2023 Women’s World Cup: 4 things to take away from the tournament

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With the final whistle of the Spain-England Final, the 2023 edition of the Women’s World Cup is in the books. The women’s soccer world saw stunning goals, shocking upsets, and top-quality football throughout the month in co-hosts Australia & New Zealand.

First-time winner Spain knocked off England in a match that all came down to Olga Carmona’s excellent first-half winner. For the past 30 days, all roads led to this final and as we reflect, let’s look at some highs and lows from a thrilling tournament.

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Team Spain celebrates with the trophy after winning the Women’s World Cup soccer final against England at Stadium Australia in Sydney, Australia, Sunday, Aug. 20, 2023. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

Spain had the ending the players deserved

Read that clearly: Spain’s PLAYERS had the ending they rightfully deserved. From a team with well-documented issues around Jorge Vilda’s management to world champions is nothing short of the story of the tournament.

After a frustrating loss in the 2022 Euros, Spanish players confronted their coach Vilda and their soccer federation with several core concerns. The federation responded by publicizing private emails, rebuking the players, and turning subsequent months into a dramatic mess. Fifteen players, including some stars, stepped away from the national team. Playing in Australia were only three of “Las 15“.

The path to women’s professional soccer in Spain is also recent. They didn’t offer a domestic professional league until 2021. They now also hold the under-17, under-20, and senior World Cup titles at the same time.

Defeating England 1-0 showcased the rising stars of the Spanish squad. Aitana Bonmati, Teresa Abelleira, and in particular, 19-year-old Salma Paralluelo are household names for the future. Spain will have them be the building blocks for the next European Championships. But the victory for Spain, the win for Las 15, will not go unnoticed.

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Spain’s Olga Carmona celebrates after scoring the opening goal during the final of Women’s World Cup soccer between Spain and England at Stadium Australia in Sydney, Australia, Sunday, Aug. 20, 2023. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)

The USWNT isn’t alone on the top of the pyramid anymore

Before the angry comments come, this was the earliest exit for the U.S. women’s national team at any Women’s World Cup. With four titles under their belt, they’ve been a dominant force for a long time in the sport. But in recent tournaments since the 2019 World Cup title, it’s been a rocky road.

Head coach Vlatko Andonovski’s decision to resign is a snapshot of a group where nothing jelled as it needed to on the pitch. Players performed badly, tactics were haphazard and younger talent like Sophia Smith was not protected in difficult games. The aftermath of leaving in the knockout round can be fixed by making smart decisions–starting with appointing a better-suited coach–but the truth is laid bare.

American dominance is waning.

Many nations have made huge strides in quality, both on and off the pitch. Three African teams qualified for the knockout stages as Nigeria, South Africa, and Morocco showed immense strides for their women’s federations. Japan, while knocked out in the quarterfinals, had a Golden Boot winner in midfielder Hinata Miyazawa.

The women’s sport is growing and this edition of the World Cup showed it’s only going to go up from here.

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United States’ players react after losing their Women’s World Cup round of 16 soccer match against Sweden in a penalty shootout in Melbourne, Australia, Sunday, Aug. 6, 2023. (AP Photo/Hamish Blair)

Goalkeepers taking center stage

There was no shortage of amazing goals in this tournament (Colombia’s Linda Caicedo with her unreal goal against Germany) but even bigger were the goals that were saved. It’s been suggested that female goalkeepers need to have the goals made smaller.

Women like England’s Mary Earps, the Netherlands’ Daphne van Domselaar, and Australia’s Mackenzie Arnold won player-of-the-match awards. Earps even took home the Golden Glove Award. USWNT’s goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher also had memorable performances during the tournament. But there was no doubt Sweden’s Zećira Mušović had the best goalkeeping performance of the tournament. In her game against the U.S., she made 11 saves over 120 minutes in their last-16 tie

The huge stakes and increased prize money at this Women’s World Cup have moved national teams to put more emphasis on making sure their keepers are as prepared as possible. A good goalkeeper can keep you in the game (Example A: Naeher and the USWNT).

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England’s goalkeeper Mary Earps blocks a penalty shot from Spain’s Jennifer Hermoso during the Women’s World Cup soccer final between Spain and England at Stadium Australia in Sydney, Australia, Sunday, Aug. 20, 2023. (AP Photo/Mark Baker)

Honoring the old guard

For many women across their national teams, this is their last World Cup. USWNT’s Megan Rapinoe and Julie Ertz, Brazil’s Marta, and likely Canada’s Christine Sinclair are hanging up their cleats in their World Cup careers.

Marta expressed that while it’s the end of the road for her, the future has made strides.

“When I started there were no idols in women’s football. How could there be if you didn’t show women’s football? How could I understand that I would reach the national team and become a reference point? Twenty years ago, nobody knew who Marta was at my first World Cup. Twenty years later, we have become a reference for many women all over the world, not only in football.”

Marta, 8/1/23

Also ousted early were powerhouses like two-time champions Germany, 1995 winners Norway, and France’s Les Bleues. But women like Colombia’s Linda Caicedo, Spain’s Aitana Bonmati, and France’s Kadidiatou Diani will step into the spotlight.

The host Matildas, lead by Sam Kerr, is also going to be part of the future. African and Caribbean nations are seeing more demand for girls’ youth soccer and better funding for their national women’s teams.

32 years later, the future of the Women’s World Cup is going to be in good hands.

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Canada’s Christine Sinclair leaps over Nigeria’s goalkeeper Chiamaka Nnadozie after trying to follow up on a penalty kick during the Women’s World Cup Group B soccer match between Nigeria and Canada in Melbourne, Australia, Friday, July 21, 2023. (AP Photo/Victoria Adkins)

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Mandatory Credit: AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino