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2023 Women’s World Cup review: Best XIs, breakouts, moments

It’s still hard to fathom that the 2023 Women’s World Cup has come to an end, brilliant and unforgettable as it was. Our writers have looked at the next World Cup, to be held in 2027, and offered their bold thoughts there. Now it’s time for them to reflect on a summer of scintillating soccer in Australia and New Zealand, recapping their favorite parts of this tournament.

Was Aitana Bonmatí the right choice for Golden Ball? Who would make their individual teams of the tournament? Which player grabs the crown as breakout star, and what was the best moment or goal amid a World Cup filled with them?


Sophie Lawson

WAS THIS THE BEST WOMEN’S WORLD CUP EVER? OK, but how are we ranking “best” here? Most open? Most heartbreaking? Least predictable? Actually the biggest, by land area and/or number of competitors?

It was massive in every sense, and of those I’ve watched/covered (which certainly don’t stretch back that far) it was indeed the best, even if by the end of it, the last teams standing were all from the top 10 in the world, which somewhat offset the feeling that it was such an open tournament.

WHO IS YOUR PICK FOR GOLDEN BALL? Waru, Germany’s knitted koala Aitana Bonmatí. She’s just had another sensational season with Barcelona and brought that form to the Spanish national team, who could never have created history without her bringing everything together on the pitch.

With vision and intelligence in abundance, her name would have already been written on the Ballon d’Or had she missed this World Cup, but this summer was a perfect showcase as she got to show even more fans just how outrageously talented she is.

YOUR TEAM OF THE TOURNAMENT
(4-3-3) — Rebecca Spencer (Jamaica); Ona Batlle (Spain), Clare Hunt (Australia), Amanda Ilestedt (Sweden), Alex Greenwood (England); Katrina Gorry (Australia), Aitana Bonmatí (Spain), Elin Rubensson (Sweden); Caitlin Foord (Australia), Kadidiatou Diani (France), Hinata Miyazawa (Japan)

It felt like a good tournament for strong midfields. It would have been easy enough to include Teresa Abelleira (Spain), Kyra Cooney-Cross (Australia) or Yui Hasegawa (Japan) in the mix, with teams with strength in midfield putting in some of the best performances this summer.

Goalkeeper is also a contentious position, with Nigeria’s Chiamaka Nnadozie and Australia’s Mackenzie Arnold starring for their respective nations and Sweden’s Ze?ira Mušovi? making some stunning saves, setting a new World Cup record along the way. However, Spencer really rolled the years back during the Reggae Girlz’ time in Australia and just, just edges it.

BIGGEST BREAKOUT STAR IN 2023? From my point of view as someone who watches a lot of football, there was no surprise about Salma Paralluelo or Linda Caicedo showing up and balling out, nor were Cooney-Cross’ standout performances unexpected.

Miyazawa (just 23 years old) has a shout for the prize as she took her entire game up another level at this tournament, playing in a system that allowed her to thrive; Nnadozie (22) certainly made a name for herself at this tournament, too. But as she came from absolutely nowhere, with less than 500 minutes logged in her senior international career before the tournament started, and still went on to play every second of Australia’s seven matches with maturity far beyond her experience, my pick has to be defensive rock Clare Hunt.

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1:29

How Morocco secured a historic spot in the World Cup knockouts

Sophie Lawson reacts to Morocco’s progression to the round of 16 on their Women’s World Cup debut.

FAVORITE MOMENT/GOAL OF THE TOURNAMENT There have been some stunning goals, from Esmee Brugts (Netherlands vs. Vietnam), Linda Caicedo (Colombia vs. Germany), Sam Kerr (Australia vs. England) and Sophia Braun (Germany vs. South Africa), to Marta Cox’s free kick (Panama vs. France) and plenty more. But in terms of moments, it was being in the stadium in Perth when Morocco reached the knockouts, with the players all celebrating their win over Colombia before waiting for the other match to wrap up and once again being overcome with emotion.

I’ll also nominate the cathartic release in Brisbane when Cortnee Vine brought an end to the longest shootout in World Cup history as Australia eliminated France, the whole nation celebrating from coast to coast.

WHAT DOES FIFA NEED TO DO BETTER IN 2027? Gag FIFA president Gianni Infantino.


Mark Ogden

WAS THIS THE BEST WOMEN’S WORLD CUP EVER? Definitely. The depth of talent in the women’s game has been made clear in Australia and New Zealand, with the biggest example being the struggles endured by the USWNT. But for a goalpost, the Americans would have suffered a group stage elimination against Portugal, a nation they wouldn’t have even considered a rival not so long ago. The rise of teams from Africa and South America also made it a great tournament.

WHO IS YOUR PICK FOR GOLDEN BALL? I’m going for Olga Carmona. Not only did she score two of the most important goals in Spanish football history with her winning strikes in the semifinal and final, but she also stood out as the best left-back in the tournament.

Spain have so many top players, but Carmona is up there with them all.

YOUR TEAM OF THE TOURNAMENT
(4-3-3) — Mary Earps (England); Batlle, Ilestedt, Greenwood, Carmona; Bonmati, Jennifer Hermoso (Spain), Roord; Lineth Beerensteyn (Netherlands), Miyazawa, Paralluelo.

The pace and direct style of Beerensteyn and Paralluelo have added a new dimension to the women’s game. Their explosive power has set the benchmark for forwards in the future.

BIGGEST BREAKOUT STAR IN 2023? It has to be Paralluelo: the Spain forward is just 19 but is destined to become a superstar.

FAVORITE MOMENT/GOAL OF THE TOURNAMENT The atmosphere at Stadium Australia for the England-Australia semifinal. A crowd of over 75,000 was in attendance in Sydney, and it had all the tension and expectancy of an Ashes Test or rugby union clash between the two nations.

WHAT DOES FIFA NEED TO DO BETTER IN 2027? Replace Gianni Infantino as president. His patronising speech about helping the women’s game sounded like clumsy PR spin and lacked any kind of sincerity. Infantino is a roadblock to progress in both the women’s and men’s games.


Sam Marsden

WAS THIS THE BEST WOMEN’S WORLD CUP EVER? Absolutely. We had a new winner, a great final and some superb storylines along the way. The highlights for me were the lower-ranked nations who sprang surprises and/or registered their first wins at a World Cup: New Zealand, Philippines, South Africa, Morocco, Colombia, Jamaica and Zambia. Off the pitch, they were some of the nations that bought the most colour as well.

WHO IS YOUR PICK FOR GOLDEN BALL? With a smug look on my face I can say that I tipped Bonmatí from the start and never wavered. I must admit that is in contrast to my tips for who would win the tournament, which constantly changed as fancied teams were eliminated.

YOUR TEAM OF THE TOURNAMENT
(4-3-3) — Musovic; Batlle, Ilestedt, Greenwood, Carmona; Aitana, Rubensson, Hermoso; Hemp, Paralluelo, Miyazawa.

Most of these pick themselves, but I want to apologise for the absence of any Australians, who were great as a team. Hayley Raso came close, but I couldn’t squeeze her in. Also a cowardly shoutout for leaving out Cata Coll (Spain), Earps and Millie Bright (England), Steph Catley and Katrina Gorry (Australia), Fridolina Rolfö (Sweden), Diani, Caicedo and Thembi Kgatlana (South Africa).

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Ogden: Women’s World Cup has been great showcase of football

Mark Ogden and Alexis Nunes give their thoughts on the Women’s World Cup after Spain took the crown vs. England in the final.

BIGGEST BREAKOUT STAR IN 2023? For me, it was Kgatlana, who was terrific in South Africa’s run to the last 16. I knew very little about her before. On a more traditional level, I have Paralluelo just pipping Caicedo.

FAVORITE MOMENT/GOAL OF THE TOURNAMENT So many. Hannah Wilkinson’s for New Zealand on the opening day of the tournament, Colombia’s Caicedo downing Germany, Asisat Oshoala’s clincher for Nigeria against Australia, South Africa’s Kgatlana’s stoppage-time winner to knock out Italy, all Lauren James’ goals … but for importance, drama and quality, I will go with Carmona’s thunderous strike in the last minute of Spain’s semifinal win over Sweden.

WHAT DOES FIFA NEED TO DO BETTER IN 2027? It’s not just what FIFA needs to do; it’s what confederations and federations around the world need to do. This tournament has demonstrated that pretty much every single one of the 32 nations present — plus those that didn’t qualify — deserves more backing and more support.

More professional leagues and better conditions are needed around the world. If FIFA can encourage this, great. It should also look at getting more women into high-profile positions within the organisation.


Tom Hamilton

WAS THIS THE BEST WOMEN’S WORLD CUP EVER? It was a brilliant World Cup in so many ways, but the narrowing of the gap between the so-called superpowers and the chasing pack has been a massive highlight. The early exits of Germany, Canada, Brazil, China and Italy showed the competitiveness of this World Cup, while it was also co-hosted brilliantly by both Australia and New Zealand.

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1:10

How ‘best player’ Bonmatí led Spain to World Cup glory

Sam Marsden explains why he feels Spain’s Aitana Bonmatí was the best player at the Women’s World Cup.

WHO IS YOUR PICK FOR GOLDEN BALL? There are so many candidates, with Bonmati in the mix, while Hemp was outstanding in the latter stages for England, but for me, the standout player throughout the tournament was Greenwood. She was exceptional for England from start to finish and was their most consistent performer.

YOUR TEAM OF THE TOURNAMENT
(4-3-3) — Musovic; Lucy Bronze (England), Greenwood, Ilestedt, Steph Catley (Australia); Abdelleira, Bonmati, Gorry; Paralluelo, Miyazawa, Hemp.

This is brutally, unfairly tough to pick, but I’ve gone with a flexible 4-3-3 system based on how the players finished the tournament rather than how they started it. There’s a decent mix of youth and experience, as well as those who can create memorable moments in the blink of an eye.

BIGGEST BREAKOUT STAR IN 2023? There have been some remarkable performances across the age groups, but in terms of the youngsters you have to mention Paralluelo and James (red card apart). However, the breakout star for me was Colombia’s Caicedo. She was exceptional, one of the best players in the tournament, and aged just 18 years old, her potential is frightening.

FAVORITE MOMENT/GOAL OF THE TOURNAMENT The Brazil goal against Panama was exceptional, while Kerr’s long-range strike against England was incredible — the noise greeting it from within Stadium Australia matched the brilliance and audacity of the finish. But there was something truly incredible about James’ goal for England in their second match against Denmark.

It was only a moment in the grand tapestry of the tournament, but she was long tipped to be a breakout star here and she needed just six minutes in her first World Cup start to score a wonder goal.

WHAT DOES FIFA NEED TO DO BETTER IN 2027? Equal pay across both the men’s and women’s World Cups.


Caitlin Murray

WAS THIS THE BEST WOMEN’S WORLD CUP EVER? Without question. You have to give props, of course, to the 1999 Women’s World Cup, which really marked a watershed moment for the tournament itself. Equally, the 2019 one will hold a special place in my heart — it was a blast to cover and follow the U.S. team. But this tournament was so much more competitive, and the on-field product was so much better than any Women’s World Cup that preceded it.

FIFA also really stepped up its game in terms of providing a polished, memorable experience for fans, too.

WHO IS YOUR PICK FOR GOLDEN BALL? What’s remarkable about this tournament is that unlike past Women’s World Cups, there wasn’t one star who took the whole tournament over. That’s probably another data point in the conversation about the growth and competitiveness of the women’s game now. That said, I agree with the choice of Bonmatí. She was sensational for Spain, helping keep the ball, move it around and create chances, even if she wasn’t at the top of the scoring list.

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1:07

‘Bizarre’ incident involving Spanish FA president ‘tarnishes’ Women’s World Cup win

Alex Kirkland reacts to the incident involving Spanish FA president Luis Rubiales as he kissed midfielder Jennifer Hermoso during postmatch celebrations after Spain’s 1-0 win over England in the Women’s World Cup final.

YOUR TEAM OF THE TOURNAMENT
(4-3-3) — Earps; Greenwood, Naomi Girma (USA), Hunt, Nathalie Björn (Sweden); Hasegawa, Bonmati, Georgia Stanway (England); Miyazawa, Diani, Alba Redondo (Spain)

I went with a formation that teams actually play (4-3-3) and I tried to put players in their actual positions. I could’ve probably filled this squad with Spanish players and it would’ve been fair, but I married the eye test with some stats to put together this best 11. Yes, there is a token American in Girma, because I can’t overstate what a shining light she was during a rather dismal tournament for the team I covered, the United States.

BIGGEST BREAKOUT STAR IN 2023? I loved watching Caicedo with Colombia as they reached the quarterfinals — a big achievement for a team that simply does not get enough support from its federation. It’s hard to believe she’s only 18. I, of course, had heard a lot of buzz about her before the tournament and from Real Madrid, a club she joined in February. But to see her on the world stage dancing on the ball and scoring golazos was a joy to watch. She has a huge career ahead of her.

FAVORITE MOMENT/GOAL OF THE TOURNAMENT I have to pick a moment I saw in person, and so I have to pick the U.S. losing the penalty shootout to Sweden by a millimeter. It sure didn’t feel like my favorite moment at the time: I had a pit in my stomach as I thought to myself “What am I going to cover now? I’m booked through the final!” But I will never forget it, and I’m sure USWNT fans won’t either — what a way to go out.

In a World Cup that otherwise wasn’t memorable at all for the USWNT, this is the moment that stands out.

WHAT DOES FIFA NEED TO DO BETTER IN 2027? Honestly, credit where it’s due: I was impressed with the fan zones and the merch offerings during this tournament. Both 2019 and 2015 were pathetic in regard to both, so it was awesome to see FIFA invest in offering lots of cool merch people actually wanted to buy and in creating gathering spots for fans that built excitement for the tournament. I’m sure it also helped FIFA’s bottom line, too. Which brings me to what FIFA ought to do: make sure women’s teams are supported before the World Cup even happens.

I love that FIFA provided federations with almost $1 million in funds to prepare for the tournament, but it needs to make sure the money is used properly, too. Jamaica players had to crowdfund to raise money for travel for a training camp. Some teams didn’t even play friendlies to prepare for the World Cup. FIFA should mandate and incentivize federations to care about their teams outside of just the World Cup.


Jeff Carlisle

WAS THIS THE BEST WOMEN’S WORLD CUP EVER? Absolutely. The level of play, highlighted by all-conquering Spain, was exceptional. The number of contending teams was higher than ever. The drama was off the charts, and the attendance was almost two million, a new record. The overall depth was impressive as well, validating FIFA’s decision to expand the tournament to 32 teams.

One can only hope that this galvanizes federations to invest more in the women’s game. Alas, there is no guarantee of that.

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Spain celebrate after arriving home as Women’s World Cup champs

The Spanish women’s national team celebrate in front of fans following their win at the Women’s World Cup.

WHO IS YOUR PICK FOR GOLDEN BALL? Hard to argue with the choice of Bonmati. She was at the heart of Spain’s possession game, scored three goals,and did her bit on the defensive end as well. Is a FIFA Women’s Player of the Year award in her future? It should be.

YOUR TEAM OF THE TOURNAMENT
(4-3-3): Earps; Batlle, Ilestedt, Girma, Carmona; Bonmati, Hasegawa, Raso; Miyazawa, Diani, Caicedo

Thinking more about the players left out than those that are in. The Netherlands’ Jill Roord was excellent, as was the Australia trio of Ellie Carpenter, Foord and Catley. But all hail champions Spain, who have three players in my Best XI.

BIGGEST BREAKOUT STAR IN 2023? There’s an impulse to go with Bonmati, but she’s been an ever-present force for a few years now with Barcelona at club level, excelling in the UEFA Women’s Champions League. Looking further afield, I’d go with her club and international teammate Paralluelo. She scored some absolutely crucial goals for Spain in the quarterfinals and semifinals, and at age 19, she’s only going to get better.

FAVORITE MOMENT/GOAL OF THE TOURNAMENT That would have to be Morocco’s players, after defeating Colombia in its last group stage game, huddling together to get word of Germany’s result against South Korea. When word arrived that the match ended in a 1-1 draw, putting Morocco through to the knockout rounds, the joy induced goosebumps.

Only one team can win the tournament, but more than one can enjoy an iconic moment, and that was the case here.

WHAT DOES FIFA NEED TO DO BETTER IN 2027? Get past the idea that it is up to women to break down barriers for greater access to and investment in the women’s game. Women have been pounding on the door for decades, but it is men that still control the levers of power, the purse strings especially.

FIFA broke even on this tournament with revenues of over $500m. The time is now to ramp up investment even more and take advantage of the momentum created, and that is up to the game’s male gatekeepers.


Joey Lynch

WAS THIS THE BEST WOMEN’S WORLD CUP EVER? This absolutely was the best World Cup ever. For all the fears about the talent pool not being there to sustain a 32-team tournament, the past month has produced more than enough upsets, narratives, thrills, spills and, most importantly, quality football to justify the expansion. Add to this the record crowds and interest from host nations that bought in 100% and a gauntlet has been thrown down.

WHO IS YOUR PICK FOR GOLDEN BALL? The panel got it right in naming Aitana Bonmatí as player of the tournament. What the Barcelona star does on a pitch both with and without the ball is incredible and her role in driving Spain to a first-ever title seemingly in spite of her coach and Federation was remarkable.

YOUR TEAM OF THE TOURNAMENT
(4-3-3) — Earps; Batlle, Ilestedt, Greenwood, Catley; Gorry, Hermoso, Bonmatí; Miyazawa, Foord, Caicedo.

I’m cheating here by not having a proper striker; Foord can play centrally for this purpose because I wanted to get Caicedo in there. Gorry might not make many teams of the tournament because she doesn’t score high on the name recognition index, but I refuse to have mine without her. She’s a gargantuan footballer.

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1:53

How Nigeria have taken the World Cup by storm

Julien Laurens, Colin Udoh and Sophie Lawson detail how Nigeria have reached the World Cup knockout stages.

BIGGEST BREAKOUT STAR IN 2023? Now a world champion at U17, U20 and senior level, Spanish sensation Paralluelo will pretty much end up being as good as she wants to be because she has the talent to be anything. And after her game breaking appearance in 2023, the 19-year-old — who also has the marketing machine of Barcelona behind her — is poised to become one of the biggest stars in football in the years ahead.

Miyazawa, meanwhile, won the tournament’s Golden Boot at 23 years old and still attached to WE League side Mynavi Sendai. A move to Europe must be on the cards.

FAVORITE MOMENT/GOAL OF THE TOURNAMENT Lorne Donaldson’s cartwheel/forward role of joy after Jamaica drew with Brazil to advance to the knockouts encapsulated the joy that followed the Reggae Girlz this tournament. Infectious spirit and achievements on the pitch made more impressive by the challenges off it. As for goal? Cox’s howitzer free kick against France.

WHAT DOES FIFA NEED TO DO BETTER IN 2027? FIFA needs to raise the bar on everything. This tournament was amazing: now go bigger! Bring it closer to the resources pumped into the men’s World Cup than ever before. Elsewhere, ease off on the copyright strikes; let fans, within reason, share their passion and excitement and do your marketing for you by creating viral videos and GIF-worthy moments.


Marissa Lordanic

WAS THIS THE BEST WOMEN’S WORLD CUP EVER? To be an Australian football fan is to always be too far away. So to have the whole world here, in a place where football is forgotten because of distance and unfavourable timezones, means more than many can understand. So yes, it was the best ever.

WHO IS YOUR PICK FOR GOLDEN BALL? Bonmati was a deserved winner. From game one she showed class and was instrumental in Spain’s historic first ever Women’s World Cup win.

YOUR TEAM OF THE TOURNAMENT
(4-3-3) — Arnold; Batlle, Ilestedt, Hunt, Carmona; Abelleira, Cooney-Cross, Bonmati; Foord, Hemp, Miyazawa.

Obviously there is a huge Spanish influence here, with Bonmati the first name on the hypothetical team sheet. I’ve chosen to champion some breakout stars with Arnold in goal, Hunt in defence. Cooney-Cross in the midfield, and Miyazawa up top all making their World Cup debuts at this tournament.

BIGGEST BREAKOUT STAR IN 2023? Plenty of people knew of Paralluelo’s game either from her most recent season with Barcelona or her youth World Cup victories with Spain but now the whole world knows about her. While her goals in the quarterfinal and semifinal showed off her brilliance, her performance in the World Cup final itself solidified her status as the young player of the tournament.

FAVORITE MOMENT/GOAL OF THE TOURNAMENT The Australia-France shootout as a whole. I know many people hate shootouts, with Kerr chief among them, but there is no greater theatre than a penalty shootout and this one delivered from the intensity of emotions to the variety of narratives. Long live the penalty shootout!

WHAT DOES FIFA NEED TO DO BETTER IN 2027? Have someone in charge who does not need to be convinced of the value of women’s football and its worth as an investment, but rather someone who is ready to continue pushing the game to the heights everyone inside it knows it can reach.


Julien Laurens

WAS THIS THE BEST WOMEN’S WORLD CUP EVER? Yes it was. The quality was the highest we have ever seen, the drama was there, the different styles of football too, the atmosphere was amazing, some players made a name for themselves, plenty of wonderful stories were told and the best team won in the end.

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‘Gutted’ England players react to World Cup final defeat

Beth England, Georgia Stanway, Mary Earps and Millie Bright reflect upon England’s loss to Spain in the Women’s World Cup final.

WHO IS YOUR PICK FOR GOLDEN BALL? Bonmatí, and there’s no debate. She is just a wonderful player. She dominated games almost on her own. She is so gifted technically while seeing the game before anyone else on the pitch. England are still trying to find a way to limit her impact on the final! She is only 26, so she will keep getting better too, and I expect her to win the Ballon d’Or as well.

YOUR TEAM OF THE TOURNAMENT
(4-3-3) — Musovic; Batlle, Irene Paredes (Spain), Ilestedt, Carmona; Bonmati, Abelleira, Miyazawa; Paralluelo, Hermoso, Diani.

Obviously seven players from Spain are in my team of the tournament. Apart from the Japan defeat in the group stages, these players were outstanding all tournament. Musovic’s performance against the USA was one of the best individual displays of the World Cup. Miyazawa finished top scorer and Diani had the most goal involvement.

BIGGEST BREAKOUT STAR IN 2023? Paralluelo. We knew what an incredible talent she was before the start of the tournament, but for her to be so good through this World Cup showed that there is no ceiling for her. As a sub or a starter, she was strong, powerful, skillful and smart. And it’s just the beginning.

FAVORITE MOMENT/GOAL OF THE TOURNAMENT I saw Marta play live, I saw Caicedo’s wonder goal for Colombia against Germany and I saw Cox’s incredible free kick for Panama against France too, but witnessing the Australia vs. France penalty shootout tops it all. It was just exceptional. The atmosphere in Brisbane was deafening and the drama of the penalties was unmatched. For football/soccer in Australia, it was huge, too.

As sad as I was for my country, it was unbelievable to be there.

WHAT DOES FIFA NEED TO DO BETTER IN 2027? FIFA needs to care more. It can’t make a mess again of the sale of the TV rights. FIFA’s president needs to actually be on site through the whole tournament and not just a few days here and there (and his UEFA counterpart should be there at least for the final if it involves one or two of his confederation’s members)! FIFA needs to push more digital content forward so more of the world can access the World Cup on social media.


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