 conceded. Although the nation has improved since, they are likely to struggle to get past Cameroon in the first match.
Meanwhile, Cameroon are another team remembered for all the wrong reasons during the 2019 World Cup as the African side have also struggled behind the scenes with routine upheaval.
Despite the issues that have plagued the Indomitable Lionesses, Cameroon remains a nation that produces quality footballers like midfielder Genevieve Ngo Mbeleck, winger Ajara Nchout and captain, forward Gabrielle Onguéné.
Having stumbled against African powerhouse Nigeria in the WAFCON quarterfinals, Cameroon narrowly saw off Botswana to reach the playoffs -- but they remain a wildly inconsistent team. To reach the World Cup for a third time, the Indomitable Lionesses will need to show up twice in New Zealand as the winner of the semifinal in group A will face Portugal in the final.
Then there's Portugal, a still-emerging nation in European football on the women's side. With 12 qualification matches already under their belt, Portugal put in the hard yards to be given another chance to qualify for their first-ever World Cup, even taking their very last UEFA playoff game against Iceland to extra time. The growth of the domestic league in Portugal (Campeonato Nacional Feminino) has helped expedite the development of the players, pushing the professional standards to the benefit of the national team.
With young players such as forward Kika Nazareth coming through along with established attacking stars such as Jéssica Silva, Portugal like to play on the front foot and will be a stern test for whoever they face in the final. Expect the European nation to be favourites regardless.
Group B: Senegal, Haiti, Chile
Senegal play Haiti on Feb. 18, with the winner of that match facing Chile on Feb. 22. The winner of this group will face England, Denmark and China in Group D of the World Cup in July.
Having made their World Cup debut in 2019, Chile have shown that they can mix it at major tournaments but with three losses to their name at the 2022 Olympics, it's clear La Roja lack depth across the pitch. Known for their enigmatic captain, goalkeeper Christiane Endler, the South American nation often find themselves relying on her heroics between the posts to keep them in games, rather than trying to play on the front foot. The good news for José Letelier's team is that when they do progress into attacking positions, the goal-scoring is shared across the team with a raft of players able to pop up and contribute.
Given a bye to the final, the question for La Roja will be the team that Letelier fields against the semifinal winners, with a number of young and exciting teenagers available to the coach like forwards Ámbar Figueroa, just 15 years old, and Sonya Keefe, 19, who play with the type of gusto that comes with their youth.
Ranked 84th in the world, Senegal are unquestionably the underdogs of group B -- but with a mixed bag of results at last year's WAFCON, the West African nation proved they're on the up. Reaching the intercontinental playoff by way of a penalty shootout win over Tunisia in their final match of the qualification tournament, Senegal have been building a head of steam this year with several wins over other nations in the WAFU (West African Football Union) Cup.
To be fair, however, many of their opponents offered little resistance. Although the opposition wasn't as taxing as it could have been, Senegal did show good attacking strength, not least through teenage forward Hapsatou Malado Diallo. If the African nation are to have any hope of progressing through the playoffs, they'll need to lean on their attack against Haiti.
Well used to coming up against strong opposition in CONCACAF against the likes of Canada and the USA, Haiti will be the clear favourites to progress to the final in group B. Yet, they're entering these playoffs in poor form, having struggled against most of their recent opponents.
Another nation that plays their best when going forward and (fortunately) boasting more talent in offense, Haiti will be relying on captain and forward Nérilia Mondésir, plus young midfield hotshot Melchie Dumornay, to shoulder most of the burden up front. Emerging in CONCACAF despite still being a very young squad, it's their youth that could undo Les Grenadières, although with a match-up against Chile on the cards for the winner, Haiti may well like their chances.
Group C: Chinese Taipei, Papua New Guinea, Panama and Paraguay
The winner of Chinese Taipei vs. Papua New Guinea (Feb. 19) will meet the winner of Panama vs. Paraguay (Feb. 19) on Feb. 22 for a place in the World Cup. The winner of this group will play France, Jamaica and Brazil in Group F at the World Cup in July.
Group C is only group in the playoffs with four teams in it, and this group is probably the least cut-and-dry given that all four teams are ranked similarly by FIFA -- except for Chinese Taipei who are, theoretically, the favourites at No. 39 in FIFA's world rankings.
In the first semifinal, Chinese Taipei, which represents Taiwan, will face Paraguay. A mainstay in AFC, Chinese Taipei haven't been seen at a World Cup since the first edition of the tournament in 1991. They represent a small nation that has consistently struggled against the might of their neighbours -- China PR, the team representing mainland China, has already qualified for the World Cup -- and therefore has failed to qualify for over three decades.
With Chinese Taipei boasting only home-based players, they will have to be on form to beat an up-and-coming Paraguay side who have begun to build up pace in the competitive reaches on CONMEBOL.
With players who ply their trade across the globe, La Albirroja have managed to strike a balance across the pitch and are rarely blown out of the water by more experienced opposition. With midfielder Ramona Martínez and forward Jessica Martínez on the pitch, Marcello Frigério's side will never lack menace in attack.
Papua New Guinea
The second semifinal sees Panama pitted against Papua New Guinea. With New Zealand the dominant force in OFC, there's little room for anyone else to shine, which makes Papua New Guinea's recent rise is to be noted. Although with the federation having fallen out with their previous coach, New Guinea are scrambling to be prepared for the tests that await them and it's expected that they will struggle against more experienced opposition.
Like Haiti, Panama have started to make noise on the international scene after a few strong showings in CONCACAF qualification. Although they don't boast the same depth of squad as other nations in the region, Panama can claim to have one of the more exciting young goalkeepers in their ranks in the shape of Yenith Bailey, who has repeatedly caught the eye for her nation in regional tournaments.
In a tricky playoff group, Las Canaleras' ability to keep the opposition out might just be the difference. But Group C, more than the other groups here, feels wide open.