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Reflecting on the Women’s World Cup 2023

PHOTO: The 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup logo.

What words come into your mind when you recall the last World Cup — historic, record-shattering, filled with surprises? But have you considered terms like strength, empowerment, and inspiring?

In case you were unaware, the 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup was jointly hosted by Australia and New Zealand from 20 July to 20 August this year. This year’s tournament was the first to feature an expanded format of 32 teams from the previous 24, replicating the format used for the Men's World Cup since 1998. The format is exactly like that of the Men’s World Cup, starting with eight round-robin groups followed by a knockout round for 16 teams.

Countries that were in this year’s World Cup include:

PHOTO: Infographic of countries participating in the 2023 World Cup in their finalised groups.

As I watched the tournament unfold over the last few weeks of the summer break (+ the first two weeks of school), I remember being absolutely in awe and captivated by just how different the 2023 Women’s World Cup had seemed from the 2019 France Women’s World Cup. As Rory Smith from The New York Times puts it, “The horizons of women’s [football] are both broader and closer than ever before.”

Knowing about the journey some countries had taken on their way to the World Cup had inspired me to write this article. And if this is your very first foray into women’s football, then I feel immensely proud to be able to introduce to you some of the strongest and awe-inspiring teams and women.

Unfortunately, I am unable to talk about every single team aforementioned; otherwise this article would be far too long. Hence, I would just be picking a couple of teams and reflecting on their journey in the tournament.


PHOTO: Spain players celebrate with the trophy after winning the World Cup.

First and foremost, let’s talk about the World Cup winner, Spain.

This is Spain’s very first Women’s World Cup win, and it was achieved with enormous strength and sacrifice from the players.

This article from The New York Times puts it simply:

To win a World Cup, everything usually has to be perfect. The manager and the players have to exist in harmony. The squad has to be in delicate balance: between talent and tenacity, youth and experience, self-belief and self-control. A team needs momentum, and good fortune, and unity. Spain, in the year preceding this year’s Women’s World Cup, had none of those things.

The Spanish national women’s team had struggled with tumultuous challenges. 15 players from the national team had chosen to remove themselves from the squad in protest before the tournament, citing poor treatment from the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) and their coach, Jorge Vilda. Their best player, Alexia Putellas, was still recovering from an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury*.

*An ACL injury is the overstretching or tearing of the ligament in the knee. It usually takes six to nine months to heal well enough for the patient to return to participating in sports.

A thread on X (formerly known as Twitter) details the situation well. The author wrote about the mistreatment under the RFEF and Vilda, detailing the lack of rest, medical assistance, privacy, quality training sessions — the list goes on and on. How much strength do you need to keep working hard, despite all the mistreatment, misogyny, poor tactics, to keep going for training despite everything?

PHOTO: Spain's players stand in a huddle ahead of the 2023 Women's World Cup final football match between Spain and England.

Spain’s performance in the World Cup was not a fluke. Despite the single goal scored in the final, Spain had played really good football throughout the tournament. Spain (FIFA ranking #6) was second in their group during the group stage, and had beaten opponents like Switzerland (FIFA ranking #20), Netherlands (FIFA ranking #9), and Sweden (FIFA ranking #3) 5-1, 2-1, and 2-1 in the knockouts respectively before the final against England (FIFA ranking #4).

Behind each meticulous pass, each brilliant touch, and each genius decision on the field, lies the strength, hard work and sacrifice of each player on the Spanish national women’s team. This strength was what brought them the World Cup. Not Jorge Vilda or Luis Rubiales, the men who dominated the headlines after the Spanish’s victory (for player mistreatment and sexual assault respectively). But instead, it was each individual woman's mental strength in the face of adversity that secured this incredible trophy.


PHOTO: Moroccan players celebrating after the match against Colombia.

Last year in the 2022 Qatar World Cup, the Moroccan men’s national team became the first African country to reach the semi-finals. That is a really high standard for the Moroccan women’s national team to live up to.

But they had exceeded expectations. The 2023 World Cup is the first time the Moroccan women’s national team has managed to qualify for the tournament. Drawn in a group with Colombia (FIFA ranking #25), Germany (FIFA ranking #2), and South Korea (FIFA ranking #17), Morocco (FIFA ranking #72) was the underdog. Nobody had particularly high hopes of them making it out of the group stage.

Incredibly, they did. After facing a 6-0 loss to Germany, Morocco went on to beat South Korea and Colombia 1-0 each, securing their spot in the knockout rounds, while sending the Germans and the South Koreans home.

This brilliant debutant display put up by the Moroccan women’s national team had not only stunned the world and made their nation and compatriots proud, but also became symbols of women’s empowerment in Morocco and among the Muslim / African communities around the world.

PHOTO: Nouhaila Benzina was the first Muslim woman wearing a hijab to play at the World Cup.

Not only that, Moroccan player Nouhaila Benzina also made history as the first Muslim woman wearing a hijab to play at the World Cup. Her wearing the hijab can be viewed as a symbol of empowerment for countless football fans, especially Muslim women, that they belong on the pitch as much as men, despite it seemingly being a male-dominated sport.

Despite getting later knocked out by France in the Round of 16, Morocco shined bright. Their presence and performance in the World Cup was seen as an act of empowerment for Moroccan girls that nothing is impossible.


PHOTO: Brazilian football legend Marta gave girls the hope to dream.

In a country known for its football passion, the Brazilian women's team has challenged stereotypes and created opportunities for young girls aspiring to become football stars. Hope was an especially prominent attribute this team brought with them.

Brazil was knocked out of the 2023 World Cup in the group stage despite being one of the teams who were deemed as the “favourites”. This was a particularly strong blow for the Brazilians as the star of the Brazilian women’s national team, Marta Vieira da Silva, commonly known as Marta, had announced that she would retire from international football after the tournament.

PHOTO: Marta speaks at her press conference before Brazil's game with Jamaica.

In her press conference before Brazil's game with Jamaica, Marta reflected on how she and others had opened doors for women's equality, “When I started playing, I didn't have an idol, a female idol. You guys didn't show any female games,” she said in Portuguese, gesturing to the media. “How was I supposed to see other players? How was I supposed to understand that I could arrive at a national team and become a reference?”

“Today we have our own references,” she said, adding that she is often stopped on the streets by parents who say their daughters want to be just like her. “This wouldn't have happened if we had stopped at the first obstacles that we faced. ... And it didn't start just with me, but with a lot of the women back then.”

As Marta takes her final bow on the international stage, her legacy stands as a testament to the indomitable spirit of women in football and their enduring quest for equality. Despite Brazil’s early farewell in the tournament, she remains a symbol of inspiration and hope for many young girls in both Brazil and internationally, proving that even in the face of adversity, dreams can be achieved and barriers can be shattered.

PHOTO: The FIFA Women’s World Cup trophy next to the official World Cup ball, Adidas Oceaunz.

Countries not mentioned do not mean they did not have an impactful run in the tournament. Each of the teams that had qualified, played, and left their mark on the field in the 2023 World Cup made this tournament a historic one.

Here are some ways the 2023 World Cup had been impactful:

  1. It was the most attended women’s sporting event ever. Over 1.9 million spectators were physically at the tournament.

  2. It was the first Women's World Cup to have its broadcasting rights sold as a standalone product rather than being packaged as a bonus of purchasing broadcasting rights for the Men's World Cup.

  3. It was projected that the entire tournament would have over 2 billion views globally.

  4. Quality of women’s football has improved:

    1. Philippines (FIFA ranking #46) beats New Zealand (FIFA ranking #26)

    2. Morocco (FIFA ranking #72) beats South Korea (FIFA ranking #17) and Colombia (FIFA ranking #25)

    3. Nigeria (FIFA ranking #40) beats Australia (FIFA ranking #10)

    4. South Africa (FIFA ranking #54) beats Italy (FIFA ranking #16)

    5. Zambia (FIFA ranking #77) beats Costa Rica (FIFA ranking #36)

    6. Colombia (FIFA ranking #25) beats Germany (FIFA ranking #2)

PHOTO: A collage of players at the Women’s World Cup 2023.

Looking back at the FIFA Women’s World Cup this year, it is clear that the tournament is about more than just football; it is a testament to the indomitable spirit of women in sports. In every match, in every goal, in every dream, it reflects the progress of a game that belongs to everyone. And it is a reminder that as long as the game is played, the story of empowerment, equality, and inspiration will continue to unfold.

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