Women’s World Cup Group A Preview: Can co-hosts break hoodoo on 16th attempt?

Former Matildas Grace Gill & Cath Cannuli are joined by New Zealand Herald football writer Michael Burgess to bring you a full preview of Group A at the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup in the premiere episode of KEEPUP’s new podcast: Dub at the Cup!

The eyes of the world will focus upon Auckland as the FIFA Women’s World Cup gets underway in the City of Sails in just over two weeks’ time.

Co-hosts New Zealand will kick-off the biggest Women’s World Cup in history, when they face Norway on July 20 in-front of what is set to be a raucous crowd at Eden Park.

It will set the stage for not only the rest of the tournament but more importantly for the two sides in action – Group A – which is set to be one of the most competitive groups at the entire World Cup.

Former world champions Norway go in as heavy favourites to top the group, but the race for second is set to go right down to the wire between the hotly-backed Football Ferns, tournament debutants Philippines and Switzerland.

Ahead of the opening round, KEEPUP’s premiere episode of Dub at the Cup with former Matildas Grace Gill and Catherine Cannulli gave an insight into what we can expect in Group A.

The duo were also joined by New Zealand Herald football writer Michael Burgess who gave his insights on how the co-hosts were preparing for the tournament on home soil.

ULTIMATE GUIDE: Everything you need to know
REVEALED: The 29 players fighting to be included in the Matildas’ World Cup squad
SQUAD ANALYSIS: Major fitness gambles as running keeper debate is settled

SQUAD REACTION: What cost ‘one of the best finishers’ in the world, Australia’s $101m national victory
SQUADS: Every 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup roster confirmed so far
KITS: From the Matildas to USA – here’s every jersey

Listen below, or via Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you consume your podcasts

New Zealand


New Zealand come into the tournament in the midst of a tough run of form.

The Football Ferns haven’t won in 10 games, with their last win coming group opponents Philippines last September. During this patch, they suffered consecutive defeats to the reigning world champions USA, Argentina and South Korea – along with fellow World Cup combatants Portugal, Japan and Nigeria.

But in the process they have cast the net far and wide, giving a multitude of players an opportunity to impress in the lead-in to the tournament – meaning the Football Ferns haven’t always had their best team at their disposal.


Jitka Klimkova has been the coach of the Football Ferns since 2021.

She was the first woman to be appointed in said role on a full-time basis in New Zealand football history and had previously served as senior head coach of Canberra United’s Liberty A-League side between 2011-13.

During her stint in the capital, Klimkova led Canberra to the double in 2012 and was awarded Coach of the Year. Since then, she has coached at New Zealand and USA youth team level, and as an assistant for the Football Ferns.

“She’s very likeable and she’s made a good impact… her personality, she’s very engaging,” New Zealand Herald football writer Michael Burgess said on the Dub in the Cup podcast.

She’s been very determined to get to know New Zealand football and the culture and everything else around it.”

“The other good thing she’s done is she’s cast the net very wide. She has used a staggering amount of players in those 23 games (that she’s coached).”

However, the pressure is on Klimkova to turn the tide of their recent form around on home soil.

“There is concern about the results because the results just haven’t come. We’ve sort of been expecting the team to turn a corner at some stage and it hasn’t really happened,” Burgess said.

“They’ve been stumbling along those 23 games. They’ve played some very good teams in that time, but three wins from 23 games and something like 16 defeats… their form is a concern.

“There’s still questions over her and fair to say, everyone wants her to do well, but she comes into this tournament under a lot of pressure.”

Key storyline

Is this the year New Zealand finally win a game at the FIFA Women’s World Cup?

In five previous attempts, the Football Ferns haven’t quite ben able to get over the hump, failing to come away from three points in all of their 15 group stage games. In 2011, they drew for the very first time against Mexico, while in 2015, they bettered their points tally with two draws coming against China and Canada.

Burgess was asked about whether they can finally break the duck on home soil and he believes it comes down to one key area of their game.

“There’s some context around the appearances, there was an appearance a long time back in the mid-nineties which was sort of just journey into the unknown,” he said.

“2011, they did quite well to get a draw against Mexico, which was well received and 2015 is probably their best World Cup so far in terms of performances, they got a couple of draws and were lucky not to win one of those games but certainly 2019 was a major disappointment.

“So this World Cup is seen as, hey, this is the chance to finally win a game and take a step in terms of qualifying for the next knockout round… That’s been signposted as the goal by New Zealand football for a long time.

“There’s a couple of issues, but the big one… is goal scoring. I think they’ve scored something like 11 goals in 23 matches since Jitka Klimkova took over.

“It’s not a new issue, but certainly it’s an issue that’s become magnified in the last couple of years given how important it is to be able to put your chances away and create chances especially at a tournament like a World Cup where the stakes are so high.”

Star Player

The heartbeat of the Football Ferns midfielder is veteran midfielder Ria Percival, who has recovered just in time from a torn ACL to take her place in their World Cup squad.

Percival played the final few games of the WSL season for Tottenham Hotspur after 387 days on the sidelines and looms as a key part of New Zealand’s side at the upcoming tournament.

“She’s holds the record for New Zealand Men or women in terms of how many games she’s played (160 games),” Burgess said.

“I guess the issue with Ria is she did her ACL actually playing against the Matildas last time in Townsville.

“So she’s on her way back but she’s played four games for the Spurs the end of their season. She’s been back with the Ferns a few weeks, so we’re all very hopeful that she can get back to full fitness.”

Burgess also mentioned the likes of goalkeeper Victoria Esson, gun defender Rebekah Stott, Wellington Phoenix full-back Michaela Foster and young gun Milly Clegg as some of the other players to keep an eye on this tournament.


Burgess: “People will be expecting them to miss out again, but at this stage, I think you’ve got to be optimistic, especially when you’re sitting in New Zealand. I do think it’s possible they could get through, they’ll be playing in front of crowds that they’ve never experienced in their lives.

“Their biggest crowd ever was 12,000 against the USA in January. They’ll get 45,000 for the Norway game and they’ll get big crowds for the other two in Wellington and Dunedin.

“I hope they get some confidence out of the Norway game and then they need to beat the Philippines in Wellington and then I think it will all come down to the game against Switzerland in Dunedin and I’m predicting the Ferns will get through somehow.

“Whether it’s on goal difference, maybe they get a draw against Switzerland and that’s enough to go through for the first time ever and there will be amazing scenes in New Zealand if that happens, I can tell you.”


Goalkeepers: Victoria Esson (Rangers), Anna Leat (Aston Villa), Erin Nayler (IFK Norrkoping)

Defenders: Liz Anton (Perth Glory), CJ Bott (Leicester City), Katie Bowen (Melbourne City), Claudia Bunge (Melbourne Victory), Michaela Foster (Wellington Phoenix), Ali Riley (Angel City), Rebekah Stott (Brighton & Hove Albion)

Midfielders: Olivia Chance (Celtic), Daisy Cleverley (HB Koge), Betsy Hassett (Wellington Phoenix), Annalie Longo (free agent), Ria Percival (Tottenham Hotspur), Malia Steinmetz (Western Sydney Wanderers)

Forwards: Milly Clegg (Wellington Phoenix), Jacqui Hand (Aland United), Grace Jale (Canberra United), Gabi Rennie (Arizona State University), Indiah-Paige Riley (Brisbane Roar), Paige Satchell (Wellington Phoenix), Hannah Wilkinson (Melbourne City)



Despite coming in as overwhelming favourites to top the group, Norway’s recent form has been quite scratchy.

Norway are winless in four games in the lead-in to the tournament, including losses to Spain and Denmark and draws against France and Sweden. In fact, they’ve only won two of their last nine games.

Ada Hegerberg

A year ago, they were humbled in the Euros, bowing out in the group stage after an 8-0 defeat to eventual champions England and 1-0 loss to Austria.

However, Norway have enormous pedigree in women’s football, having qualified for every iteration, winning the World Cup in 1995, making the final four on four occasions and progressing from group stage on all but once occasion.


Hege Riise was appointed Norway boss on August 3 last year, replacing Martin Sjogren following their disappointing campaign at the Euros.

Riise was appointed interim England coach in 2021 after Phil Neville resigned and then was at the helm of Team Great Britain at the Tokyo Olympics – where they were eliminated by the Matildas in the quarter finals.

As a player, she made 188 caps for Norway – the most out of any Norwegian player men’s or women’s in history – and was part of their World Cup winning squad in 1995, European Championship success in 1993 and gold medal winning team at the Sydney Olympics in 2000.

She was also regarded as one of the best players of her generation.

Key storyline

There’s a lot of expectation on Norway to bounce back after the disappointment of last year’s Euros.

In a group where they are heavily favoured to top, anything less than progressing to the next round would be seen as a disappointment given the abundance of talent they still possess all over the park.

Star player

After a five year exodus from the Norweigian national team, Ada Hegerberg returned to the fold last year and shapes as Norway’s key player heading into the tournament.

However, in the eyes of Cannulli, there are a host of players who could cause plenty of damage for the Gresshoppene.

“You can’t go past getting Ada Hegerberg being back in the fold, she’s such a world class player,” she said.

“But for me, Guro Reiten from Chelsea, she’s a wonderful midfielder. She’s so intelligent. She’s got such great workrate, great and I’ve really thoroughly enjoyed watching her in the WSL this season as well.

“I think this is gonna be the world stage for her where she’s going to be able to shine and really take Norway through.”

Gill also mentioned Barcelona’s Caroline Graham Hansen as “one to watch” this tournament.


Cannulli: Progress to the knockout stages

Gill: Progress to the knockout stages


Goalkeepers: Cecilie Fiskerstrand (LSK Kvinner), Guro Pettersen (Valerenga), Aurora Mikalsen (Brann)

Defenders: Anja Sonstevold (Inter), Tuva Hansen (Bayern Munich), Guro Bergsvand (Brighton & Hove Albion), Maren Mjelde (Chelsea), Thea Bjelde (Valerenga), Mathilde Harviken (Rosenborg), Sara Horte (Rosenborg), Marit Bratberg Lund (Brann)

Midfielders: Ingrid Syrstad Engen (Barcelona), Vilde Boe Risa (Manchester United), Guro Reiten (Chelsea), Frida Maanum (Arsenal), Amalie Eikeland (Reading), Julie Blakstad (Manchester City), Emilie Haavi (Roma)

Forwards: Ada Hegerberg (Lyon), Sophie Roman Haug (Roma), Karina Saevik (Valerenga), Anna Josendal (Rosenborg)



Philippines have won five of their last six games heading into the tournament, making light work of first round Asian Olympic qualifiers and coming away with two wins from three at the Southeast Asian Games.

This comes after a run of three straight defeats to Wales, Scotland and Iceland in the Pintar Cup.

However, most of these wins have come against sides who are ranked lower than them in the world rankings. Their most impressive spate of results come at the Asian Cup last year, when they made it all the way through to the semi finals.

Alen Stajcic


Former Matildas boss Alen Stajcic will lead Philippines into the World Cup, having done so with Australia back in 2015.

Stajcic took over in October 2021 after departing his post with Central Coast Mariners’ Isuzu UTE A-League outfit a few months prior.

The two-time A-League Women’s Coach of the Year has coached 39 games, winning 23 of those and led the side to the semis of the Asian Cup last year – the furthest any Philippines side has gone at the tournament.

Key storyline

Philippines are one of the tournament debutants and will be entering into uncharted waters at the World Cup.

However, they will be steered by a coach who has experienced what it’s like to compete on the world stage against the best the world has to offer.

In the eyes of Cannulli, who has seen the team prepare first-hand, she believes they’re not going to be a difficult side to beat at the World Cup.

“We know that the Phillippines are also a dark horse with Alen Stajcic behind the wheel,” Cannulli said.

“Alen Stajcic knows how to get things done and getting Angie Beard across the line to be able to play for the Philippines in this World Cup is a massive signing for them.

“I’ve been super lucky to be able to spend a little bit of time with the team on the training pitch while they’ve been in Sydney before they head off to New Zealand.

“And if there’s one thing that they’re going to be, they’re going to be prepared and organised and any team that Staj has got, they’re well structured, they’re going to be defensively very, very sound and they’ve got Sarina Bolden, that brings so much energy up front as well.”

Star player

Western United defender Angie Beard looms as one of the Philippines’ key players at the tournament.

Beard – who has previously been capped three times by the Matildas – is eligible to represent Philippines through her mother and was previously invited to a training camp last September.

Now, she has seemingly pledged her allegiance to the Filipinas ahead of the World Cup.

The 25-year-old was under an injury cloud after sustaining a foot injury in Western’s Semi Final win over Sydney FC in April but has been called up to the provisional squad – signalling that she should be right to go come their opening game against Switzerland on July 21.


Cannulli: Progress to the knockout stages

Gill: Progress to the knockout stages


(29-player preliminary squad)

Goalkeepers: Kiara Fontanila (Central Coast Mariners), Kaiya Jota (Stanford Cardinal), Olivia McDaniel (Milwaukee Panthers), Inna Palacios (Kaya-Iloilo)

Defenders: Maya Alcantara (Georgetown Hoyas), Alicia Barker (Illinois Fighting Illini), Angela Beard (Western United), Reina Bonta (Santos), Malea Cesar (Blacktown City), Jessika Cowart (IFK Kalmar), Sofia Harrison (Werder Bremen), Hali Long (Kaya-Iloilo), Dominque Randle (por/KA)

Midfielders: Tahnai Annis (por/KA), Ryley Bugay (FC Saarbrucken), Anick Castaneda (Mt Druitt Town Rangers), Sara Eggesvik (KIL/Hemne), Kaya Hawkinson (Central Coast Mariners), Eva Madarang (Blacktown Spartans), Jessica Miclat (Eskilstuna United), Isabella Pasion (Lebanon Trail High School), Quinley Quezada (Red Star Belgrade), Jaclyn Sawicki (Western United)

Forwards: Sarina Bolden (Western Sydney Wanderers), Isabella Flanigan (West Virginia Mountaineers), Carleigh Frilles (Blacktown Spartans), Katrina Guillou (Pitea IF), Chandler McDaniel (Milwaukee Panthers), Meryll Serrano (Stabaek)

Coach: Alen Stajcic



Since qualifying for the tournament in a stirring 2-1 win over Wales in extra time, Switzerland have failed to win any of their last six games.

The Swiss have drawn four times to the likes of Zambia, Poland and China, and lost to Denmark and Iceland. They face Zambia again on July 5 on their home deck, before they make the trip to Auckland ahead of their opening game with the Philippines.

Switzerland were also eliminated from their group at the Euros last year, taking home only a single point.


One of the game’s most prolific strikers of all-time, Inka Grings will lead Switzerland into the World Cup.

Grings was part of Germany’s successful European Championship winning sides in 2005 and 2009, and is the second all-time leading goalscorer in Germany’s top division, with 195 goals and claimed the league’s top-scorer award on a record six occasions.

In 2019, she became the first female coach to manage a men’s side, helming SV 19 Straelen.

The 44-year-old took over as head coach at the start of the year on an official basis, after coaching local side Zurich Frauen.

Key storyline

This is only the second time in the nation’s history that Switzerland will compete at the World Cup, with the last being in 2015, where they qualified for the Round of 16.

After being drawn into quite an evenly placed group, the Swiss are every chance to make it two from two and Canulli believes you can’t “underestimate” their credentials.

“It’s in their blood, it’s in their culture… You can’t underestimate Switzerland. I think they’re gonna do really well,” she said.

Star player:

Arsenal’s Lia Walti looms as Switzerland’s most integral player in the middle of the park.

Not only is she arguably the nation’s best player, Walti also is the side’s captain, taking over from Lara Dickerman in 2019.

“They’ve got the likes of Lia Walti as well as a midfielder who plays at Arsenal alongside Steph Catley and Caitlin Foord and she’s a world class footballer as well,” Cannulli said.

“She’s such a smart, intelligent footballer in, in the middle of the park and she’s going to be a key player for them.”

Walti’s is set to be joined by Arsenal teammate Noelle Maritz, while Barcelona’s Ana-Maria Crnogorcevic – who is the side’s most capped player and also their all-time leading scorer – looms as their most likely avenue to goal.


Canulli: Eliminated in the group stage

Gill: Eliminated in the group stage


Goalkeepers: Seraina Friedli (Zurich), Livia Peng (Levante), Gaelle Thalmann (Real Betis)

Defenders: Eseosa Aigbogun (Paris FC), Luana Buhler (Hoffenheim), Viola Calligaris (Levante), Laura Felber (Servette), Noelle Maritz (Arsenal), Lara Marti (Bayer Leverkusen), Nadine Riesen (Zurich), Julia Stierli (Zurich)

Midfielders: Sandrine Mauron (Servette), Seraina Piubel (Zurich), Geraldine Reuteler (Eintracht Frankfurt), Marion Rey (Zurich), Coumba Sow (Servette), Lia Wälti (Arsenal)

Forwards: Ramona Bachmann, (Paris Saint-Germain), Ana Maria Crnogorcevic (Barcelona), Fabienne Humm (Zurich), Alisha Lehmann (Aston Villa), Meriame Terchoun (Dijon), Amira Arfaoui (Bayer Leverkusen)


New Zealand v Norway
Date: Thursday, July 20
Time: 5 PM (AEST), 7 PM (local)
Venue: Eden Park, Auckland
Broadcast: Seven and Optus Sport

Philippines v Switzerland
Date: Friday, July 21
Time: 3 PM (AEST), 5 PM (local)
Venue: Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin
Broadcast: Optus Sport

New Zealand v Philippines
Date: Tuesday, July 25
Time: 3:30 PM (AEST), 5:30 PM (local)
Venue: Wellington Regional Stadium, Wellington
Broadcast: Optus Sport

Switzerland v Norway
Date: Tuesday, July 25
Time: 6 PM (AEST), 8 PM (local)
Venue: Waikato Stadium, Hamilton
Broadcast: Optus Sport

Norway v Philippines
Date: Sunday, July 30
Time: 5 PM (AEST), 7 PM (local)
Venue: Eden Park, Auckland
Broadcast: Optus Sport

Switzerland v New Zealand
Date: Sunday, July 30
Time: 5 PM (AEST), 7 PM (local)
Venue: Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin
Broadcast: Optus Sport