The 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup group stage made a mockery of predictions. Ultimately, the only group that went roughly according to plan was D: England finished top with maximum points, followed by Denmark on six, China on three and Haiti on zero. In every other group, there was at least one shock result.
The two traditional powerhouses, the United States and Germany — who, combined, won six of the previous eight World Cups — failed to top their group. Germany failed to make it out of their group altogether, alongside Brazil, Canada and Italy. Their places in the last 16 were taken, against the odds, by Morocco, Jamaica, Nigeria and South Africa.
This is the World Cup of surprises, and it has underlined the expansion to 32 teams as a positive thing. Of the eight fourth-seed teams, those ranked the lowest and those who qualified through the inter-confederation playoffs, only two went home winless: Panama and Haiti. And three of the pot four teams haven’t gone home at all: Morocco, Nigeria and South Africa.
Any fears about the biggest World Cup yet meaning a first round of one-sided demolitions were proven to be off the mark. Expansion also meant getting rid of best third-placed teams qualifying for the knockout rounds, a move which has added real jeopardy. In previous versions, Brazil and Germany would have reached the next stage despite being underwhelming.
Now, there is no safety net for underperformance.
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