It has been a few days since the final and the post-World Cup blues have kicked in, the feeling that we’ll have to wait four more years for something as exciting to happen. Going back to the routine without thinking and talking about football 24/7 … it feels like hell. But it doesn’t mean there’s nothing going on. The end brings new beginnings so here are some women’s football fixes for you to put in your calendar.
The Nations League kicks off
The inaugural season in Europe begins in next month, with the league stage running until December and finals taking place in February. The two finalists will qualify for the Olympics, unless the hosts, France, reach the final, in which case the winner of the third-place play-off qualifies. The tournament kicks off on 21 September, with enticing fixtures such as Spain v Sweden, England v Scotland and Portugal v France among the opening round of games.
World Cup stars in Olympic qualifying
The qualifying process has some exciting fixtures to look out for. The Concacaf play-off is between Jamaica, who reached the last 16 at the Women’s World Cup for the first time, and the Olympic champions, Canada, who were knocked out in the group stage.
The AFC’s qualifiers will have their second round in late October, with Australia, co-hosts of the World Cup, hoping to build on their momentum. They will face Iran, the Philippines and Chinese Taipei for a place in the third round. Japan, who won plenty of admirers at the World Cup, will take on Vietnam, Uzbekistan and India.
Also in late October, the CAF qualification continues and will feature Morocco, Zambia, Nigeria and South Africa after they represented the continent at the World Cup.
Champions League leads club season
International football is taking a break, but club football is back. We are a couple of weeks away from the return of European domestic leagues, where most of the Spain and England squads from that spectacular final at Stadium Australia return for their clubs. Also, the Women’s Champions League is not far away – the first rounds kick off in early September with Juventus, Arsenal, Benfica and Levante among those forced to battle through qualifying before the group stage begins in November.
Three of the four World Cup semi-finalists were European, which says a lot. The investment and attention they have been putting into the women’s game can become an example on how to succeed. Given the USA’s World Cup setback, now, more than ever, is a time to look at the old continent and take note.
NWSL expansion with US game in flux
The NWSL expansion – which could result in a 16-team league by 2026 – is an important move. More immediately, though, how will the current season be affected by the World Cup? The season is back under way, with Portland Thorns, who beat North Carolina Courage last week, still leading the way, and Gotham, Washington Spirit and OL Reign trying to stay in touch. There are six rounds left and the fight for the play-offs is going to be fierce.
The United States were, and still are for many, the main reference point in women’s football. However, they will need to take a closer look at the NWSL and their national teams and ponder how to catch up with Europe. It is a transitional moment for the game there, with the farewell of Megan Rapinoe and the arrival of young names such as Sophia Smith and Trinity Rodman.
Team GB and game time in Paris
Many teams, especially those who didn’t do well at the World Cup, will need to take a hard look at what went wrong to achieve better results in France. The Olympic tournaments are a chance for new teams to rise to the top, as Canada did in 2021.
Can Spain follow up their World Cup success? Can Team GB go one better than England? Or is someone else up for the challenge? Maybe Australia, without the pressure of playing at home, or even the improving Colombia?
World Cup changing the game
The numbers don’t lie. There was a lot of attention on the Women’s World Cup. Millions watched the games. I’m extremely curious to see what effect the World Cup has, especially in countries where women’s football still struggles to exist. Will the good results for Colombia, Nigeria and Jamaica help boost the players’ demands for better conditions? And how about Brazil’s bad World Cup? Is it going to tarnish recent advancements? We may get answers to these questions.
High attendances, eager audiences – even with the different time zones – and more and more girls inspired by what the players did on the pitch. France 2019 changed so much about how the women’s game is viewed so I can not wait to see what Australia and New Zealand 2023 is going to achieve.
Messiah Bright’s two goals in Orlando Pride’s 5-0 win over Chicago Red Stars earned her the NWSL player of the week title. While the first one is a gorgeous long shot right in the angle, the second is equally as beautiful – . The way she skips past the goalkeeper and slots home to score is just class.