The 2023 Women’s World Cup is well underway, with New Zealand and Australia kicking off their campaigns off with wins on home soil in an action-packed opening day.
Those wins mean that the co-hosts are top of their respective groups, but could the standings change on Friday?
Switzerland face debutants the Philippines with the hope of usurping New Zealand at the top of Group A, while reigning Olympic champions Canada take on Nigeria with both teams aiming to replace the Matildas in Group B.
There is also a chance that we could see the first major upset of the tournament as Group C begins when Spain face underdogs Costa Rica.
Nigeria v Canada
Group B | Melbourne | 03:30 BST | BBC
After Australia kicked off proceedings in Group B with a win over the Republic of Ireland, Nigeria and Canada are up next, competing in their ninth and eighth World Cup finals, respectively.
Playing in her sixth tournament, Canada’s veteran captain Christine Sinclair said her side should not be underestimated this summer, adding that Canada were “overlooked” before they went on to win the gold medal at Tokyo 2020.
“We can beat any team in the world. It’s contagious [winning], you want to do it again and it’s just motivated us to prove to the world what we can do again,” the 40-year-old said.
“This team is full of rock stars.”
Both Canada and the Super Falcons have had a disruptive year in the build-up to this summer’s World Cup. Canadian players threatened to strike over pay equity concerns and a lack of funding, while the Nigerian team threatened to boycott their opening game.
Despite this, Nigeria forward Toni Payne says fans can expect to see a “super united team” who have “all the confidence” to defeat the reigning Olympic champions in Melbourne.
Rachel Brown-Finnis’ prediction: This will be close, but Canada have got more experience in their team and I think that will give them the edge. 1-2.
Key stat: Nigeria are unbeaten in their previous two meetings with Canada at the Women’s World Cup, winning the most recent game 1-0 in 2011.
Philippines v Switzerland
Group A | Dunedin | 06:00 BST | ITV
The Philippines’ journey to this summer’s tournament has been nothing short of “miraculous”, says manager Alen Stajcic, who is leading the nation to it’s first ever World Cup – men’s or women’s.
The Australian coach says the world is “a hundred steps ahead” of the Philippines for women’s football and that his side will have to “make their own luck” in New Zealand.
“It’s been a meteoric rise for the team,” Stajcic said.
“The challenge for us is to somehow maintain and sustain that improvement, not be happy with where we got to.”
The 46th-ranked team are up against Switzerland, who, despite having a squad littered with players who ply their trade for some of Europe’s top teams, have only made one prior appearance in the World Cup finals, doing so back in 2015.
Rachel Brown-Finnis’ prediction: I can’t see beyond a Switzerland win here, but they are not particularly free-scoring and the Philippines could make it difficult for them. 0-1.
Key stat: The Philippines are one of eight teams making their debut at the Women’s World Cup this year – and this is the first-ever meeting between the two nations.
Spain v Costa Rica
Group C | Wellington | 08:30 BST | BBC
Like Canada and Nigeria, Spain are another team who have experienced a turbulent build-up period to this World Cup, following a dispute between 15 players and manager Jorge Vilda.
Three of the 15 players – Mariona Caldentey, Aitana Bonmati and Ona Batlle – have been recalled after being frozen out of the national set-up, and, with the return of back-to-back Ballon d’Or winner Alexia Putellas from injury, Spain can be considered as genuine contenders for the trophy.
“We have players who are recognised as the best in the world,” Vilda said in his pre-match press-conference.
“We are well aware that there are high expectations as to what we can do on the field.
“In the end, that’s a privilege and extra motivation for us.”
Costa Rica, ranked 30 places lower than Spain, will be hoping for a repeat of their opening game in their only previous Women’s World Cup appearance in 2015, when they held the Spaniards to a 1-1 draw.
Rachel Brown-Finnis’ prediction: Costa Rica held Spain in their opening game at the 2015 World Cup but I can’t see them getting anything out of them this time. Spain’s target is to top this group so they will want to put down an early marker. I can see them doing that by scoring a few goals. 4-0
Key stat: Only Canada (63.3%) had a better possession percentage than Spain (61.2%) during the Women’s World Cup in 2019.
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