2023 FIFA Women's World Cup team-by-team preview

The issues facing the big teams 100 days from the World Cup (2:35)

A host of ESPN FC contributors explain the key issues facing some of the tournament favourites 100 days out from the Women's World Cup. (2:35)

The 2023 Women's World Cup in Australia and New Zealand is set to kick off July 20, with the final slated for Aug. 20 in Sydney. It's the first time the tournament will have 32 nations competing for the world title, and viewers could be in store for the most entertaining matches in the history of the women's game as the United States defend their back-to-back trophies, England comes off a Euros 2022 win and Haiti, Portugal and Republic of Ireland among eight teams make their World Cup debut.

Can hosts Australia and New Zealand capitalise on home advantage? Will Keira Walsh or Alex Morgan deliver some magic? And can a new coach help France succeed?

ESPN previews each of the World Cup's 32 teams in the tournament with everything you need to know about the sides, split into the groups they will be in.


New Zealand flag Team: New Zealand

  • Also known as: Football Ferns

  • FIFA world rank: 22

  • Finish in previous World Cup: 20th

  • Betting line: +25,000 to win the World Cup

  • Manager: Jitka Klimkova

Key star: CJ Bott

The Leicester City full-back has grown into one of the most important players for the Football Ferns. Plying her trade in the Women's Super League sees her test herself against the best of the best on a weekly basis, and that in turn has only improved her game. The Ferns are now set to reap the rewards of all the hard work she has put in during her club campaigns.

Up-and-comer(s) poised for a breakout: Milly Clegg

A youngster who turned heads in the most recent A-League Women's season, Clegg is one to watch. At just 17, she is the youngest member of this Football Ferns squad and will be attending her third World Cup in 12 months having been selected for the U17 and U20 New Zealand squads. She's fearless and can find the back of the net, which the Ferns need.

One reason they won't win: Weaknesses in attack and defence

New Zealand have already played nine games so far in 2023. They've managed only three goals and conceded 22. They can't find the back of the net and can't keep the opposition out of it. The Ferns are unable to hang their hat on having a potent attack or a solid defence, culminating in a worst of both worlds situation. While a 2-0 victory over Vietnam in their send-off game was a much-needed reprieve, it feels more like a flash in the pan rather than the start of a chance in fortunes.

Key stats:

- Will be playing in their sixth World Cup, have yet to register a win in previous five WWCs. They are the only team in WWC who have played 10-plus matches at the World Cup and have not won a game (0W-3D-12L)
- Only eight goals scored at the WWC, second-fewest among all nations with 10-plus matches played; only South Korea has scored fewer (six)

Realistic chances: Out in the groups but with a maiden win

New Zealand have gone to five World Cups and never won a match. Across the 15 group stage games they've played, they've amassed three draws and 12 losses. While Norway and Switzerland pose two huge obstacles to the Ferns, the Philippines match looms as the one the Ferns could realistically win. While it won't be an easy game by any stretch, the last time these sides met, New Zealand won 2-1 back in September 2022. -- Marissa Lordanic

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Sophie Lawson reports on England squad announcement as the Lionesses start the World Cup countdown with Wembley showdown against Brazil in April.

Norway flag Team: Norway

  • Also known as: The Football Girls

  • FIFA world rank: 12

  • Finish in previous World Cup: Quarterfinals

  • Betting line: +6,000 to win the World Cup

  • Manager: Hege Riise

Key star: Caroline Graham Hansen

As Sam Marsden opined in our World Cup Best 25, Graham Hansen is a force, a quick-thinking and skilled winger whose one-on-one ability is crucial for the attack of whatever team she's in. If Norway are to go deep, Graham Hansen's light-footed runs in and around the box to create chances will play a large part.

Up-and-comer(s) poised for a breakout: Sophie Roman Haug

Though not a starter for Norway, Roman Haug could yet make her mark as a bench player with a nose for the goal. Much like compatriot Ada Hegerberg, the 24-year-old frequently makes a nuisance of herself when in the box, thanks to her keen aerial ability. Roman Haug's goal return, while impressive on its own, could be the difference for Norway should Riise call on her at key times. The attacker is used to delivering a clutch goal.

One reason they won't win: They're too conservative

For all the talent Norway boasts in the attack and midfield, the team fails to play with the flair it could show. Despite being coached by a legendary attacker in Riise, Norway still err on the side of stodgy, compact football. The use of Guro Reiten and Frida Maanum -- both coming off strong seasons in WSL, with their own attacking diligence vital for Chelsea and Arsenal, respectively -- as dual No. 8s highlights the tamer brand of football the team is preaching.

Key stats:

- Leading has been key for Norway, who have never lost a World Cup match when ahead at halftime (19W-2D-0L)
- Norway have failed to qualify from their group only once, in 2011, when they were placed with Brazil, Australia and Equatorial Guinea

Realistic chances: Reach the round of 16

They're expected to top their group, but unless Norway can pick up a head of steam and gain some much-needed collective confidence, a meeting with a talented Spain or Japan team is the likely path to the last eight. In their current form, that's not a test the Football Girls would pass. -- Sophie Lawson

Philippines flag Team: Philippines

  • Also known as: Filipinas

  • FIFA world rank: 46

  • Finish in previous World Cup: N/A (this is their World Cup debut)

  • Betting line: +100,000 to win the World Cup

  • Manager: Alen Stajcic

Key star: Sarina Bolden

Kiwis will be familiar with Bolden's exploits from the A-League Women's where she played last season for Western Sydney Wanderers. With 21 goals in 36 national team appearances, Bolden is a player who always looks dangerous. She provides energy and spark, creating chances.

Up-and-comer(s) poised for a breakout: Isabella Flanigan

The Philippines is a team that has tapped heavily into the nation's diaspora, particularly in the U.S. and Australia, and Flanigan is one such player. Born in America and playing college football for the West Virginia Mountaineers, Flanigan is only 18, but has already made 28 appearances for the senior national team and scored three goals.

One reason they won't win: Recent record against European teams

While the Philippines have done a mountain of preparation over the past two years, playing nations from every confederation, their record against European teams is not great. In a group with two European nations, wanting to get out of the group becomes more difficult. Their victories over Europeans in recent times came against Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2022, a team ranked 19 places below them.

Key stats:

- This will be the Philippines' World Cup debut. Asian Confederation teams have lost the past five matches in their World Cup debut (Thailand in 2015, South Korea in 2003, North Korea in 1999, Chinese Taipei in 1991 and Japan in 1991)
- Heading into this WWC, Philippines has just one loss in their past six matches

Realistic chances: A maiden World Cup win

The Philippines' strong run in the Women's Asian Cup could provide a blueprint for more success, but the World Cup brings a new level of pressure. Switzerland and Norway will be difficult opponents and are likely too strong for the Filipinas. However, much like New Zealand eyeing off their matchup with the Philippines, the same is true in reverse. The Philippines have a genuine chance of earning a first-ever World Cup win against the Football Ferns. -- Lordanic

Switzerland flag Team: Switzerland

  • Also known as: La Nati

  • FIFA world rank: 20

  • Finish in previous World Cup: Round of 16 (2015)

  • Betting line: +20,000 to win the World Cup

  • Manager: Inka Grings

Key star: Lia Walti

A nation without as much depth in quality as their neighbours, when Switzerland do produce standout footballers they rapidly rise into the "world class" bracket and Walti is one of the best examples. A metronome in midfield, the Swiss captain is what keeps the team ticking, her vision and distribution being key for her nation.

Up-and-comer(s) poised for a breakout: Geraldine Reuteler

Still just 24 years old, Reuteler has been a key part of the Eintracht/FFC Frankfurt attack since she moved to Germany in her teens, yet she's yet to fully announce herself to the wider audience. Still used only sparingly by Switzerland, the forward has a fair return for La Nati, but is a hungry attacker who is always keen to get into dangerous positions and help in shot creation from her deeper position in the Swiss midfield.

One reason they won't win: Not enough time to gel

Having taken charge only in November, Grings, who is well regarded for her playing career, has also never managed at this level before. Compounded with her limited time with the team to help crystallise her ideas, everything just feels too soon for this particular interaction of La Nati.

Key stats:

- Winless in the past seven matches (five draws, two losses) and since the start of 2022, Switzerland has won only three of their 19 matches in all competitions (3W-8D-8L). Their three wins in that span are against teams that will not be at the WWC
- In the four winless friendlies (three draws, one loss) they've played in 2023, Switzerland's shot conversion rate is just 10.3% while their shots on target percentage is just 28.2%

Realistic chances: Round of 16 exit

Drawn into a favourable group, there is more than enough quality in the Swiss team to help them navigate the first three games in New Zealand, but if they do progress to the knockouts, things are likely to get too tough very quickly. -- Lawson


Australia flag Team: Australia

  • Also known as: The Matildas

  • FIFA world rank: 10

  • Finish in previous World Cup: 9th

  • Betting line: +1,100 to win the World Cup

  • Manager: Tony Gustavsson

Key star: Sam Kerr

What more can be written about Kerr? Australia's captain is the face of this team and arguably the face of this tournament. If the Matildas are to do well in their home World Cup -- and recent form suggests they will -- Kerr will be crucial to that success. Her ability to lead the line, press and close down passing channels, tee teammates up -- via assists or dragging defenders away -- and score goals means she enters her fourth World Cup with the most well-rounded, complete skill set of her career.

Up-and-comer(s) poised for a breakout: Kyra Cooney-Cross

Cooney-Cross spent the last World Cup on standby, aged just 17. Four years later, the 21-year-old is a starter and key cog in the Matildas' midfield machine heading into the World Cup. Her partnership with Katrina Gorry has made the centre of the park one of the Matildas' strongest areas. What Cooney-Cross brings to the duo is strong distribution, a solid engine, an ability to pick out passes and no reluctance in doing the dirty work.

One reason they won't win: Midfield fatigue

While there is no denying that the Matildas' depth has increased, there is an area of the field which could cause concern. Gorry and Cooney-Cross' midfield partnership is special. And it works. So much so, the duo have started every game the Matildas have played in 2023. Gorry has only missed seven minutes, and Cooney-Cross has only missed 35. They are relied on and with good reason. But there is a fear they could be overworked. While Australia has the likes of an Alex Chidiac and Emily van Egmond, what they could do in this midfield from the start of a match is an unknown. Whereas the depth across the rest of the park has been thoroughly tested, the midfield hasn't.

Key stats:

- Have made it past the group stage four straight World Cups; one of five countries to do so in each (USA, Germany, England and Brazil)
- Seeking to be just the second team to win the World Cup when they are hosting it (1999, USA)
- Kerr: 63 goals with the Australian national team in all competitions; she is the all-time leading goal scorer in men's or women's Australian soccer

Realistic chances: Semifinals

Australia is dusting off its highest hopes for the Matildas. After saying for years that he was building the Matildas to peak at the right time, it would appear Gustavsson has done just that. With wins against high-ranking opposition, an attacking style of football and a squad as deep as it is versatile, making the final four doesn't feel unrealistic. Throw in the support of the home crowd, and the Matildas could well be on their way to a best-ever World Cup finish. -- Lordanic

Rep. of Ireland flag Team: Republic of Ireland

  • Also known as: Girls in Green

  • FIFA world rank: 22

  • Finish in previous World Cup: N/A (this is their World Cup debut)

  • Betting line: +20,000 to win the World Cup

  • Manager: Vera Pauw

Key star: Katie McCabe

The type of player who would gladly run through a brick wall for her team, McCabe's experience playing for Arsenal has pushed her to greater heights and strengthened her defensive abilities as well as her attacking intent -- meaning she is happy to pop up anywhere in the pitch for Ireland to help drive them forward. A battler first and foremost, Ireland's captain will be key for the Girls in Green this summer.

Up-and-comer(s) poised for a breakout: Izzy Atkinson

Having made a late run for the Irish World Cup team, Atkinson sealed her spot with a strong showing against Zambia. Still just 22, with only five caps to her name, the defender's dual ability as a winger makes her the perfect full-back for a counterattack-minded team. Able to fly up the wing and provide much-needed service into the box from the wider areas, the Dublin native is as comfortable racing back to help the defence. She's not on the radar for most, and this summer would be the perfect window for Atkinson to introduce herself.

One reason they won't win: A really difficult draw

Making their major tournament bow after so many failed attempts, there is always a question of the unknown. As we saw with Scotland at both the 2017 Euros and 2019 World Cup when they made their debuts, getting off to a bad start can be the hardest thing to overcome. Pitted against Australia in their first game, Ireland will not have any time for wound-licking should they not pick up a good result, and they have been drawn into a nefarious group.

Key stats:

- One of eight teams in this World Cup making their first appearance
- Only five of the 24 countries to make their World Cup debut (not including the 1991 inaugural year) have made it past the group stage
- 9W-3L-2D in all competitions since the beginning of 2022 (two of those losses came to the USA)

Realistic chances: Reach the round of 16

Although progressing from their group will be no easy task against three very different teams that will all pose different problems, Ireland do have the guile and skill to find the right results to progress. But their reward may be a round-of-16 meeting with England, and then that's where the fun really begins. -- Lawson

Nigeria flag Team: Nigeria

  • Also known as: The Super Falcons

  • FIFA world rank: 40

  • Finish in previous World Cup: Round of 16

  • Betting line: +75,000 to win the World Cup

  • Manager: Randy Waldrum

Key star: Asisat Oshoala

The only African player to win the UEFA Women's Champions League will lead the line once again for the Super Falcons. Injuries have affected Oshoala, but she has nevertheless stayed incredibly productive. In the 2021-22 season she was the joint-top scorer in the Primera Iberdrola with 20 goals despite starting fewer than half of Barcelona's games, and in 2022-23 she scored 21 times.

Up-and-comer(s) poised for a breakout: Chiamaka Nnadozie

The Paris FC goalkeeper is already on the radar of some of the world's top clubs, having helped her team qualify for the UEFA Women's Champions League in back-to-back seasons, but at just 22 years old she is still far from fulfilling her potential. This tournament provides an opportunity for her to prove that she is on course to become world class.

One reason they won't win: Squad lacks harmony

Like South Africa, Nigeria have often had to protest to receive fair treatment from their association. This may be a common, even if unfair, struggle in women's football, but the Super Falcons squad feels particularly disjointed at the moment. Ngozi Okobi-Okeoghene's omission is a major talking point, while Waldrum is under fire after Nigeria missed out on the WAFCON title for only the third time in their history in Morocco last year, finishing a disappointing fourth.

Key stats:

- One of only seven teams to qualify for all nine World Cups (USA, Japan, Brazil, Norway, Sweden, Germany)
- 19 losses and 63 conceded goals in World Cup history, both of which are the most

Realistic chances: Group stage exit

Nigeria still have the best team in Africa on paper, but they have been lumped in a challenging group with Australia, the Republic of Ireland and Olympic champions Canada. They may cause an upset along the way but are highly unlikely to progress from their group, particularly with their women's football at its lowest ebb. -- Leonard Solms

Canada flag Team: Canada

  • Also known as: CanWNT

  • FIFA world rank: 7

  • Finish in previous World Cup: Round of 16

  • Betting line: +3,000 to win the World Cup

  • Manager: Bev Priestman

Key star: Jessie Fleming

Fleming continues to rack up trophies with Chelsea, adding another WSL and FA Cup to the case this season. With her ability to get into the box to support forward Christine Sinclair or track back and help Canada's experienced back line, opponents must feel like Fleming never stops running.

Up-and-comer(s) poised for a breakout: Julia Grosso

Grosso was on the roster for the 2019 tournament in France, but never got in for Canada as things ended in the round of 16 against the Netherlands. It's safe to say the 22-year-old will feature in Australia-New Zealand. After all, she already has 50 senior caps, among them the Olympic gold-medal match in which she converted the deciding shot during a shootout. A breakout at the World Cup would follow a breakout season at the club level, too, with Grosso featuring in all but one Champions League match for Juventus and contributing three goals and seven assists in more than 1,336 Serie A minutes.

One reason they won't win: A lack of support

Canada won the Olympic gold medal in 2021 and, with the exception of Portland Thorns forward Janine Beckie, largely has avoided injury. This is a team that has the talent to compete for the trophy. Yet, rather than sharpening the little edges that a team can snag on during a competitive tournament run, Canada's players have too often been forced to focus on a funding deal after budget cuts and issues with federation leadership. The focus now will be on Nigeria, Ireland and Australia and, Canada hopes, plenty of knockout-round matches, but the CBA discussions and frustration about a lack of friendly matches compared with other contenders are certainly still simmering in the background.

Key stats:

- Coming off winning the country's first Olympic gold in women's soccer; only one nation has ever won the World Cup after winning the most recent Olympics (USA in 1999 after the 1996 Olympics)

Realistic chances: A quarterfinal, maybe more

Canada's group is tough, no doubt, and the runner-up would likely have a difficult round-of-16 clash with England. Yet, why shouldn't Canada have high expectations going into the tournament? It has the most experienced player in international soccer in Sinclair, a strong defense backed by a good goalkeeper and rising young stars who can score. It worked in Tokyo, it could work again, perhaps getting Canada all the way to Auckland or Sydney, where the semifinals will be played. -- Jon Arnold


Spain flag Team: Spain

  • Also known as: La Roja

  • FIFA world rank: 6

  • Finish in previous World Cup: Round of 16

  • Betting line: +525 to win the World Cup

  • Manager: Jorge Vilda

Key star: Alexia Putellas

The back-to-back Ballon d'Or winner will be desperate to impress after missing last year's European championships and most of this past season with an anterior cruciate ligament injury. She returned for the final six games of the campaign with Barcelona, coming off the bench in the Champions League final, and scored in her first Spain start in a year in the win over Panama in June. However, after so long out, there are naturally doubts about how close to her best she will be at the World Cup. When 100 percent, she links play like a midfielder, creates like a No. 10 and scores goals like a striker. If she's in form, and supported by Barca teammate Aitana Bonmati in midfield, Spain should go far.

Up-and-comer(s) poised for a breakout: Salma Paralluelo

The Barca attacker is poised for a big role in New Zealand and Australia. After giving up an athletics career to join Barca from Villarreal last summer, the 19-year-old has gone on to establish herself in the Spain squad. Able to play wide or through the middle, her pace is a nightmare for opposition defenders, plus she has an eye for goals. She has scored three times in Spain's last two games before the World Cup.

One reason they won't win: Missing key players

Spain's preparation for the World Cup has been hampered over the last year by a standoff between 15 players and the Royal Spanish Football Federation [RFEF]. The players made themselves unavailable for selection until certain changes were made to the conditions around training and travel, among other things. There has been some compromise from the RFEF and some players have returned for the finals, but others have decided not enough has been done. Among them are Barca defender Mapi Leon and midfielder Patri Guijarro, two of the best in the world in their respective positions. They are huge losses for Spain, while the whole saga has created some tension around the camp.

Key stats:

- Since losing to England at the Euros, Spain has only lost one match in all competitions, which was a 3-2 loss to Australia in the 2023 Cup of Nations (11W-1D-1L)
- By the time of their first WWC match, Spain will not have been held scoreless in all competitions in more than a year. The last time they did not score a goal in a match was July 12, 2022, against Germany in their Euros group-stage meeting

Realistic chances: Semifinals

Despite the feud between the players and the RFEF, Vilda has still managed to pick a competitive squad over the last year, illustrating the depth of talent in the country. They have lost just once in 12 fixtures -- against World Cup hosts Australia in February -- and secured a memorable win over the United States at the end of last year. Those results came without Putellas (injured), Bonmati, Ona Batlle and Mariona Caldentey (the three players from the 15 who have now returned) and will fuel confidence of a best-ever finish for La Roja this summer. -- Sam Marsden

Costa Rica flag Team: Costa Rica

  • Also known as: Las Ticas

  • FIFA world rank: 37

  • Finish in previous World Cup: Group stage (2015)

  • Betting line: +50,000 to win the World Cup

  • Manager: Amelia Valverde

Key star: Raquel Rodriguez

Although coming off a knee injury, the Portland Thorns attacker will be critical for Costa Rica in Australia-New Zealand. Her attacking contributions will be needed, but so too will her experience. Rodriguez scored the first-ever World Cup goal for Costa Rica when the Central American team debuted in the 2015 tournament. She has hardly slowed since then, netting her 50th international goal in an April friendly with Poland.

Up-and-comer(s) poised for a breakout: Sheika Scott

The third-youngest player at the tournament at 16, Scott was included after making her debut on the senior roster in a November 2022 friendly match. The creative player has come on in two more friends matches since and could be an impact substitute for Valverde's squad. Scott scored six goals in five matches at the Concacaf U20 Championship, including one each in losing efforts against the U.S. in the semifinals and Canada in the third-place game. Playing at the U20 level is nothing new for Scott, who suited up for all three of Costa Rica's games at the U20 World Cup on home soil in summer 2022.

One reason they won't win: Internal strife

Shirley Cruz would have been a shoo-in for that "key star" section up there. The 37-year-old captain has more than 100 appearances for the national team but won't be in Australia and New Zealand because of a manager's decision. There is the impression that those who supported Cruz when she was left off of the preliminary list also have suffered consequences. Goalkeeper Noelia Bermúdez and Mexico-based defender Lixy Rodriguez missed the final cut, with Bermúdez changing her profile picture on social media to a photo of her and Cruz embracing after a match.

Key stats:

- In their past 20 matches across all competitions, Costa Rica have managed to win only four games, posting a record of 4W-3D-13L. Out of those four wins, only one was against a team that will be playing at the WWC (Philippines)

Realistic chances: A few more group-stage points

In addition to the Cruz situation, Costa Rica's form heading into Australia-New Zealand doesn't suggest the team can get out of a group that includes a Japan team that has advanced in the past three tournaments, a Spain squad with two losses in the past two years, and a Zambia team coming off not only that famous win over Germany but also a draw with Switzerland before that. Since qualifying, Costa Rica have lost seven matches, drawn three and won just one, a 2-1 result at home against the Philippines. -- Arnold

Zambia flag Team: Zambia

  • Also known as: The Copper Queens

  • FIFA world rank: 77

  • Finish in previous World Cup: N/A (this is their World Cup debut)

  • Betting line: +30,000 to win the World Cup

  • Manager: Bruce Mwape

Key star: Barbra Banda

There are two close contenders for this honour: Shanghai Shengli's Banda and Madrid CFF's Racheal Kundananji, with the latter's Madrid teammate Grace Chanda third. Banda pips Kundananji by virtue of already having shown her potential for Zambia on the biggest stage, netting back-to-back hat tricks at the Tokyo Olympics.

Up-and-comer(s) poised for a breakout: Racheal Kundananji

Every bit as impressive as Banda, Kundananji was the Spanish top flight's second-highest scorer in 2022-23, finishing ahead of even Barcelona's Asisat Oshoala. The 23-year-old will be raring to come up against Spain in Group C.

One reason they won't win: Bad defence

Zambia's weakness at the back was badly exposed at the Olympics, particularly against the Netherlands in a match that ended up a 10-3 loss despite Banda's hat trick. Their performances in friendlies ahead of the World Cup suggest this issue has yet to be solved.

Key stats:

- Defeated Germany in their final warmup game. There have been only two instances of a CAF confederation team beating a UEFA team at the WWC (2015 Cameroon vs. Switzerland and 1999 Nigeria vs. Denmark)
- In their game against Germany, Zambia looked to get forward a lot. They had a forward-pass percentage of 53.5%, compared with Germany's 29%

Realistic chances: Reach the round of 16

It will be a tough ask for Zambia to progress from a difficult group featuring Spain, Costa Rica and Japan, but with the world-class attacking trio of Banda, Kundananji and Chanda improving year after year, the Copper Queens have every chance of causing some upsets. -- Solms

Japan flag Team: Japan

  • Also known as: Nadeshiko

  • FIFA world rank: 11

  • Finish in previous World Cup: Quarterfinals

  • Betting line: +3,000 to win the World Cup

  • Manager: Futoshi Ikeda

Key star: Yui Hasegawa

Now one of the most experienced players on the Japan squad, Nadeshiko will be relying on Hasegawa more than ever to help bring the entire midfield and attack together in harmony. A player with some of the best vision in women's football, Hasegawa has the deftness of touch to execute her ideas and find the right ball to set the attack away.

Up-and-comer(s) poised for a breakout: Maika Hamano

One of the highest-rated teens playing anywhere in the world right now, Chelsea's Maika Hamano could be braced for a big summer. One of the youngsters in a young squad, Hamano plays with a modest but joyful style, looking to create for her teammates and add individual style to the attack.

One reason they won't win: They're too passive

It's the perennial grievance with Nadeshiko: the team's inability to make their superb technical ability count. As midfielder Jun Endo recently told the AP, "Individual players have to pick up the intensity, have that added hunger to score goals or to win that 50-50 ball." Overall it's passivity from Japan, a team with players who know how to possess the ball and move it around with ease, yet it reads as a lack of hunger that Nadeshiko don't do more with the ball, an unwillingness to hurt their opposition.

Key stats:

- Seeking to advance out of the group stage for the fourth straight WWC. The last time they failed to advance was the 2007 WWC
- Japan will open their WWC against Zambia; this is just the second time Japan will face a CAF country at the WWC. Previous instance was a 2-1 win over Cameroon during the 2015 group stage

Realistic chances: Reach the semifinals

After a subpar first year, things finally looked to be clicking into place for Ikeda at the SheBelieves Cup earlier this year, where his team put in a trio of strong performances. If they can dig down into their best and supplement all the style they possess with the simple substance of goal scoring, there's no reason that Japan can't find themselves fighting for a medal come the end of August. -- Lawson


England flag Team: England

  • Also known as: The Lionesses

  • FIFA world rank: 4

  • Finish in previous World Cup: Fourth place

  • Betting line: +450 to win the World Cup

  • Manager: Sarina Wiegman

Key star: Keira Walsh

England plan to be hit on the counterattack at the World Cup. They expect teams to sit back, soak up the pressure and then, when there's a glimmer of opportunity, swarm forward. It will be up to Walsh to dictate the transitions in England's midfield, and with the defence still building an understanding, her role is integral. She has had a wonderful season at the heart of Barcelona's midfield and will be looking to take that form into the World Cup alongside her midfield partner Georgia Stanway.

Up-and-comer(s) poised for a breakout: Lauren James

She's just 21 years old, but James has had a remarkable season with Chelsea in the WSL. She can play off either flank or through the middle in attack, and has an incredible ability to turn defenders in knots. Her adaptability, finishing and creativity will be essential to England's hopes. She may be used in the impact-sub role we saw Alessia Russo and Ella Toone perfect last summer, but regardless of whether she's coming off the bench or starting, she'll be devastating.

One reason they won't win: Injuries and absentees

Since England won the Euros, they've lost five key players ahead of this summer's tournament. Ellen White and Jill Scott retired while Leah Williamson, Fran Kirby and Beth Mead are all injured. All are irreplaceable. White and Scott brought leadership, knowledge and humour to the group. Those are the controllable aspects of management for Wiegman, though; she'd have known she'd be without those two indispensable pillars. It's the others who have the potential to destabilise England's campaign. Williamson was their captain in the Euros and their anchor at the back, Kirby their brilliant playmaker and Mead so vital upfront. They also have new skipper Millie Bright as an injury concern. It's far from ideal, but Wiegman will have a plan.

Key stats:

- 20 wins since the start of 2022, second most of any team in the field (United States, 21)
- In five WWC appearances they have never made it to the final (made semifinals past two World Cups)
- Made it past the group stage in each of the past four World Cups, one of five teams to do so (along with Brazil, USA, Australia and Germany)

Realistic chances: Winners

That's their goal and despite the caveat of those unavailable, they'll be heading to Australia with the aim of winning the whole thing. If it clicks, they can do it, but they can't afford any more setbacks in terms of absent personnel, and the new combinations will have to hit the ground running. There are some fearsome tasks in their way, but this team can win the World Cup. -- Tom Hamilton

Haiti flag Team: Haiti

  • Also known as: Les Grenadières

  • FIFA world rank: 53

  • Finish in previous World Cup: N/A (this is their World Cup debut)

  • Betting line: +40,000 to win the World Cup

  • Manager: Nicolas Delepine

Key star: Melchie Dumornay

One of the most electric players in the game, "Corventina" already is established as the team's top player despite being just 19. On the club level, she's also stepping into a bigger situation, moving from Reims to Lyon, but her focus for now will be entirely on the World Cup. The ball seems glued to her feet when she dribbles past defenders, and she already has seven goals in 13 matches for Haiti at the senior level, adding to 28 goals in 34 games she has scored in a Haiti shirt across all age groups. There's little doubt she's the star of the show.

Up-and-comer(s) poised for a breakout: Tabita Joseph

Seventeen of the 23 players on the roster are 24 or younger, including Dumornay, so it's not that easy to pinpoint one rising star. Joseph is an undersized defender but looks to make up for what she lacks in stature with effort and reading the game. "The Commander" has a new deal in the French second division, moving from Brest to Olympique Marseille, but will look to stand out and give Dumornay, Sherly Jeudy and Roselord Borgella the chance to do what they do best up top.

One reason they won't win: Inexperience

Again, this team is extremely young. The captain, forward Nérilia Mondésir, is just 24. The biggest star is a teenager. And while some players are in the top division in France, others are playing at U.S. universities and will have to adapt quickly to the level with an opener against Euro champions England a rude welcome. Centre-back Claire Constant missing the tournament with an ACL issue won't make the journey any easier.

Key stats:

- One of nine teams in this World Cup making their first appearance ever
- Played a total of eight games in all competitions since 2022, the second fewest of any team in the World Cup field (Panama: seven)
- Only five of the 24 countries to make their World Cup debut (not including 1991 inaugural year) have made it past the group stage

Realistic chances: Pull one upset

Haiti won't feel like they're just happy to be here, but it's going to be difficult to advance from a Group D that includes China and Denmark in addition to England. This tournament will be all about getting experience and understanding what they need to acquire over the course of the next cycle. Then again, Haiti made quick work of Senegal and Chile in the inter-confederation playoffs. Perhaps a surprise could be in the cards for a team that already is one of the biggest surprises in the tournament. -- Arnold

Denmark flag Team: Denmark

  • Also known as: De rød-hvide

  • FIFA world rank: 13

  • Finish in previous World Cup: Group stage (2007)

  • Betting line: +8,000 to win the World Cup

  • Manager: Lars Sondergaard

Key star: Pernille Harder

Fans of European football will already be more than familiar with Denmark's captain and inspiration. As adept at building attacks from midfield as finishing chances off, Harder has frequently been Denmark's No. 8, No. 9 and No. 10, and can always produce a moment of pure quality, even in the toughest of situations.

Up-and-comer(s) poised for a breakout: Katherine Kuhl

A natural playmaker whose strong performances for Nordsjælland earned her a move to Arsenal earlier this year, Kuhl is one of the players in the squad most suited to linking up with Harder as both players have an exceptional range of vision. More involved in defence-splitting passes and ghosting into space, the 20-year-old has already shown her ability on big stages with some strong showings at the Euros last year and is likely to use the World Cup to announce herself further.

One reason they won't win: Lack of end product

As well as Harder, Denmark can boast strong options across the pitch, and although not the most dominant Scandinavian nation, their talent is there for all to see. And yet, since their breathtaking run to the Euro 2017 final, de rød-hvide have consistently struggled to show what they're about, and most disappointingly, their attack has been unfathomably flat for all the skill it boasts.

Key stats:

- Fifth appearance in the World Cup all-time and first since 2007
- Haven't made it past the group stage since 1995 (lost in the quarterfinal)
- 14 losses to the rest of the members in Group D, that is the second-most losses by a team in the field against their own group (Portugal has 17 losses to the rest of Group E)

Realistic chances: Reach the round of 16

As we've seen in the build-up to the World Cup, there are no certainties in international football with increased investment helping to bridge some gaps and making for some spicy group-stage match-ups. Up against a talented China team and a fun Haiti side who turn up with nothing to lose and everything to gain at their first tournament, Denmark's inability to make it click on the pitch is likely to come back to haunt them for a second tournament running. -- Lawson

China flag Team: China

  • Also known as: Steel Roses

  • FIFA world rank: 14

  • Finish in previous World Cup: 14th

  • Betting line: +20,000 to win the World Cup

  • Manager: Shui Qingxia

Key star: Wang Shuang

The Racing Louisville forward is the Steel Roses' best attacker. Wang will be pivotal going forward for China and has a penchant for scoring on the big stage. Her ability to play across the attacking positions bodes well, and her creativity is a key driver for China. A strong tournament from her will hold the Steel Roses in good stead as they push to make it out of the group.

Up-and-comer(s) poised for a breakout: Zhang Linyan

Zhang is one of the younger members of this Steel Roses' squad and could play a massive role for China in what will be her debut World Cup. Plying her trade in the Swiss league with Grasshoppers, Zhang has already enjoyed a breakout season domestically, regularly starting and scoring five goals in 15 appearances. Her goal-scoring prowess will be put to the test on the world stage.

One reason they won't win: Patchy form

Good form heading into a major tournament is a decent indicator, but not a guarantee, of good form in a major tournament, and vice versa. Since China's incredible victory in the 2022 Women's Asian Cup final, the team haven't lit the world on fire. In seven matches so far in 2023, the Steel Roses have nabbed two victories. Both were against Russia, their only opponent who won't be featuring in this World Cup. China can go on a run in a tournament, but it would require a rather drastic turn in form.

Key stats:

- Has only played nine games since 2022; is tied for the third-fewest games played in that span by any team in the 2023 World Cup field (Panama: 7, Haiti: 8, Vietnam: 9; all of these teams are making their first World Cup appearance)
- In all seven of their previous World Cup appearances, they have advanced past the group stage. Their seven appearances in World Cup elimination rounds is tied for the third most in World Cup history (USA: 8; Germany: 8; Sweden: 7; Norway: 7)

Realistic chances: Round of 16

Step 1 for China will be making it out of the group with England and Denmark posing particularly tough assignments. Should they best Denmark and make it out of the group, a date with Canada or hosts Australia could await, and that appears a step too far for this side. -- Lordanic


USA flag Team: United States

  • Also known as: The USWNT

  • FIFA world rank: 1

  • Finish in previous World Cup: Winners

  • Betting line: +225 to win the World Cup

  • Manager: Vlatko Andonovski

Key star: Alex Morgan

She's the other face of the USWNT with now-substitute Megan Rapinoe, and just like Rapinoe, this will be Morgan's fourth World Cup -- but the difference is that Morgan is expected to play a huge role in this tournament. She'll be leading the line for the USWNT as a starter in New Zealand and Australia, and Andonovski didn't even put a backup for Morgan on the USWNT roster. Morgan up top is Plan A and she needs to step up as striker because the drop-off to the team's other options is considerable.

Up-and-comer poised for a breakout: Sophia Smith

This will be Smith's first World Cup, and the goal-scoring burden on her will be huge. The USWNT's best goal scorer, winger Mallory Swanson, got injured in the final international break before the tournament, and Morgan, for all her ability as a striker, is often either marked out of games or cut off from service. A lot of the USWNT's goals come from the wings, and Smith will be expected to be the primary producer for the Americans in the attack.

One reason they won't win: Injuries, and the management of them

A slew of injuries has left many of the USWNT's best players at home. Swanson and Catarina Macario were the USWNT's two most productive attacking players until both ended up sidelined with injuries. The team's captain and only true experienced centre-back, Becky Sauerbrunn, also became a late scratch from the World Cup roster. In the midfield, the loss of injured Samantha Mewis hasn't helped either, and even though Rose Lavelle did make the USWNT's roster for the World Cup, she has been injured since April, which prompted Andonovski to bring an uncapped midfielder, Savannah DeMelo, to the World Cup.

That brings us to Andonovski. He never played in a World Cup as a player and has never coached in one, even as an assistant. Other than the 2021 Olympics at the helm of the USWNT, his coaching résumé has been limited to the National Women's Soccer League and ... the Major Indoor Soccer League. A bronze medal at the 2021 Olympics would be a success by most teams' standards, but the USWNT isn't most teams, and the Americans struggled while Andonovski appeared unable to adapt to what the tournament presented. Looking at his World Cup roster, it's already fair to wonder if he has handled the injuries well or not.

Key stats:

- Won the past two World Cups; one of four teams in men's or women's World Cup history to win consecutive World Cups (2003 and 2007 Germany women; 1958 and 1962 Brazil men; 1934 and 1938 Italy men)
- Seeking to become the first team in men's or women's World Cup history to win three straight World Cups
- One of seven teams in history to qualify for all nine World Cups (Nigeria, Japan, Brazil, Norway, Sweden, Germany)
- 21 wins in all competitions since 2022, the most of any team in the World Cup field; eight straight wins after losing three straight from Oct. 7, 2022, to Nov. 10, 2022 (first time losing three straight since 1993)
- The roster features six players with 100 or more caps, led by Alex Morgan with 206
- 14 players will be competing in their first World Cup, the most players making their debut in a World Cup for the United States since the inaugural year in 1991 (18).

Realistic chances: Win it all

Winning three World Cups in a row is unheard of, and the USWNT is missing a lot of good players, but the U.S. still have plenty of good players. With Macario and Swanson out, Smith has stepped up and could end up the USWNT's star of the tournament. World Cup first-timers Lynn Williams and Trinity Rodman are now in contention to start because of injuries, but they offer varied skill sets in scoring, creating chances and pressing, meaning they too could enjoy breakout tournaments. Morgan has no direct backups on the roster, which may be concerning -- but as long as Morgan plays, she's in a position to carry this team on her back.

The USWNT's strength is its depth and sometimes the team that is the deepest -- not the best -- wins the World Cup. Even if the USWNT's ceiling isn't as high as it would be with a fully healthy squad, the USWNT is still filled with world-class players who should be considered favourites this summer. That talent along with the USA's signature never-say-die mentality could be enough for a three-peat. -- Caitlin Murray

Vietnam flag Team: Vietnam

  • Also known as: Golden Star Women Warriors

  • FIFA world rank: 32

  • Finish in previous World Cup: N/A (this is their World Cup debut)

  • Betting line: +100,000 to win the World Cup

  • Manager: Mai Duc Chung

Key star: Huynh Nhu

The captain of this team, Huynh is the focal point of the Vietnamese attack. She brings experience to the team by being the only member of the 23-player squad to ply her trade outside of Vietnam, as well being only one of two players in the squad to have over 100 caps. Since 2015 she has never finished lower than third in the Vietnamese player of the year award, won five times and is currently on a four-year winning streak. She's a prolific scorer for club and country and is the women's team's all-time leading goal scorer.

Up-and-comer(s) poised for a breakout: Nguyen Thi Thanh Nha

The lightning quick attacker is slowly but surely growing into a force for Vietnam. At 21, she has seven goals in 27 appearances for her country and has been a strong contributor to Vietnam's success in the ASEAN region. She recently scored against Germany in Vietnam's 2-1 loss to the No. 2 ranked team.

One reason they won't win: Inexperience

Inexperience isn't just referring to the team playing in their first ever Women's World Cup. There's the inexperience of the squad with only six members of the team having more than 50 caps to their name. There's inexperience against top opposition with their matches predominantly taking place against fellow Asian nations. There's even inexperience at handling different conditions with New Zealand proving to be a bit chilly for the team. All of this stems from the women's game in the country being still in the early stages of growth.

Key stats:

- One of nine teams in this World Cup making their first appearance ever
- Only five of the 24 countries to make their World Cup debut (not including 1991 inaugural year) have made it past the group stage
- Has only played nine games since 2022; is tied for the third-fewest games played in that span by any team in the 2023 World Cup field (Panama: 7; Haiti: 8; China: 9)
- 2W-1D-6L since 2022, lost three straight heading into the World Cup; two wins since 2022 is tied with New Zealand for the fewest by any team in the tournament field

Realistic chances: Little victories

Vietnam will have a baptism of fire at their debut World Cup, being drawn against both of 2019's finalists, the United States and the Netherlands. It's hard not to think about the USWNT's 13-0 dismantling of Thailand when picturing Vietnam's match against the two-time reigning champions. While a win doesn't look likely for Vietnam, there are other goals and benchmarks they can aim for. Limiting the number of goals conceded will be the first step. Their matchup against fellow debutants Portugal will be the place to try and create history with a first goal, a first clean sheet or even a first point. -- Lordanic

Netherlands flag Team: Netherlands

  • Also known as: Oranje Leeuwinnen

  • FIFA world rank: 9

  • Finish in previous World Cup: Runners-up

  • Betting line: +2,200 to win the World Cup

  • Manager: Andries Jonker

Key star: Danielle van de Donk

With Vivianne Miedema out injured and Lieke Martens having struggled with her own injuries throughout the season, the onus will be on Van de Donk to take the mantle and use her experience to add some spice to the attack. A flair player who has been present for all of the Oranje's biggest successes, Van de Donk is certain to play a key role for the Dutch this summer.

Up-and-comer(s) poised for a breakout: Daphne van Domselaar

Forced to step up to replace the injured Sari van Veenendaal partway through the Netherlands' first Euro 2022 match, Van Domselaar hasn't looked back since, bringing a sense of calm to the Dutch back line. Having impressed through the Euros with her strong shot-stopping and organisation of the Dutch defence, Van Domselaar fast became a fan favourite last summer and looks set to keep her good form going this month.

One reason they won't win: Relative inexperience

Aside from some veterans who were in the squad for their European triumph in 2017, the team is rife with younger players breaking onto the scene and cutting their teeth across the continent. But as well as having a youthful team, Jonker has never led a senior team at a major tournament before, and his own lack of experience could be telling.

Key stats:

- Made it to the World Cup final in 2019 and it was just their second appearance in the World Cup (lost to the United States)
- 7W-1D-3L in the World Cup all-time, .636 percentage of World Cup games won, the third-highest percentage of games won in World Cup history (USA: 40-6-4 [.800], Germany: 30-5-9 [.682])
- In the same group as the United States, they lost in a shootout to the U.S. in the 2020 Olympics as well as in the 2019 World Cup final
- 0W-1D-4L all-time against the United States, 7-0-1 all-time against Portugal and has never played Vietnam before

Realistic chances: Reach the round of 16

Despite making the final in both the 2017 Euros and the 2019 World Cup, the team has been in flux since their loss to the U.S. in the 2019 final and has lost some of their ability to navigate tournaments, as seen in both the Tokyo Olympics and Euro 2022. Should the Dutch get out of their tricky group, an even trickier round-of-16 tie is likely to bring a meeting with Sweden, who come into the tournament with the edge over the Oranje. -- Lawson

Portugal flag Team: Portugal

  • Also known as: A Selecção das Quinas

  • FIFA world rank: 21

  • Finish in previous World Cup: N/A (this is their World Cup debut)

  • Betting line: +10,000 to win the World Cup

  • Manager: Francisco Neto

Key star: Jessica Silva

A team who are at their best when they can attack their opposition, both Jessica and Diana Silva remain Portugal's best outlets. Jessica's experience around the world has given her a sense of calm, and although not captain, she leads from the front with the composure you'd want from the one wearing the armband.

Up-and-comer(s) poised for a breakout: Kika Nazareth

Widely regarded as one of the players set for a breakout at this World Cup, 20-year-old Nazareth has carved out a starting role for herself in the Portugal team. An attacking midfielder who has a glut of goals to show from the past season with Benfica, the young Portuguese star has a superb range of passing, and although only has half as many assists as goals over the last year, possesses a pinpoint accuracy with the ball.

One reason they won't win: They're vulnerable

At their first World Cup, Portugal will have to dig deep to progress, but in recent years we've seen not just a lack of capitalising on their better chances against higher-ranked opposition but weaknesses in the back line that have too often seen them give up cheap goals.

Key stats:

- Twenty-one matches played (all competition) since 2022, tied for the fifth-most games among the tournament field
- 1W-1D-17L combined all-time against the rest of their Group (E); most combined losses by any team against the rest of their group in this years World Cup field (0-1-10 against USA; 1-0-7 against Netherlands)
- One of nine teams in this World Cup making their first appearance ever

Realistic chances: Group-stage exit

With only two teams able to progress from the group -- and most expecting the USA to top the rankings -- the ask is then for Portugal to best a Dutch team with far more big-game experience and players. Having come a long way in the past few years, there is still a healthy chance for Seleccao to pull some surprises in New Zealand, but the odds are against them. -- Lawson


France flag Team: France

  • Also known as: Les Bleues

  • FIFA world rank: 5

  • Finish in previous World Cup: Quarterfinals

  • Betting line: +1,000 to win the World Cup

  • Manager: Herve Renard

Key star: Kadidiatou Diani

While Eugenie Le Sommer and Selma Bacha are valuable players, in the absence of Marie-Antoinette Katoto and Delphine Cascarino, Diani will be France's main player in this competition. At 28, the future Lyon player after leaving PSG needs to confirm on the biggest stage all her talent and great form at domestic level. She scored 30 goals in all competitions for club and country so far this season playing as a No. 9 (to replace Katoto) for PSG and a right winger with the national team (where she will feature in this World Cup, too).

With France, she is established as a key player and now has to deliver with decisive moments. She is yet to score in a big tournament for France despite playing in two World Cups, two Olympics and two Euros already. Now is the time to change all of that.

Up-and-comer(s) poised for a breakout: Selma Bacha

At 22, Bacha is the future of this French team. After starting her career at left-back, the Lyonnaise moved up to left winger where she has been very good this year with nine assists in 14 games in the league. Her left foot is so precise and she adds pace and intensity to her game. She is fierce, too, with a strong personality that means she is not fazed by anything. She won't be scared of taking part in her first World Cup. Instead, she will want to shine, having benefited in a way from the injury of Cascarino, who would have started ahead of her. Bacha showed against Australia in a friendly Friday how important she was for Les Bleues as all the dangerous attacks came from her. Her partnership with Sakina Karchaoui behind her is one of France's main strengths.

One reason they won't win: Injuries

France are not the only one in this situation. Like the USA or England, for example, Les Bleues will also be without some key players for this World Cup. Amandine Henry, one of the leaders of this squad, had to be ruled out only a few days before the start of the tournament. Henry struggled with injuries all season, and even if her withdrawal was maybe predictable, it will leave a huge hole to fill in midfield.

Cascarino, who was having a wonderful season domestically with Lyon, ruptured her knee ligament in March. She is a big loss because in his quest for quick forward transitions, Renard was going to rely heavily on her pace.

Finally, Katoto is also missing. She still isn't fit after her bad knee injury suffered during the 2022 Euros. At 24, she was one of the best strikers in Europe before the injury but she is taking a long time to come back. Despite Le Sommer doing well again under Renard, France are stronger with Katoto.

Key stats:

- Historically, the first goal of the match is crucial for France. They are 10W-1D-0L when scoring first at the WWC but 0W-2D-6L when allowing the first goal
- Seeking to make WWC semifinals for the first time since 2011, their previous two WWC quarterfinal losses were by tight margins (losing to Germany on PKs in 2015 and losing 2-1 to USA in 2019)
- Their opening match will be against Jamaica, just the fifth time they will face a Concacaf nation at the WWC (2W-0D-2L in previous four instances)

Realistic chances: Reach the semifinals

The objective set by the president of the French federation is the last four. France reached the semifinals at the Euros in England last summer and anything less would be seen as a disappointing result. It is a very open tournament and Renard is convinced that he can even take this team all the way, despite having only been in charge for a few months. Nevertheless, since he took over from Corinne Diacre, who was heavily disliked by the players, the double AFCON champion has brought energy, positivity, intensity and confidence to the squad. It's a shame that three key players are missing, but Renard's ambitions are high, and he has made his players believe that anything is possible in this World Cup. -- Julien Laurens

Jamaica flag Team: Jamaica

  • Also known as: The Reggae Girlz

  • FIFA world rank: 43

  • Finish in previous World Cup: Group stage

  • Betting line: +50,000 to win the World Cup

  • Manager: Lorne Donaldson

Key star: Khadija "Bunny" Shaw

Only England and Aston Villa's Rachel Daly (22) scored more goals than Manchester City's Shaw (20) in the Women's Super League this past season. Part of the Jamaica squad since 2015, the 6-foot striker is her country's top scorer with 56 goals and will be their reference point at the tournament. Feeding her may be the hard part against teams like Brazil and France.

Up-and-comer(s) poised for a breakout: Jody Brown and Solai Washington

Florida State Seminoles forward Brown has emerged as the most dangerous alternative to Shaw. Aged 17, she was part of the Jamaica squad at the last World Cup four years ago and has scored 12 goals for the Reggae Girlz. She will be looking to take her game to the next level this summer. U.S.-born Washington, who is 18 and in her senior year at high school, is another player to watch out for.

One reason they won't win: Leaky defence

Jamaica have troubled to keep things tight against superior opponents. They conceded five against the USA and three against Canada in qualifying for the World Cup. In friendlies this year, Spain, Czech Republic and Australia have all put three past them.

Key stats:

- Will face Brazil again in second straight WWC group stage, lost previous meeting in 2019 5-0
- Khadija Shaw's 12 goals were the second most in Concacaf World Cup qualifying. She scored at least one time in two of their four qualifying wins and her 18 total goal contributions were the most in qualifying. She also finished second in England's top league in scoring with 20 goals in 22 matches

Realistic chances: Group stage

In their debut at a World Cup, Jamaica conceded 12 goals and scored just one across defeats to Brazil, Italy and Australia. They will want to show an improvement this time around by competing better against Brazil and France, while the game against Panama represents a good chance for them to record a first win at the finals. -- Marsden

Brazil flag Team: Brazil

  • Also known as: Selecao, As Canarinhas

  • FIFA world rank: 8

  • Finish in previous World Cup: Round of 16

  • Betting line: +2,500 to win the World Cup

  • Manager: Pia Sundhage

Key star: Marta

She may not possess the power she once did, but Marta will once again be the face of this Brazil side at what will be her sixth World Cup. At the age of 37, she has said it will be her last, and she will be dreaming of lifting the trophy for the first time having previously won three Copa Americas. The Orlando Pride forward, Brazil's all-time top scorer with 117 goals, returned from an anterior cruciate ligament injury in February and will be supported in attack by Barcelona's Geyse and the Kansas City Current's Debinha, among others.

Up-and-comer(s) poised for a breakout: Geyse

Brazil's front line is heavy on experience, with Marta, Debinha, Bia Zaneratto and Andressa Alves all at least 29 years old and with over 100 caps each. That makes Geyse, at 25, one of the newer kids on the block. She has had a mixed first season at Barca since signing from Madrid CFF, but has the pace, power and trickery you would associate with a Brazilian attacker. When her confidence is up and she is on form, she can look unplayable, as she showed with a cameo off the bench in the Champions League final when Barca came from behind to beat Wolfsburg in June.

One reason they won't win: The tournament comes too soon

Brazil won two silver Olympic medals and reached a World Cup final between 2004 and 2008, but the generation that brought them that success has now gone. Marta remains, admittedly, but Cristiane and Formiga are no longer part of the squad. In their place, the former USWNT coach Sundhage is trying to blend a new team together. The signs are encouraging, but the doubt is whether this tournament arrives slightly too soon for this Brazil team, with Sundhage saying her main challenge is to help players playing in South America, North America and Europe gel.

Key stats:

- Head coach Pia Sundhage will become the first coach ever to coach three different nations at the FIFA Women's World Cup. She coached the USWNT in 2011, Sweden in 2015 and Brazil in 2023
- In their past 10 matches at a major global tournament (Olympics/WWC), Brazil have gone 4W-3D-3L with all three losses coming against teams in the top 10 of FIFA rankings. All four wins were teams not in the top 10
- Of Marta's 17 WWC goals, five of them have been the first goal of the match; she sits two such goals of tying Abby Wambach for the most in WWC history
- Marta is seeking to become the first men's or women's player to score at six World Cups

Realistic chances: Semifinals

Winning the tournament is likely to be a step too far for this transitioning Brazil team, although Sundhage says "we have got a chance" -- and they do. A penalty shootout defeat to European champions England in the Finalissima and a 2-1 win over Germany in April will breed belief going into the World Cup. They are certainly South America's best hope of a winner, as they showed at last summer's Copa America by winning all six games, scoring 20 goals and conceding none on their way to the trophy. -- Marsden

Panama flag Team: Panama

  • Also known as: Las Canaleras, La Marea Roja

  • FIFA world rank: 52

  • Finish in previous World Cup: N/A (this is their World Cup debut)

  • Betting line: +100,000 to win the World Cup

  • Manager: Ignacio Quintana

Key star: Marta Cox

She is the heartbeat of the team and an idol for supporters back in her homeland. Cox, an attacking midfielder, made her debut for Panama's U20 team aged just 14 and has gone on to forge a hugely successful club career. After starring in Costa Rica, she became the first Panamanian to play in Mexico when she joined Club Leon in 2021. She now plays for Pachuca and, aged 25, will carry her team's hopes at their first-ever World Cup.

Up-and-comer(s) poised for a breakout: Deysire Salazar and Riley Tanner

Salazar, just 19, has impressed for the national team since she made her debut in 2020. The midfielder still plays in her homeland with Tauro, but a move to the United States or Europe has been rumoured. Washington Spirit's Tanner, slightly older at 23, is another player to keep an eye on after the Michigan-born forward opted to represent the country of her mother's birth earlier this year.

One reason they won't win: Tough debut group

Any group would have been difficult for the World Cup newcomers, but they will feel particularly hard done by to have to face both France and Brazil. Jamaica, led by Khadija Shaw, will also be tough to beat.

Key stats:

- Will be making their World Cup debut. Only one Concacaf team has ever won their first WWC game ever (United States in 1991). Since then Concacaf nations have gone 0W-1D-3L in WWC debut games (two of those losses came against Brazil, who Panama will play in their first match)
- Will look to Riley Tanner, who plays with the Washington Spirit of the NWSL. Tanner was drafted in 2023 out of Alabama where she was Second Team All-SEC and United Soccer Coaches All-Region second team honoree.

Realistic chances: Group stage exit

The main aim for Quintana's team is to use the World Cup as a platform for continued progress. Regardless of results, if Panama's performances can hook the nation, it will only be a good thing for the evolution of the team and the game in the country. -- Marsden


Sweden flag Team: Sweden

  • Also known as: Blagult

  • FIFA world rank: 3

  • Finish in previous World Cup: 3rd

  • Betting line: +1,600 to win the World Cup

  • Manager: Peter Gerhardsson

Key star: Fridolina Rolfo

Yet another player currently thriving in the all-conquering Barcelona team, Rolfo should be well known to most familiar with women's football. Having stepped up from an important player to a key one for Blagult, the attacker is always willing to take a player on to get the ball or herself into the box. With most Swedes focused on getting the ball into the most advantageous position to shoot, basically looking for the best xG, Rolfo is the rarity in the squad who will be happy to shoot from range.

Up-and-comer(s) poised for a breakout: Madelen Janogy

Although Janogy has been around for some time and not only featured in 2019 but scored a key goal for Sweden in the 2019 Women's World Cup, she is a player who is still largely off off the radar. Having had some personal problems off the pitch soon after a move to VfL Wolfsburg, the forward returned to Sweden where she has been raising her performances ever since securing a starting spot in the Hammarby team. Coming into this tournament in scintillating form and due to be peaking through the tournament, everything looks to be aligning for the attacker to have a memorable summer.

One reason they won't win: The goals desert them at key times

Sometimes it happens in their qualifiers but other times -- like the Olympic final -- Sweden's inability to simply put the ball in the back of the net is their biggest obstacle. Although the team continue to create, often gilt-edged chances, no matter who is on the pitch in blue and yellow, no one seems capable of putting those chances away. Even though they've embraced the attacking style Gerhardsson wants them to play, something frequently goes awry at the worst times.

Key stats:

- One of seven teams in history to qualify for all nine World Cups (Nigeria, Japan, Brazil, Norway, United States, Germany)
- Twenty-three wins in the World Cup all-time, the fourth most in tournament history (USA: 40; Germany: 30; Norway: 24)
- Finished top three in each of the past two Olympics and the last World Cup (2020 Olympics: second place [lost in penalty kicks]; 2019 World Cup: third place; 2016 Olympics: second place)

Realistic chances: Semifinals

After a storming run at the Olympics in Japan two summers ago, Sweden followed it up with a broken and disappointing Euro 2022 campaign, and it can be hard to get a sense for which Blagult is going to show up in New Zealand this month. Should it be Sweden at their best, there is no reason they can't go through the group stage and power into the knockouts. But then, if the goals depart the team as they always seem to, the wheels will certainly fall off. Although there is no easy route to the final, the last four and a medal match (once again) is the most likely for the Scandinavians. -- Lawson

South Africa flag Team: South Africa

  • Also known as: Banyana Banyana

  • FIFA world rank: 54

  • Finish in previous World Cup: Group stage

  • Betting line: +50,000 to win the World Cup

  • Manager: Desiree Ellis

Key star: Thembi Kgatlana

The forward who put South Africa on the global map by scoring their first ever World Cup goal in 2019 against Spain. Kgatlana currently plies her trade for Racing Louisville, having previously played for Houston Dash, Beijing BG Phoenix, Benfica, Eibar and Atlético Madrid. Kgatlana was the CAF Women's Footballer of the Year in 2018 off the back of her five goals at the Women's Africa Cup of Nations (WAFCON). Other key players include midfielders Linda Motlhalo and Refiloe Jane, with the latter set to captain the side.

Up-and-comer(s) poised for a breakout: Noxolo Cesane

Banyana's golden generation of players -- the likes of Mothlalo, Jane, Kgatlana and Jermaine Seoposenwe -- are now senior players, meaning a new generation will soon have to step up to provide depth. Poised to lead the charge is 22-year-old midfielder Cesane, who recently earned her first move abroad at Stade de Reims and now plies her trade in Mexico with Tigres UANL.

One reason they won't win: Too many battles with their own federation

With the World Cup around the corner, Banyana Banyana have been locked in a dispute with SAFA over their lack of preparation for the tournament and apparent unwillingness to offer increased financial packages despite the team's recent success. The World Cup squad boycotted a friendly against Botswana at Tsakane Stadium, arguing that the venue was unsuitable for international football. As a result, a makeshift team had to play the game and was humbled 5-0. Negotiations between the first-team players and SAFA have since made progress, but the mood has been dampened since Banyana's WAFCON triumph in Morocco last year.

Key stats:

- Nine wins in 2022 (all competitions), which is the most in a year all-time
- Second World Cup appearance, first appearance was in 2019 (0W-0D-3L and outscored 8-1 in those games)

Realistic chances: Reach the round of 16

Banyana are underdogs in a group featuring Sweden, Italy and Argentina, but given the quality of players in their squad, a win against Argentina and a draw against Italy are reasonable targets even against the odds. -- Solms

Italy flag Team: Italy

  • Also known as: Le Azzurre

  • FIFA world rank: 16

  • Finish in previous World Cup: Quarterfinals

  • Betting line: +15,000 to win the World Cup

  • Manager: Milena Bertolini

Key star: Cristiana Girelli

An attacker who oozes swagger, Girelli has been one of Italy's main go-tos for attacking inspiration since she became a regular in the Azzurre side in 2013. With Italy still looking disjointed on the pitch, the European nation will be looking to the 33-year-old attacker to provide individual moments of magic.

Up-and-comer(s) poised for a breakout: Manuela Giugliano

No stranger to the Italian senior national team having made her debut in 2014 aged 17, Giugliano has been a key player for Alessandro Spugna's Roma side with her skill on the ball and keen vision for a defence-splitting pass, making the deep-lying playmaker role her own for both club and country.

One reason they won't win: Poor form

The forgotten team in their group when they made their return to the world stage after a two-decade absence from the World Cup, the Azzurre played with the freedom allowed of those with no expectations on their shoulders. Their joyful attacks and impressive results set the bar far too high for their next major outing and have been in an unfortunate tailspin ever since. Despite the quality of player Bertolini can call up -- this tournament looking to build around Serie A champions Roma, rather than the older guard from Juventus -- the disjointed nature of the football has been inescapable.

Key stats:

- Second straight World Cup appearance; prior to 2019 it had only made the World Cup twice (1991 and 1999)
- Have never made it past the quarterfinals in the World Cup

Realistic chances: Group stage exit

With the context of their patchy form, Italy will need more than just a strong showing against Argentina to pip La Albiceleste to the runner-up spot, with four taxing matches ahead of them in New Zealand that seems like a bridge too far for Le Azzurre in their current form. -- Lawson

Argentina flag Team: Argentina

  • Also known as: La Albiceleste

  • FIFA world rank: 28

  • Finish in previous World Cup: Group stage

  • Betting line: +30,000 to win the World Cup

  • Manager: German Portanova

Key star: Estefania Banini

The Atletico Madrid forward was named in the FIFPro Women's World XI in 2021, becoming the first Argentine woman to feature. At the time, she was not involved with the national team after speaking out against the working conditions, but she returned in 2022 and, along with proven scorer Yamila Rodriguez, will lead Argentina's World Cup hopes.

Up-and-comer(s) poised for a breakout: Paulina Gramaglia

The Houston Dash striker was loaned to Brazilian side Red Bull Bragantino this year to help her secure a place in Argentina's World Cup squad. The 20-year-old did just that with 10 goals in 18 appearances, earning her a spot on the plane to Australia and New Zealand this summer, although she is most likely to be used off the bench.

One reason they won't win: Not beaten a big team

While Argentina have improved under coach Portanova and the women's game is developing (slowly) in the country, there is almost no chance that they will repeat the success enjoyed by the men's team in Qatar. Beaten by Colombia and Brazil at the 2022 Copa America, without scoring a goal, they have also lost comfortably to Spain and Canada in the last year. Aside from routine wins against some of the smaller sides in South America, their only other win recently came against hosts New Zealand earlier this year.

Key stats:

- 0W-2D-7L all-time in the World Cup, tied for the second-most games played in the World Cup without a win
- Has never made it past the group stage in the previous three appearances in the World Cup
- Has not lost a match this year (4W-1D-0L); outscored their opponents 11-1 this year

Realistic chances: Get out of the group

Argentina have qualified for three World Cups but, in nine matches, have never won a single game. Their first target, therefore, will be to win one this year. From there, they may fancy their chances of getting out of the group ahead of Italy and South Africa, with Group G favourite Sweden likely to be too strong. -- Marsden


Germany flag Team: Germany

  • - Also known as: DFB-Frauenteam

  • - FIFA world rank: 2

  • - Finish in previous World Cup: Quarterfinals

  • - Betting line: +750 to win the World Cup

  • - Manager: Martina Voss-Tecklenburg

Key star: Alex Popp

At 32 years of age, Wolfsburg's faithful No. 11 is still putting in a shift for Germany. Able to play deeper in midfield as a supplier, Popp is favoured higher up for her national team, providing a persistent threat in the opposition box. A full-blooded attacker who has often ended up fully blooded for the cause, Popp's inspirational performances at Euro 2022 showed just why she's so key to this team.

Up-and-comer(s) poised for a breakout: Lena Oberdorf

Another player who used the last Euros to remind the world of her awesome talent, 21-year-old Oberdorf has already carved out a starting spot in the Germany team, playing the disruptive defensive midfield role with nous far beyond her years. Her hazard awareness and ability to sense impending attacking danger is something that is easy enough to overlook if you're not looking for it.

One reason they won't win: A lack of attacking harmony

The caveat for Germany is, when they look just right going into a tournament, things don't always go to plan for Nationalelf. Conversely, when they head into major tournaments looking set for disaster, everything all falls into place in time for them to make a run for the final. This summer, Germany's lack of attacking harmony has been sticking out in the pre-tournament friendlies with too much discombobulation across the forward line, the attackers too often rushed and not allowing their partnerships to show.

Key stats:

- Have reached the semifinals in five of eight previous WWC appearances, seeking to become second country with three WWC titles, joining the United States
- Will face Morocco in opening match; Germany has never lost in the first game of the WWC (7W-1D-0L); their seven wins in the opening match is tied with Norway for the second most all-time and only behind Brazil's eight
- Since the start of 2021, Germany has mixed results in all competitions when facing current FIFA top 10 teams; they have a record of 6W-2D-7L

Realistic chances: Winners

It's Germany, winning the whole damn thing is always on the cards, isn't it? It's not just the pedigree or history of the team but they were right there last summer, battling injuries and COVID dropouts and, other than their form heading into this World Cup -- and the loss of two full-backs to ACL tears -- there is no reason that they can't dig back into that form and football from the Euros. -- Lawson

Morocco flag Team: Morocco

  • Also known as: The Atlas Lionesses

  • FIFA world rank: 72

  • Finish in previous World Cup: N/A (this is their World Cup debut)

  • Betting line: +75,000 to win the World Cup

  • Manager: Reynald Pedros

Key star: Rosella Ayane

She plays a different role for Morocco, who rely on her for goals, than for Tottenham, who utilise her primarily as a playmaker, but the forward brings much-needed experience at the top level into a squad based largely of locally based players and youngsters who are only beginning to find their feet overseas. Ayane combined superbly with Beth England in the second half of Spurs' WSL campaign, whereas at international level, she was their goal scorer in the WAFCON final defeat to South Africa.

Up-and-comer(s) poised for a breakout: Fatima Tagnaout

Still plying her trade at African champions ASFAR, 24-year-old Tagnaout will have an opportunity to catch eyes on the global stage at the World Cup. The winger made the WAFCON team of the tournament and will fancy her chances of standing out against Colombia and South Korea, even though Germany are likely to make life extremely difficult for Morocco.

One reason they won't win: Inexperience

Ayane aside, Morocco are short of players with experience at the highest level, and even hers cannot compare to the likes of of Nigeria's Asisat Oshoala and South Africa's Thembi Kgatlana, who have played in several of the world's top leagues and in previous World Cup tournaments. Morocco will be making their debut on the world stage, and their final showing against South Africa at the WAFCON suggests they still have work to do adapting to high-pressure situations.

Key stats:

- Making WWC debut; will face Germany in first game. Only one team from CAF has ever won their first ever WWC game: Cameroon vs. Ecuador in 2015. Overall CAF is 1W-1D-4L in their WWC debut game (two of those four losses came against Germany)

Realistic chances: Reach the round of 16

Finishing above Germany is out of the question bar a miracle, but Morocco will fancy their chances of competing with Colombia and South Korea for second place. Neither have advanced past the round of 16 at a World Cup before, and South Korea lost 2-0 to Nigeria at the last World Cup, a team who Morocco beat in the semifinals of the WAFCON. -- Solms

Colombia flag Team: Colombia

  • Also known as: Las Cafeteras

  • FIFA world rank: 25

  • Finish in previous World Cup: DNQ

  • Betting line: +25,000 to win the World Cup

  • Manager: Nelson Abadia

Key star: Mayra Ramirez

The attacker goes into the World Cup on the back of a fine domestic season in Spain. She was one of just two players to record double digits in goals (14) and assists (11) -- the other was Real Madrid's Caroline Weir -- to help Levante book a place in next season's Champions League qualifiers. Record cap holder and goalscorer Catalina Usme remains the face of the team in Colombia, but Ramirez is perhaps their most in form player.

Up-and-comer(s) poised for a breakout: Linda Caicedo

In truth, the Real Madrid prodigy has already broken out, but she is ready to announce herself to a larger audience at the World Cup. The exciting 18-year-old forward was named the best player at last year's Copa America, with Colombia losing in the final to Brazil, and is one of the hottest prospects in the women's game right now.

One reason they won't win: Defensive frailties exposed

In Ramirez, Usme and Caicedo, Colombia are always a threat in the final third, but defensively they are not as strong. Clean sheets have been easy to come by in games against South American teams, but France put five past them in April, with Italy also beating them 2-1.

Key stats:

- Just their third WWC appearance, missed out in 2019. They have only one win ever at the WWC (2-1 vs. France in 2015). No CONMEBOL team other than Brazil has ever won more than one WWC match

Realistic chances: Get out of the group

Colombia missed the last World Cup but impressed in 2015, drawing with Mexico, beating France and only losing narrowly to England and the United States. That will be the benchmark this summer: to match their run to the last 16 eight years ago and get out of a group including Germany, South Korea and Morocco. -- Marsden

South Korea flag Team: South Korea

  • Also known as: Taegeuk Ladies/Tigers of Asia

  • FIFA world rank: 17

  • Finish in previous World Cup: Group stage

  • Betting line: +20,000 to win the World Cup

  • Manager: Colin Bell

Key star: Ji So-yun

Remembered for her time with Chelsea, So-yun has been South Korea's world-class midfielder for well over a decade. Playing a different role for her national team -- one that sees her drop deeper to collect the ball as well as helping out with the defensive work -- So-yun is exactly the type of player Korea could do with cloning. Still possessing a killer first touch and ability to shield the ball, the 32-year-old remains at the heart of all that the Taegeuk Ladies do.

Up-and-comer(s) poised for a breakout: Casey Phair

Breaking records as the first ever mixed-race player -- male or female -- to play for a South Korean senior team, Phair is held in high regard by Bell as he has already stated the 16-year-old striker isn't there as "a passenger" but will have a role to play. Although unlikely to start, Phair is indeed a viable option off the bench for Bell and will undoubtedly offer something different, having been brought up in a U.S. soccer environment.

One reason they won't win: Unpredictable group

Expected by most to progress to the last 16, South Korea have been drawn into one of the least predictable and most varied groups (Germany, Colombia and Morocco) with each opposition offering up a different test.

Key stats:

- Just one WWC win in their history (2015 vs. Spain). Their one win at the WWC is tied with Chinese Taipei and Thailand for the fewest among all teams from that confederation
- They have recorded just six goals in their history at the WWC; all of them have been scored by a different player. In 2019 they only scored one goal in three matches, which was tied for the fewest that year
- In their three friendlies leading up to the WWC, Korea Republic had scored 12 goals in three matches, including two of those three games scoring five goals

Realistic chances: Group stage exit

Having come a long way from their 2019 outing that resulted in an early exit after three losses, the team have improved under Bell. And although the proposition is a different one this year, South Korea remain at their best when playing in the comfort of the Asian Cup, tending to struggle with teams from other confederations. -- Lawson