Women’s World Cup Group B Preview: Shock group exit predicted for Olympic gold medallists

Former Matildas Grace Gill and Cath Cannuli are joined by Kathleen McNamee from the COYGIG Podcast to bring you a full preview of Group B at the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup in the latest episode of KEEPUP’s new podcast: Dub at the Cup!

The Matildas are the headline act in Group B – but progressing to the knockout phase of the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup will be no easy feat considering the firepower among the opposition ranks.

Canada, Nigeria and the Republic of Ireland join Australia in Group B; Canada won Olympic Gold at Tokyo 2020, and will be buoyed by a pair of victories over the Matildas on Australian soil in September 2022 as they pose the biggest threat to the host nation’s hopes of topping the group.

But on the latest edition of KEEPUP’s new podcast Dub at the Cup, former Matildas and A-Leagues striker Grace Gill predicted it would be the Republic of Ireland joining Australia as the two teams from Group B venturing to the knockout phase.

Gill was joined by Cath Cannuli and special guest Kathleen McNamee, Republic of Ireland football expert from the COYGIG Podcast to dissect the chance of each team progressing out of Group B.

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

ULTIMATE GUIDE: Everything you need to know
GROUP A PREVIEW: Can co-hosts break hoodoo on 16th attempt?
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

Australia

Form

The jury was out on the progress of the Matildas under Tony Gustavsson until the end of 2022 drew near, when the national team experienced a complete turnaround in form and developed genuine momentum heading into the World Cup.

A pair of defeats to fellow Group B contenders Canada on home soil in September made for grim reading for the green and gold. But, the four games that followed before the end of the year were all wins; defeating South Africa, Denmark, Sweden and Thailand helped turn the tide before an unbeaten run through the 2023 Cup of Nations made it seven wins from seven, as Australia beat Czech Republic, Spain and Jamaica in February.

Then came a 1-0 loss to Scotland in April, before arguably the best Matildas result under Gustavsson: a 2-0 win over European champions England in London four days later. The Matildas have won eight of their last nine games heading into the send-off friendly against France in Melbourne on July 14.

Coach

Tony Gustavsson was appointed as Matildas coach in September of 2020, but it wasn’t until April of 2021 that he took charge of his very first game: a 5-2 defeat to Germany in Wiesbaden. It was an ominous sign for what was to come in a rocky opening to his Matildas tenure; Gustavsson had just a 30% win rate after his first 20 games at the helm, and after bundling out of the 2022 Asian Cup at the quarter-finals, serious questions were being asked about his leadership of the side.

But patience has paid off for the Matildas. Under Gustavsson, 54 different players have been called into national camps. The profile of the squad has shifted, slowly but surely, to the point where seven of the 2023 World Cup squad members are debutants at the major tournament. Results have improved, too, and there’s a united message among the squad members who speak glowingly of Gustavsson at every time of asking. This is a squad that is fully bought in to the methods of the manager heading into the World Cup.

Key storyline

The fitness of a handful of star players comes under the microscope as we venture into the final weeks of World Cup preparation. Veteran Kyah Simon earned a spot among the 23-player squad despite not playing a minute of competitive action since October due to an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear, while the likes of Alanna Kennedy, Mary Fowler, Clare Polkinghorne, Emily van Egmond, Teagan Micah and Tameka Yallop all head into camp off the back of restricted build-up to the tournament due to respective injuries.

On paper, Australia’s squad is strong enough to match it with the best. But whether or not that squad is fully fit by the time the first game of the tournament rolls around remains to be seen.

Star Player

This is Sam Kerr’s moment. The Chelsea star and Matildas captain steps into the global spotlight as the face of this World Cup; speaking to reporters at Monday’s squad announcement, Kerr revealed her eagerness to get stuck into the tournament – and says she will relish the extra attention she receives not only from the media and fans, but from the Matildas’ group-stage opponents.

“That’s the great thing about being a striker,” she said. “They can isolate me for 90 minutes but I really only need one opportunity, and I think over the past year playing with Chelsea I’ve really focused in on that.

“I’ve been really, really isolated but being able to work on being alive for that one moment, and I feel like at Chelsea I’ve really succeeded.”

Prediction

Gill: Group B winners

Cannuli: Group B winners

Squad

Goalkeepers: Teagan Micah, Lydia Williams, Mackenzie Arnold

Defenders: Ellie Carpenter, Steph Catley, Charlotte Grant, Clare Hunt, Alanna Kennedy, Aivi Luik, Courtney Nevin, Clare Polkinghorne

Midfielders: Kyra Cooney-Cross, Alex Chidiac, Katrina Gorry, Emily van Egmond, Clare Wheeler, Tameka Yallop

Forwards: Caitlin Foord, Mary Fowler, Sam Kerr, Hayley Raso, Kyah Simon, Cortnee Vine

Republic of Ireland

Form

A 72nd-minute Amber Barrett goal settled a 1-0 win over Scotland in October, 2022 – and sent the Republic of Ireland to a Women’s World Cup for the very first time.

Ever since, Vera Pauw’s side have experienced an indifferent run of form, drawing to China before tasting back-to-back defeats against the United States. Their most recent hit-out came against Zambia in a June friendly, in the form of a 3-2 win highlighted by a Barrett brace.

Coach

Vera Pauw is a former Netherlands international who has managed Scotland, the Netherlands, Russia and South Africa at international level. Pauw has been Republic of Ireland head coach since September 2019, leading the nation to the cusp of qualification for the 2022 UEFA European Championships before making history as the first head coach to book Republic of Ireland a place at the World Cup finals after an historic play-off win over Scotland in October.

Key storyline

The Republic of Ireland will compete at a Women’s World Cup for the very first time in 2023 – and according to McNamee of the COYGIG Podcast, it’s all thanks to a momentum-shifting win over the Matildas.

Mary Fowler scored a brace during a friendly between the two nations at Tallaght Stadium in September of 2021, but it wasn’t enough as an early Mackenzie Arnold own goal was compounded by strikes to Denise O’Sullivan and Louise Quinn.

“When we played Australia in a friendly in Tallaght, in Irish consciousness that was the moment things changed for this team,” McNamee said.

“For us to get that result was massive, and if you talk to the players now a lot of them would say: ‘That was the moment we knew we were on the right track’.

“So from there, that’s how we went into the World Cup qualification process. And then to actually achieve it in the playoff against Scotland was incredible.”

Star Player

Arsenal star and Republic of Ireland captain Katie McCabe is set to play a key role for her nation across the group stage – and could prove pivotal to her side’s preparation for battle against Australia on July 20 due to her connection to a pair of Matildas stars and Arsenal teammates Steph Catley and Caitlin Foord.

Arsenal’s 2022-23 Player of the Season can play either as left-wing or left-back, but is expected to line up as the latter in Ireland’s squad come World Cup time; it means a tantalising matchup with Matildas right-back Ellie Carpenter is on the cards, with Carpenter just as eager to get forward and cause troubles for opposing defenders as she is to keep wingers at bay in the defensive third.

“I am genuinely afraid of that battle,” said McNamee, “because they are two really ferocious players who are incredibly good. I can just imagine the heated exchanges on such a big night.

“I think they are really well measured. I think Ellie probably has a little bit more support in the team than Katie does in terms of the quality of players around her. Sometimes there’s an expectation with Katie that she has to fill a lot of different roles, so it’s going to be interesting to see how she approaches that.”‘

McCabe suffered a fitness scare on Friday morning (AEST), with the Ireland star rolling her ankle in a 3-0 defeat to France.

READ MORE: Injury scare for Matildas’ World Cup opponents ahead of Sydney blockbuster

Katie McCabe

Prediction

McNamee: Third-place finish in Group B

Cannuli: Group-stage exit

Gill: To progress with Australia as the second-placed Group B finishers

Squad

Goalkeepers: Courtney Brosnan (Everton), Grace Moloney (Reading), Megan Walsh (Brighton)

Defenders: Aine O’Gorman (Shamrock Rovers), Louise Quinn (Birmingham), Niamh Fahey (Liverpool), Diane Caldwell (Reading), Claire O’Riordan (Celtic), Chloe Mustaki (Bristol City), Heather Payne (Florida State Seminoles), Isibeal Atkinson (West Ham United)

Midfielders: Katie McCabe (Arsenal), Denise O’Sullivan (North Carolina Courage), Megan Connolly (Brighton), Ruesha Littlejohn (Aston Villa), Ciara Grant (Hearts), Lily Agg (London City Lionesses), Sinead Farrelly (NY/NJ Gotham), Lucy Quinn (Birmingham City)

Forwards: Abbie Larkin (Shamrock Rovers), Kyra Carusa (London City Lionesses), Amber Barrett (Potsdam Turbine), Marissa Sheva (Washington Spirit)

Reserve players: Sophie Whitehouse (Lewes), Harriet Scott (Birmingham City), Jamie Finn (Birmingham City)

Canada

Form

Canada has faced an assortment of formidable opponents in the build-up to the Women’s World Cup. A pair of wins against Australia in Brisbane and Sydney in September were the first of five wins on the bounce for Bev Priestman’s side, but their form since has been patchy at best.

Canada have faced Brazil twice and the United States, France and Japan once since that five-game winning streak, and have won just once: a 2-0 win over Brazil in February. Canada have lost to Japan and France in their two most recent fixtures.

Adriana Leon celebrates scoring against the Matildas in September.

Coach

Bev Priestman took over as Canada head coach in October 2020, and proceeded to guide the nation to Olympic gold at Tokyo 2020.

Priestman spent five years in the international setup between 2013 and 2018, operating as assistant coach to the senior side under John Herdman and helping to establish the EXCEL program, a youth development program that contributed to more of the nation’s best young talent progressing through the system to the senior team, and ultimately helping the nation medal at the past two Olympic Games.

Key storyline

The Canadian national team are in the midst of a pay dispute with Canada Soccer Association as they prepare to descend on Australia for the World Cup.

The dispute has been long-running, as the women’s team fight for equal pay with their male counterparts in the international setup.

Legendary striker Christine Sinclair spoke in late June about the necessity for the dispute to be settled before the team touches down in Australia.

“We knew this was going to be a fight. We knew it was going to take some time,” Sinclair told The Canadian Press. “But us as a women’s team have flat out told the CSA that we need a deal in place for at least the World Cup and this year before we head down there. So obviously we’re getting close. I think it will happen. Will it be a long-term deal? No. But something will be done before the World Cup starts.”

Days later, Canada Soccer interim general secretary said the association may need to consider filing for bankruptcy protection as the association’s financial struggles continued to figure as a prominent discussion point pre-World Cup. A new collective bargaining agreement between Canada Soccer and the women’s and men’s senior teams is yet to be struck.

Star Player

In the history of football, no player – male or female – has scored more international goals than Christine Sinclair.

The 40-year-old striker is truly one of the best to ever do it – and should she hit the scoreboard at the 2023 World Cup, will become the first player in history to score at six World Cup tournaments.

“It’s hard to talk about the Canadian women’s national team without mentioning Christine Sinclair,” said Gill. “She’s the world’s all-time leading goalscorer of international goals – men or women – and she’s just turned 40 years old.

“She’ll play a key role in this team,” replied Cannuli. “She’s still a fantastic leader. I remember playing against her in the 2002 Youth World Cup and I know she’s still playing and I’ve gone on to have two kids – that’s a big difference!

“I think she’ll play a massive role on and off the pitch. The way Bev (Priestman) will need to utilise her across the group stages being 40 years of age is going to be really important that they do utilise her in certain ways on the pitch. When you do get older you start o feel it, and to be able to back up for three games in the group stage is going to be tough as well.”

Christine Sinclair.

Prediction

Cannuli: To progress with Australia to the knockout phase

Gill: To make a surprise group stage exit

Squad

Goalkeepers: Sabrina D’Angelo (Arsenal), Lysianne Proulx (SCU Torreense), Kailen Sheridan (San Diego Wave)

Defenders: Kadeisha Buchanan (Chelsea), Vanessa Gilles (Olympique Lyonnais), Shelina Zadorsky (Tottenham Hotspur), Jade Rose (Harvard University), Allysha Chapman (Houston Dash), Ashley Lawrence (Chelsea), Jayde Riviere (Manchester United)

Midfielders: Quinn (OL Reign), Marie-Yasmine Alidou D’Anjou (Famalicao), Simi Awujo (University of Southern California), Jessie Fleming (Chelsea), Julia Grosso (Juventus), Sophie Schmidt, (Houston Dash), Desiree Scott (Kansas City Current)

Forwards: Jordyn Huitema (OL Reign), Cloe Lacasse (Benfica), Clarissa Larisey (BK Hacken),   Adriana Leon (Portland Thorns), Christine Sinclair (Portland Thorns), Nichelle Prince (Houston Dash), Deanne Rose (Reading), Evelyne Viens (Kristianstads)

Nigeria

Form

The Super Falcons are en route to Australia having last played a competitive fixture in April; Nigeria have won three games on the bounce against Costa Rica, Haiti and New Zealand after six consecutive defeats – a run stretching back to the 2022 Women’s AFCON third-place play-off against Zambia.

Coach

American Randy Waldrum has been in charge of the Super Falcons since 2020 – a role he holds concurrently with his duties as head women’s soccer coach at the University of Pittsburgh.

Waldrum has worked in a number of positions in the United States college and university systems through a coaching career spanning more than 40 years. From 2014-2016 Waldrum served as head coach of Trinidad and Tobago, guiding them to a fourth-place finish at the 2014 CONCACAF Women’s Championship.

Key storyline

Like Canada, Nigeria’s journey to the World Cup has not been without its controversy. Leading up to his squad’s departure to Australia, head coach Waldrum told Pittsburgh-based podcast Sounding Off On Soccer of his frustration with the Nigerian Football Federation for a “lack of support” leading up to the World Cup, citing the federation’s decision to cancel a training camp in Nigeria prior to the squads arrival Down Under as one of many of his causes for concern.

“We have less days than a college preseason to prepare for the World Cup and it blows my mind because we’ve known about this since last year,” he said.

Waldrum also noted the federation’s attempts to interfere with squad selection, asking him to select a goalkeeper he had “never seen” and had never taken part in one of his squads.

NFF spokesman Ademola Olajire labelled Waldrum’s comments as “nothing but an after-thought” ahead of the World Cup. Waldrum’s comments included the following sensational statement:

“To the point, honestly, where I am sitting here, and I’m supposed to leave Sunday, and thinking, ‘Do I even really need to go or not?’ The only thing that keeps me going is the players,” Waldrum said.

“It wouldn’t be fair to them for me to not go, and have one of the Nigerian assistants take them with no real idea of how to help them after I’ve been working with them for two years. The flip side of me is, there is a right and a wrong… And, you know, they’ve really put us in a bad spot.” 

Star Player

Asisat Lamina Oshoala is the player to watch among the ranks of the Super Falcons. Oshoala is a Barcelona star, and a great of African football having been crowned the continent’s women’s footballer of the year on five occasions. Oshoala has played for both Liverpool and Arsenal in a decorated career that has seen her turn into a crucial player for the Catalan giants.

“Oshoala who plays for Barcelona is a striker, she’s a five-time African Footballer of the Year, who is a quality footballer, and can hold that team on her own shoulders,” Cannuli said.

Asisat Oshoala.

Prediction

Cannuli: Group-stage exit

Gill: Group-stage exit

Squad

Goalkeepers: Chiamaka Nnadozie (Paris FC), Tochukwu Oluehi (Hakkarigucu Spor), Yewande Balogun (Saint-Etienne)

Defenders: Onome Ebi (Abia Angels), Osinachi Ohale (Deportivo Alaves), Glory Ogbonna (Besiktas), Ashleigh Plumptre (Leicester City), Rofiat Imuran (Stade de Reims), Michelle Alozie (Houston Dash), Oluwatosin Demehin (Stade de Reims)

Midfielders: Halimatu Ayinde (Rosengard), Rasheedat Ajibade (Atletico Madrid), Toni Payne (Sevilla), Christy Ucheibe (Benfica), Deborah Abiodun (Rivers Angels) Jennifer Echegini (Florida State University)

Forwards: Uchenna Kanu (Racing Louisville), Gift Monday (UDG Tenerife), Ifeoma Onumonu (Gotham FC), Asisat Oshoala (Barcelona), Desire Oparanozie (Wuhan Chegu Jianghan), Francisca Ordega (CSKA Moscow), Esther Okoronkwo (Saint-Etienne)

GROUP B FIXTURES

Australia v Republic of Ireland
Date: Thursday, July 20
Time: 8 PM (AEST)
Venue: Stadium Australia, Sydney
Broadcast: Seven and Optus Sport

Nigeria v Canada
Date: Friday, July 21
Time: 12:30 PM (AEST)
Venue: Melbourne Rectangular Stadium, Melbourne
Broadcast: Optus Sport

Canada v Republic of Ireland
Date: Wednesday, July 26
Time: 10 PM (AEST), 8 PM (local)
Venue: Perth Rectangular Stadium, Perth
Broadcast: Seven and Optus Sport

Australia v Nigeria
Date: Thursday, July 27
Time: 8 PM (AEST)
Venue: Lang Park, Brisbane
Broadcast: Seven and Optus Sport

Republic of Ireland v Nigeria
Date: Monday, July 31
Time: 8 PM (AEST)
Venue: Lang Park, Brisbane
Broadcast: Optus Sport

Canada v Australia
Date: Monday, July 31
Time: 8 PM (AEST)
Venue: Melbourne Rectangular Stadium, Melbourne
Broadcast: Seven and Optus Sport