On Saturday evening at 5pm AEDT, the Matildas will discover their draw for the 2023 Women’s World Cup 2023 – and their path to glory at the first ever World Cup, men’s or women’s, to be hosted on Australian soil.
Of course, the showpiece tournament is being shared with New Zealand, where the official draw will take place in front of hundreds of famous faces including Kiwi Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and football greats.
Nine months from now, the Matildas – led by superstar captain Sam Kerr – will kick off their bid for a maiden World Cup crown on July 20 at Sydney Football Stadium.
Tonight, the Matildas discover who that opponent will be, as well as the other two teams they will face in the group stage.
Here’s everything you need to know, and we’ll have all the action covered in a live blog at 5pm.
HOW THE DRAW WORKS
First off, there are 32 teams in the World Cup for the first time, who will be drawn out of four ‘pots’ based on FIFA rankings to create the four-team groups.
As hosts, the Matildas (13th-ranked) and NZ (22) have both been placed in ‘Pot One’ alongside the six top-ranked teams in the world, including two-time reigning champions the United States.
The Matildas have been pre-drawn into Group B, while the Kiwis will lead Group A.
Except for European teams, no nation can be drawn against a team from their own confederation – meaning the Matildas cannot face an Asian team in the group stage (i.e. China, Japan or South Korea in pot two, or Vietnam in pot three)
But that’s little consolation for the Matildas, who could face a whole raft of very tough opponents in their group stage. More on that below.
While 29 teams have been locked in to the tournament, there are three spots still to be decided in a playoff tournament before the competition proper.
The elimination tournament is divided into three groups:
Group A: Cameroon, Thailand, Portugal
Group B: Senegal, Haiti, Chile
Group C: Chinese Taipei, Paraguay, Papua New Guinea, Panama
Each of those groups will be represented by a placeholder in pot four in today’s draw, meaning those sides will know their World Cup destiny should they qualify.
To make things a little more complex (and since the winners of the groups haven’t been decided yet), FIFA will treat Group A’s placeholder as a European team, Group B as a South American Team, and Group C as an Asian/Oceanian team.
That just means that the Matildas and NZ can’t be drawn with the Group C winner.
Women’s World Cup 2023: FULL POTS
Pot one: New Zealand (FIFA ranking 22), Australia (13), United States (1), Sweden (2), Germany (3), England (4), France (5), Spain (6)
Pot two: Canada (7), Netherlands (8), Brazil (9), Japan (11), Norway (12), Italy (14), China (15), South Korea (17)
Pot three: Denmark (18), Switzerland (21), Republic of Ireland (24), Colombia (27), Argentina (29), Vietnam (34), Costa Rica (37), Jamaica (43)
Pot four: Nigeria (45), Philippines (53), South Africa (54), Morocco (76), Zambia (81), playoff Group A winners (Cameroon, Thailand or Portugal), playoff Group B winners (Senegal, Haiti or Chile), playoff Group C winners (Chinese Taipei, Paraguay, Papua New Guinea or Panama)
BEST AND WORSE MATILDAS GROUP SCENARIOS
Since they can’t be drawn against the top-six teams of the world (since they’re also in Pot One), the Matildas’ biggest problem will come from Pot Two.
The Matildas can’t face China or South Korea (since they’re also from the AFC, our region), meaning Italy is the only team ranked lower than the 13th-ranked Matildas.
Italy stunned the Matildas 2-1 at the 2019 World Cup, but the Aussies would back themselves on home soil. The other ‘good’ result would be Brazil, who the Matildas boast a strong record against in major competitions (having faced them at the last two World Cups) and have also played in plenty of friendlies in recent years.
The other Pot Two options are tougher. Canada (7th) beat the Matildas back-to-back last month despite an understrength squad, and are the reigning Olympic champions.
The Netherlands finished second at the last World Cup, but crushed the Australians 5-0 just before the 2019 tournament and have a legion of stars in their team, led by Arsenal gun Vivianne Miedema.
Norway eliminated Australia in the knockout stages in France 2019. They are led by Ada Hegerberg, who won the inaugural women’s Ballon d’Or as the best player in the world in 2018 – and is arguably only getting better. After missing the 2019 World Cup in protest at the Norwegian football federation’s treatment of women, she is back.
Frankly, there’s no ‘great’ result possible from our Pot Two opponent – but Italy or Brazil are probably the best hopes for Australian fans.
Pot Three also throws up some very tricky teams. The top-ranked side in that pot is Denmark (18th) who beat the Matildas last year, but the Australians got revenge earlier this month in a 3-1 win. Ireland (24) also beat the Aussies last year. The best-case scenario is Jamaica, ranked just 43rd, and who the Matildas beat 4-1 back at the 2019 World Cup.
Pot Four is more optimistic reading for the Matildas. The best placed team is Nigeria (45), who won the last three Africa Women’s Cup of Nations titles before losing it this year. The Matildas recently faced South Africa – Banyana Banyana – who won the Cup of Nations this year, with the Australians winning 4-1 a fortnight ago.
Zambia (81) are probably the side the Matildas will be hoping to draw from Pot Four, given it is their first appearance at the World Cup. As far as the playoff teams go, Haiti, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Portugal, and Senegal have never qualified for a World Cup tournament. But Portugal (competing in Group A at the play-in tournament), are ranked 23rd in the world and are a force on the rise. They drew 1-1 with Australia in June, so shouldn’t be written off should we draw them.
WHAT ELSE TO WATCH
Keep an eye out on Group D. If the Matildas finish first in Group B, they will face the runner-up from Group D. If the Matildas finish second in Group B, they will face the winner from that group.
So, for example, if the world number one United States is drawn in Group D, and finish top – which is expected no matter which group the US are in – the Matildas will be desperate to avoid them in their first knockout match.
Having been knocked out at the Round of 16 last tournament, the Matildas will be watching the Group D draw with interest, hoping for a relatively easier potential opponent for the second stage.
Australia vs B2, Sydney Football Stadium, July 20, 2023
Australia vs B3, Brisbane Stadium, July 27, 2023
B4 vs Australia, Melbourne Rectangular Stadium, July 31, 2023