The ninth edition of FIFA Women’s World Cup gets underway in Auckland on Thursday as co-hosts New Zealand take on Norway.
Between July 20 and August 20, 32 teams will compete across 64 matches at 10 different venues, making this year’s tournament the biggest yet.
That US Women’s National Team (USWNT) arrives as the two-time defending champion and unquestionable favorite to win an unprecedented third consecutive title and a record-extending fifth.
However, many expect this year’s World Cup to be a much closer contest compared to previous editions, especially with European nations closing the gap on the high-flying US team.
As kick-off approaches, here’s everything you need to know ahead of the tournament.
For the first time ever, the Women’s World Cup will be held in two countries: Australia and New Zealand. It is also the first to be held in the southern hemisphere.
Matches will be held at six stadiums in Australia – in Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth, Melbourne and Sydney – and four in New Zealand – in Dunedin, Auckland, Hamilton and Wellington.
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Sydney Football Stadium will host six Women’s World Cup matches.
The final is set to be held at Sydney’s 81,500 capacity Stadium Australia.
Last month, ticket sales for the tournament overtook the previous edition held in France, making this probably the most attended standalone women’s sporting event in history, according to governing body FIFA.
More than a million tickets had been sold in June, but the majority of them had been bought for matches in Australia. Ticket sales in New Zealand have been less welcoming, which a FIFA official has attributed to the sport’s lower profile in the country.
In the US, games will be broadcast on FOX Sports, while Telemundo will provide Spanish-language coverage.
The Seven Network and Optus Sport broadcast matches in Australia, and the BBC and ITV have the rights in the UK.
A full list of media rights holders in each country is available at FIFA website.
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Australia face the Republic of Ireland at Stadium Australia in Sydney on Thursday.
A record 32 teams will participate in the World Cup, eight more than the previous two editions.
It includes some familiar faces – the United States, two-time champions Germany, European champions England and 2019 runners-up the Netherlands – as well as eight teams making their debuts: Haiti, Morocco, Panama, Philippines, Portugal, Republic of Ireland, Vietnam and Zambia.
According to sports data firm Gracenote, the USA is the favorite to win the tournament with an 18% chance of success.
However, this year’s edition looks set to be a tighter affair, with Sweden and Germany each given an 11% chance of winning from Gracenote, France a nine percent chance, and England, Spain and Australia all having an eight percent chance.
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Alex Morgan watches the ball during a match between Wales and the USWNT in San Jose, California, this month.
This broadly mirrors the FIFA women’s rankings, which currently have the USA, Germany, Sweden, England and France as the top five teams in the world.
You can see Gracenote’s knockout round predictions, including a predicted final between USA and Germany, here.
There are eight groups of four teams, with the top two from each group progressing to the round of 16.
Republic of Ireland
Australia and Chelsea forward Sam Kerr will live up to the expectations of a nation as the star player for the Matildas and the team’s top scorer with 62 goals.
This tournament is likely to present Australia’s best chance of progressing past the quarter-finals of a Women’s World Cup for the first time, and captain Kerr is at the heart of the home nation’s big ambitions.
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Sam Kerr celebrates scoring for Chelsea against Manchester City last year.
For some veterans of the women’s game, this tournament will mark the end of an era. Brazilian superstar Martha37, is set to end her international career after scoring a record 17 Women’s World Cup goals, while the USWNT’s Megan Rapinoe has also announced that she is retiring after what will be her fourth and final World Cup.
At 34, Alex Morgan is also among the senior players in the American squad and is joined by young forwards Trinity RodmanSophia Smith and Alyssa Thompsonall of whom are looking to make an impression on their World Cup debut.
Spain’s Alexia Putellas is a back-to-back Ballon d’Or Féminin winner – awarded to the best player in the women’s game – and earlier this year made a comeback from a anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury..
Two other Barcelona stars – England midfielder Keira Walsh and the Nigerian striker Asisat Oshoala – will both be crucial to their nations’ chances as well.
Ada Hegerbergthe initiation The 2018 Ballon d’Or Féminin winner is part of a talented Norwegian squad alongside Caroline Graham Hansen, while Wendie Renard (France), Pernille Harder (Denmark) and Alexandra Popp (Germany) are all expected to feature prominently for their countries.
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Marta starred for Brazil in a SheBelieves Cup match against Japan earlier this year.
The same injury is preventing some of the biggest names in the women’s game from competing at the World Cup this year.
Holland’s all-time leading women’s scorer Vivianne Miedema, England captain Leah Williamson and her teammate Beth Mead are all set to miss the tournament with ACL injuries.
Also on the ACL injury list are USWNT star Cat Macario, Germany’s Giulia Gwinn and Swiss teenager Iman Beney.
The ACL is one of the main ligaments inside the knee that helps stabilize the joint by connecting the thigh and tibia. Tearing an ACL is one of the most serious injuries an athlete can suffer, but the situation, as this year’s World Cup absentee list will attest, is particularly common in women’s soccer.
Also missing the World Cup are USWNT captain Becky Sauerbrunn, who suffered a foot injury, and international teammate Mallory Swanson, who tore the patellar tendon in her knee last month.
FIFA has announced that prize money for the tournament will increase to $110 million. Another $31 million has been allocated to teams for preparations and $11 million to clubs for their players.
The $110 million in prize money is nearly triple the 2019 figure and almost seven times more than in 2015, but still significantly lower than the total prize money of $440 million awarded at the men’s World Cup in Qatar last year.
FIFA president Gianni Infantino said earlier this year that he hopes the 2026 and 2027 men’s and women’s World Cups will have equal prize money.