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Shock and Amazement as the 2023 Women's World Cup Moves to the Knockout Round

By Lord Castleton | TV | August 4, 2023 |

By Lord Castleton | TV | August 4, 2023 |


The 2023 WWC has been nothing if not dramatic. The frequency of upsets has just about doubled since the last World Cup and scoring is way down. What that means is both positive and (slightly) negative for the women’s game.

Let’s start with the ‘negatives,’ for lack of a better term, most of which are taking their cues directly from the men’s game. Teams are realizing the outsized value of generating true scoring changes while limiting those of your opponent and doing it at all costs. Thus, there’s considerably more diving this time around. That was a big draw for me in the past: the feeling that the women’s game was physically more resilient than the men’s. Diving became de rigueur for the men and now we’re starting to see more of that in the women’s game, which I certainly understand, statistically, but it’s kind of a bummer.

The teams are pretty handsy and the quality of officiating hasn’t kept up with it. I’ve watched every match and seen some games get out of control. Players will just pull opponents down with a full body tackle in the opening minutes of a match because they know the referees are reticent to start handing out cards from the get-go. The Italy vs Argentina match was one of the most frustrating soccer games I’ve ever watched because of the combination of grabbing and diving on both sides.

Scoring is down. That’s actually a good thing in terms of the quality of play and a good thing for the sport but it’s less fun for fans. The margins have tightened so much that even the worst teams know how to operate the low block and keep better teams from scoring. That means more 0-0 draws, which are fine and are part of the sport, but certainly less entertaining.

Now for the good:

Everyone is better, which means more parity and more excitement. Gone are the days with a ranked team trouncing an upstart. The #1 ranked US team played a Vietnam team where only one player had ever even played outside of Vietnam and they could only manage two goals. It’s up for debate whether or not the credit for that lies in the Vietnam, defense or the lack of an American attack, but across the whole tournament, teams are better.

Africa is rising. For the first time in WWC history, Africa sends three teams to the knockout round: Nigeria, South Africa and Morocco. I can’t overstate how amazing this is for both the continent of Africa and the world of women’s soccer. This means more role models for the next generation of African players and more respect for all of those programs. It’s so wonderful to see.

Favorites have been sent packing. The upsets are so astounding I can barely accept it. World #2 Germany is out, as is world #8 Brazil. World #1 USA probably should be out after surviving a beating at the hands of 21st-ranked Portugal, but for a fortuitous shot off the post. Spain, a tremendous team and in my mind the favorite to win it all, got smoked by a Japan side 4-0 despite controlling play the entire game. They’re still in it thanks to other victories but holy mackerel that was a wake up call.

The Decline of the USWNT. I wrote last November about the US women losing three games in a row for the first time since 1993. The writing was on the wall, but even then I was still hopeful about the cycle and the ‘unmatched’ depth of the US program. That said, the 2023 squad bears little resemblance to the storied sides of the past. I’ll go into more detail in my final WWC roundup, but I think it’s probably safe to say that the US will likely have a new coach after this aimless, toothless outing. (Fingers crossed for Laura Harvey).

Let’s take a quick look at the 16 teams in the knockout stage.

Switzerland vs Spain

This is one of the matches I’m most looking forward to. Spain should take it, but they’re separately missing all-world defender Mapi Leon who sat out in protest.

Japan vs Norway

Another amazing matchup. Japan has been the best team in the tournament so far and their decision to have a youth movement (not a single player over 30) has shown up in fresh legs, inspired passing and laser-sharp finishing. Norway, though, is no slouch. Their lineup is a who’s who of professional players and if they can use their height advantage on set pieces, they might pull past this ascending Japanese side.

Netherlands vs South Africa

I thought the Dutch looked timid in their first game and then trepidation vs America, but they crushed Vietnam 7-0 in the last game and they’re finding their stride at exactly the right time. South Africa has been a Cinderella story and shown great team chemistry. I doubt they have the overall juice to blast past the Netherlands but in this World Cup? You never know.

Sweden vs USA

This is obviously the biggest match here in America but the whole world will be watching. I can’t stress enough how on fire Swedish set-piece maven Amanda Ilestedt is right now. She’s a 5’ 10” defender who comes up on corner kicks and outjumps everyone. The USWNT is in a shambles right now and I’d imagine that most people are counting them out based on their play thus far, but sometimes when an animal is at bay, they fight the hardest.

England vs Nigeria

England always comes out flatfooted in tourneys. They opened the 2022 Euros with a blah game and then improved until they won the whole damn thing. I see that happening here as well. They’re getting their sea legs and knowing that they sidestapped a potentially disastrous injury to superstar 6 Keira Walsh will invigorate a very dangerous side. The Super Falcons will do everything they can to stem that attack from the Lionesses, and they’ve played impressive football so far, but it will be an uphill battle from the opening whistle.

Australia vs Denmark

Australian superstar Sam Kerr was heaving with tears when she injured her calf in warmups the day before the Matildas’ opener. But the team persevered and willed their way out of a touch-and-go group. Now Kerr is back, and eager to show the world why many consider her the prime scoring threat on the planet. #13 Denmark is only ranked 3 spots behind #10 Australia, but it’ll be tough sledding in front of those home crowds.

Colombia vs Jamaica

I could write about 10k words about how great it is for Women’s Soccer that this match is taking place, but suffice it to say that it’s going to be a true battle. Neither team pulls any punches and they both have an imposing centerpiece of their attack. For Jamaica it’s Bunny Shaw and for Colombia it’s Mayra Ramirez. I think, though, that the real matchup will come down to Colombia’s 18 year old sniper Linda Caicedo vs Jamaica’s goalkeeper Rebecca Spencer, who has yet to give up a single goal in the tournament.

France vs Morocco

Watching the Moroccan team celebrate when Germany was knocked out was one of the more heartwarming moments of the tournament. That said, yikes is this a tough draw. France came out very underwhelming and since then has really found their footing. I imagine that if they keep it up, Morocco will be joining Germany on the plane home soon.

I have so many more storylines to explore and I can’t wait to do it in the final round up. Until then, enjoy the games everyone!