What Have We Learned After The First Set Of Group Stage Matches At The 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup?
All teams have officially played their first games at this year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup and what a series of games it has been.
While teams begin playing their second games of the tournament, let’s take a dive into what’s happened so far.
Top Teams Off To A Shaky Start
One thing is evident, no one is safe and fans should expect the unexpected.
Top teams like Norway, England, Australia and France all faced difficult opening matches against teams they were expected to beat on paper. Whilst this can be put down to first-game jitters, the teams looked shaky and left fans with concerns.
Norway lost 1-0 to co-hosts New Zealand as they struggled to get their superstar players Ade Hegeberg and Guro Reiten into the game and lacked the energy to convert goals.
Meanwhile, New Zealand put on an impressive performance across the field and a great goal from Hannah Wilkinson gave them their first-ever World Cup win.
England secured a slim 1-0 victory to Haiti thanks to Georgia Stanway who converted her penalty at the second attempt.
Haiti really blocked midfield magician Keira Walsh out of the game and displayed a disciplined defence and energetic counter-attack which left Mary Earps with a big save to make in the last few minutes.
Australia had a similar slim victory thanks to a penalty taken by captain Steph Catley who had to step into the role following an injury to star striker Sam Kerr.
The team seemed to really miss Kerr and Ireland pounced on this opportunity putting on a stellar performance with real intensity that gave the co-hosts a run for their money.
Also ranked amongst tournament favourites, France came out of the first game with a 0-0 draw to Jamaica. The Reggae Girlz played a stunning defensive game, stopping any flow in France’s attacks whilst also creating promising chances themselves.
The Prominent Role Of VAR
2019 was the first-ever Women’s World Cup to feature VAR in every game but it has perhaps been more noticeable this time around.
A historic moment occurred during the first game of this tournament between Norway and New Zealand where the referee announced the VAR decision to the crowd, the first of many.
This novelty soon wore off as fans saw referees in the first seven games turn to VAR and ultimately rule a penalty kick.
Some of the top teams, as mentioned above, only won their games thanks to VAR’s decision to award them a penalty. Teams including Australia and England secured their 1-0 opening game victories thanks to a kick from the spot.
It is becoming a prominent feature of this tournament and it will be interesting to see how VAR and penalty kicks might shape upcoming games as the tournament advances.
The Dreaded Three Letters: ACL
Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) injuries already pre-cursed this tournament, ending the World Cup dreams of big stars including Leah Williamson, Beth Mead, Vivianne Miedema, Catarina Macario and Delphine Cascarino just to name a few.
It took commentators all of five minutes into the first match to comment on the significant impact that this season-ending injury has had on the tournament and on players’ World Cup dreams.
However, it continues to haunt the tournament with Haiti’s Jennyfer Limage going down just half an hour into their opening game against England.
Limage was brought into the starting line-up due to another ACL injury in the squad and it is a huge knock to the Haiti side where Limage slots into a defensive midfield role.
However, Haiti kept pushing and will continue to push on and they showed real determination in their 1-0 defeat to England and can pose an unexpected threat to other teams.
This is hopefully the first and last ACL injury of this tournament, but it certainly made everyone stop and think about the already monumental impact that this injury has had on this year’s tournament.
Injuries are unfortunately a part of sport but this level of injury is unusual and it is clear that more research needs to be carried out.
To continue to put on top-level professional games requires top-level and professional medical support that can spot the early risk factors and mitigate them so that every elite athlete can have a chance of playing at the pinnacle of their sport.
Opening group stage matches were definitely exciting and left fans not knowing what to expect.
Things move quickly in tournament football and the second batch of group games is already underway.
We’ve already seen plenty more of VAR making some critical decisions and have seen some big upsets and uncertainty surrounding top teams including co-hosts Australia who fell to Nigeria in an edge-of-your-seat game that saw the Super Falcons win 3-2.
It is certainly gearing up to be a thrilling tournament of twists and turns.