Focus on 2023 Women’s World Cup with First Qualifying Draw
The Men's 2022 World Cup tournament in Qatar is on the horizon and, being one of the most popular events on the planet, is dominating the news. The qualifiers have begun for all confederations but one, Oceania. With just over a year and a half to go, the world is waiting to see which teams will make the 32 spots available at the 2022 competition. The wait has been especially more poignant due to the turbulent times in which the qualifiers have been played out. The coronavirus pandemic over the last year and a half has thrown the football world into disarray. Leagues and tournaments at all levels and across all continents have been cancelled or postponed, wreaking havoc on football calendars. For each confederation, the 2022 World Cup qualifiers have been interrupted or delayed, with some forced to reformat their competitions to ensure matches are concluded in time for the big event. The drama unfolding during this time has undoubtedly grabbed its fair share of the limelight.
Meanwhile, at the end of April, UEFA's 2023 Women's World Cup qualifying draw took place, mapping out Europe's way forward to the ladies tournament. Draw's for the AFC and CONCACAF qualifiers won't be far behind - the first qualifying tournaments begin in just over four months, September 2021. With the Cup kick-off in just over two years, Europe's draw is an important milestone in the tournament's countdown and begins this increasingly popular competition's journey into the spotlight. Hopefully, with COVID-19 vaccines now in circulation, the Women's World Cup will enjoy an easier passage to the starting whistle with more focus on the event than a global pandemic!
The Story So Far...
On June 25th 2020, Australia and New Zealand were announced joint hosts of the Women's World Cup 9th Edition. The joint win sees the Cup for the first time hosted in multiple countries and across multiple confederations (the AFC and the Oceania Football Confederation - OFC). It will also be the first time the tournament has been held in the Southern Hemisphere and the first edition to pit 32 teams against each other - before the 2023 competition, the 2015 and 2019 events were played with just 24 squads. The team expansion comes on the back of the ever-increasing popularity of the women's tournament and FIFA's desire to grow and expand the ladies game on a global scale.
Since the bid was awarded, the host cities and venues have been confirmed, the competition format established, and qualifying tournaments acknowledged.
Host Cities and Stadiums
Australia will host the 2023 event across five of its major cities - Sydney, Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne and Perth. Six stadiums will entertain teams and spectators, including Sydney's Stadium Australia, which, with a capacity of 83,500, will host the tournament final on August 20th. New Zealand will organise the competition across four cities and four stadiums. Auckland's Eden Park Stadium will host up to 50,000 fans at each match played on its pitch, including the opening game on July 10th. Smaller stadiums in Dunedin (South Island), Hamilton and Wellington (North Island) will also host multiple games.
As hosts of the 2023 Women's World Cup, Australia and New Zealand automatically qualify for the competition. All other teams must enter through their respective football confederation's qualifying tournaments - each confederation has been pre-allocated a set number of slots for the 2023 tournament.
Of the 32 places available (30 considering the co-host slots), the following quota has been allocated to each confederation:
- Asian Football Confederation (AFC) - 5 slots (plus 1 host slot for Australia)
- Confederation of African Football (CAF) - 4 slots
- Confederation of North America, Central America and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) - 4 slots
- South American Football Confederation (CONMEBOL) - 3 slots
- Oceania Football Confederation (OFC): 0 slots (1 host slot for New Zealand)
- Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) - 11 slots
The final 3 slots are decided via intercontinental playoffs - to be held in Australia and New Zealand as a test event. Runners-up team's from the confederation qualifiers - two each from the AFC, CAF, CONCACAF and CONMEBOL and one from both the OFC and UEFA - will battle it out for the last three places. The playoff competition will draw the ten teams into three groups (two groups of three and one group of four), each group playing a straight knockout round with the winner of each going forward to the World Cup.
The 2023 tournament will open with a Group Stage consisting of eight groups of four teams playing in a round-robin format. The top two teams from each group will progress to a knockout tournament starting with a Round of 16 and moving on through Quarter-Finals (8 squads) and Semis (4 squads) to the Final.
Each confederation will hold its own qualifying tournament to decide which teams go forward to the World Cup Group Stage. In general, the qualifiers follow well-established systems that essentially boil down to national group stages and playoffs.
The AFC's Asian Women's Cup serves as its qualifying tournament. Teams compete in the qualifying round of the event for eight places in the Group Stage. 2022's hosts India automatically qualify, as do the top three 2018 AFC Women's Asian Cup, Japan, Australia and China.
The Group Stage consists of twelve teams drawn into three groups of four teams. The top two teams from each group and the top-two third best teams qualify for the Quarter-Finals. The top five teams will go forward to the World Cup via the Knockout Stage, while two more teams will head to the intercontinental playoffs.
The AFC's qualifying tournament will kick-off on September 13th, 2021 and run until February 6th, 2022.
The 2022 Africa Women Cup of Nations doubles as CAF's qualifying tournament for the 2023 Women's World Cup. Twelve teams will, through the qualifying rounds, be allocated places in the competitions Knockout Stage - Morocco automatically qualifies for the event as hosts of the 2022 edition. The top four teams will head to the World Cup via the Knockout Stage, while two more teams will contest the intercontinental playoffs.
CAF will hold their qualifiers in 2022, either beginning in July or October and concluding in August or November.
CONCACAF's 2022 Women's Championship tournament will also serve as the 2023 Women's World Cup qualifiers. In the Group Stage, an estimated thirty teams will be drawn into six groups of five, playing single round-robin matches (two home and two away). The six winning teams, plus CONCACAF's two highest-ranked teams, Canada and the United States, will play in the Knockout Stage.
The eight teams in the Knockouts will be drawn into two groups of four and will play single round-robin matches. The top two teams in each group will advance to the Semis, with the winning teams contesting the Final. The competition will provide four top teams for the 2023 World Cup, while two more teams will head to the intercontinental playoffs.
The CONCACAF qualifiers are set to start in November 2021 and will run until July 2022.
CONMEBOL's 2022 Copa América Femenina will provide its members with the pathway to the 2023 Women's World Cup. Ten teams are eligible to enter. Though the competition format for this upcoming edition has yet to be revealed, the tournament will provide three direct qualifying places and two playoff places for the World Cup event.
The 2022 Copa America will either begin in July or October and conclude in August or November the same year.
The 2022 OFC Women's Nation's Cup will serve as the World Cup qualification route for its members. Eleven teams will enter the tournament, and the winner will qualify for the intercontinental playoffs. The OFC's only allocated slot for 2023 has been filled by New Zealand's automatic qualification for the tournament as hosts.
Having moved the Women's Nation's Cup twice due to the pandemic, the OFC has rescheduled their qualifiers to kick-off in June 2022. The tournament is scheduled to run for one month only.
The qualifying tournament for European entry to the 2023 World Cup is designed specifically for the event. UEFA's 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup Qualification tournament incorporates a Group Stage and Playoffs. The Group Stage will see 51 teams drawn into nine groups of five or six squads. Each group will play in a home and away round-robin competition. The top team from each group will qualify for the big event. The nine runners-up will head to the qualification playoffs. From there, the top two teams will advance to the World Cup, and the third-best team will have another chance at the intercontinental playoffs.
UEFA’s qualifying tournament will begin on September 13th, 2021 and will be concluded on October 11th, 2022.
The Intercontinental Playoffs are scheduled for February 2023.
European Qualifiers - Draw Results
The draw for the 2023 Women’s World Cup European qualifiers is now complete. Fifty-one teams have been split into nine groups (A to I) - six groups of six teams and three groups of five:
- Group A: Sweden, Finland, Republic of Ireland, Slovakia, Georgia
- Group B: Spain, Scotland, Ukraine, Hungary, Faroe Islands
- Group C: Netherlands, Iceland, Czech Republic, Belarus, Cyprus
- Group D: England, Austria, Northern Ireland, North Macedonia, Latvia, Luxembourg
- Group E: Denmark, Russia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Azerbaijan, Malta, Montenegro
- Group F: Norway, Belgium, Poland, Albania, Kosovo, Armenia
- Group G: Italy, Switzerland, Romania, Croatia, Moldova, Lithuania
- Group H: Germany, Portugal, Serbia, Israel, Turkey, Bulgaria
- Group I: France, Wales, Slovenia, Greece, Kazakhstan, Estonia
While some groups might seem more challenging than others, all groups have a top and bottom-ranked team within them; there will be no easy rides. Each squad will be looking to gain as many points as possible in every game to secure one of the eleven slots available to European teams in 2023. From now until the qualifying tournament kick-off in September, coaches and managers will be busily mapping out their 'winning' strategies based on the teams within their group, their history with those teams and the stand out opponent players. And, players will be working on their fitness, teamwork and techniques. It's game on for 2023.
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