The journey to the final three teams that will secure their tickets for the biggest footballing event of the year starts this weekend. Ten teams will compete to be part of the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, through the FIFA inter-confederation playoffs.
Here at The Equalizer, we give you an overview of the teams and players, so you can watch the games knowing what to expect and who to pay attention to.
Let’s start with the teams from AFC. Chinese Taipei earned a second place finish in Group A of the AFC Women’s Cup that took them to the knockout stage. However, they were eliminated on penalties against the Philippines after drawing 1-1. Scoring is a concern. Of the 11 goals they scored between the Women’s Asian Cup and the EAFF E-1 Football Championship, eight of them where against Iran (5-0 win) and Thailand (3-0 win). Chinese Taipei has conceded 12 in their last four games, including four against South Korea and Japan, each.
A 2-0 defeat against Thailand in a friendly last month isn’t the most encouraging start for 2023. Chinese Taipei qualified for the playoffs using a 5-4-1 system, but changed to a 4-4-2 during the latter months of last year. Their lineup against stronger opposition on paper in Paraguay is a mystery.
Su Yu-Hsuan is their main threat on attack, with three goals during the main tournaments after 13 shots — the maximum for their team. Meanwhile, Zhuo Li-Ping is one of the most creative players.
After qualifying in 2019, Thailand wants to repeat the feat. As mentioned, they played in January a friendly against Chinese Taipei, but before that they registered two defeats: 0-3 against the Philippines and a respectable 0-2 against Australia. Tactically, Thailand is another team that has become adept to play a 4-4-2 on recent months.
Against other Asian opposition they are more than capable of find a way to the back of the net, scoring against teams like Malaysia or Myanmar, but the defensive side when it comes to tougher opposition is the main concern. They’re not a team made for winning duels and the clash against a more physical side like Cameroon could be an uphill battle.
In the absence of Kanjana Sung-Ngoen, the only Thai player to score in a WWC, Silawan Intamee may be one of the brightest spots in this squad.
Another of the teams that were present four years ago at France, Cameroon punched their ticket to the Round of 16 after a tense game against New Zealand in 2019. Now, they will have to overcome Thailand if they want to get to the final match against Portugal for a ticket to Australia and New Zealand.
They have incredible talent in every line, including Ajara Nchout, Gabrielle Onguené, Estelle Johnson and Michaela Abam. On paper, Cameroon is a heavy favorite, at least in the first match.
However, they’re a mercurial bunch, capable of winning against Tunisia, but losing against Nigeria. Two of their three goalkeepers — Cathy Biya and Marthe Ongmahan — are not in professional leagues, but Cameroon has more than capable firepower up-top.
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One of the teams on the rise in Africa is Senegal. They reached the quarterfinals in the Women’s African Cup of Nations for the first time in 2022 — in their second participation after 2012 — and won the West African Cup without a defeat. Senegal is an interesting team, with mostly local talent.
A characteristic of this team is their grit on defense: they lost to Morocco only by one goal (0-1), drew to Zambia (1-1) and Tunisia (0-0), all while winning more duels both on ground and aerially than their rivals.
Only five players of Senegal play in another country (France), but none of them are professional. It will be a very interesting platform for any of them to shine in the inter-confederation playoffs.
Another team on the verge of history is Haiti. They incredible 3-0 win against México put them in a great spot during the Concacaf W Championship, which secure them a place during this playoff.
They are a fearless team, going for the high-line, high-press when possible, but also terrific at the counter. Haiti’s adaptability is one of their biggest strengths. Despite the similarity on paper, they’re more than able to switch from a 4-2-3-1 to a 4-3-3 or a 4-4-2 if needed (like in the Concacaf tournament). Their 0-5 defeat in November against Jamaica might be discouraging, but Jamaica is a team that powered through the North American tournament.
It goes without saying that Melchie Dumornay can cement her status as one of the brightest young stars but more experienced, and equally threatening, Roselord Borgella is not one to overlook.
Second time might be the charm for Panama, after falling short against Argentina for a ticket to France in 2019. Las Canaleras have achieved interesting results interesting, like a 1-1 draw against Ecuador, a 3-1 win against Venezuela and a 3-1 win against fellow playoff team, Chile.
Panama is another team that is not afraid to switch formations if needed, with very versatile players at disposal. A 5-4-1 setup got them a narrow defeat against Canada in the Concacaf Championship but can go for a more daring 4-3-3 if the opposition is, on paper, on the weaker side.
Wendy Natis is a strong defender that comes on the back of great performance at the Copa Libertadores with Deportivo Cali. Meanwhile, Lineth Cedeño, at only 22, is part of Sampdoria in Serie A, while Karla Riley and Marta Cox are part of a backbone with experience at Liga MX Femenil with Cruz Azul and Pachuca, respectively.
After getting the lead in the Copa América third place game against Argentina, they were unable to keep the advantage and fell short of the automatic qualification. Now, with more experience both on and off the pitch, Paraguay might surprise some.
Head coach Marcello Frigerio has experience in Brazil and Italy and is an astute coach who can throw changes early in games if needed. One of the keys of Paraguay are their set pieces: they scored two times from direct free kicks during the last Copa América, being the only team to do so. For this, they have excellent shooters: Fany Gauto from Inter of Porto Alegre, Limpia Fretes from Avai, and on top of that one of the best goalkeepers in South America in Alicia Bobadilla, ex-San Lorenzo that was just transferred to Palmeiras.
However they main star is their number 10, Jessica Martinez, one of the top strikers at Sevilla in Liga F, scoring five goals this season so far.
Some might be surprised to see Chile in the playoffs, but truth be told, they have issues within an aging squad and a coach that seems a bit afraid to threw young talent into the mix.
However, some starlets are ready, should he choose to play them: Valentina Navarrete and Ambar Figueroa from Santiago Morning, and Sonya Keefe, now playing in Spain. Nonetheless, some stalwarts like goalkeeper Christiane Endler, Carla Guerrero, Francisca Lara or Camila Saez are main stays in this squad.
If Chile can find dynamism in their play and move the ball quickly instead of just having possession (second highest average during the last Copa América with 56%, only behind winners Brazil), we may see some of that exciting team that caught us in 2019.
Papua Nueva Guinea
The winners of the OFC Women’s Nations Cup are looking to add a third Oceanic team in their regional World Cup.
Not a lot of information is available on this team heading to the playoffs: they had two very heavy defeats in December against the Philippines (5-1 and 9-0) that might put them in the back seat in terms of favoritism for this tournament.
There’s not one player from this team that is doing their trade abroad, so it really is a case of a surprise, at least, in this tournament.
Finally, the UEFA representative. Looking for a first participation in the Women’s World Cup after a more than respectable EUROs — at least playing wise rather than results with a tough draw — Portugal is gonna attempt to put to paper what they’ve been doing improving their league.
One of the main things to Portugal to improve is their stability: they have drew or lost games that they were winning, but also coming back from disadvantages. If they can strike a balance — Portugal has picked up wins against Belgium and Costa Rica in the last few months — they can keep going up the ladder in women’s football.
Former National Women’s Soccer League striker Jessica Silva is part of this team that is mix of Benfica, Braga and Sporting. Diana Silva (five goals and four assists) is one of the more interesting players to watch.
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