CNN — Expectations are always high for the US Women’s National Team (USWNT) when the Women’s World Cup comes around, and this year is no different as the all-conquering team bids for an historic third consecutive title.
How to watch
The USWNT vs. Vietnam kicks off at 9 p.m. ET on Friday, with Zambia vs. Japan starting at 3 a.m. ET on Saturday.
England vs. Haiti follows at 5:30 a.m. ET Saturday, before the final match of the day gets underway between Denmark and China at 8:00 a.m. ET Saturday.
In the US, the match will air on your local Fox channel. You can also stream the match by signing in with your TV provider at foxsports.com or on the Fox Sports app. Telemundo and Peacock are providing Spanish-language coverage.
Three-peat on the cards?
Saturday sees the US juggernaut open its campaign against World Cup debutant Vietnam at Eden Park in Auckland, New Zealand, with a squad blending elite experience with exciting young talent. Five members of the team – including stars Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe – were part of the successful campaigns in 2015 and 2019, while Alyssa Thompson and Trinity Rodman, already established stars in the NWSL, are making their first appearance at the sport’s showpiece event.
Rodman, daughter of NBA legend Dennis, scored both goals in the squad’s final warm-up fixture against Wales and is many people’s bet to be the breakout star of the tournament.
Rapinoe is likely to make her 200th appearance for the USWNT in Saturday’s game and will be hoping to mark the occasion with her 10th World Cup goal – only three of her compatriots have scored more in women’s World Cup history.
The 38-year-old announced earlier this month that she is to retire at the end of the 2023 NWSL season. Should she score at the World Cup, she would become the USWNT’s oldest ever goalscorer at the event, replacing Carli Lloyd.
The last time the USWNT faced an AFC opponent at a World Cup, it ran riot, emerging as a 13-0 winner against Thailand in the 2019 edition in what remains the largest margin of victory in either women’s or men’s World Cup history. Morgan scored five times on that occasion – a similar glut against Vietnam seems unlikely but not impossible as the teams meet for the first time.
The burden of history could weigh heavily upon the US players, having won four of the eight official versions of the tournament to date as well as its previous 12 World Cup games, dating back to the 2015 group stage. No country has ever won three straight titles in either men’s or women’s World Cup history.
However, some of the players have told CNN they aren’t focused on the historic feat, but rather the task at hand of winning a World Cup.
“As much as the rest of the world is looking at it like a potential ‘three-peat,’ we’re looking at it as this tournament we have in front of us in 2023,” Morgan told CNN Sport’s Amanda Davies.
“The goal is just always winning,” Rapinoe told CNN. “That’s all that matters. That’s like our secret sauce, just an insatiable desire to win and everything else comes after that.”
The USWNT’s veneer of invincibility has somewhat dissipated since its 2019 triumph, with defeat to Canada in the 2020 Olympic semifinal followed by an almost unprecedented three-game losing streak under head coach Vlatko Andonovski. A confident start against Vietnam would no doubt settle some nerves with tougher missions laying ahead.
Vietnam’s tall task
Vietnam faces a metaphorical mountain if the team is to make an imprint on the fixture and will be largely hoping to avoid a similar fate as Thailand in 2019.
The Golden Star Women Warriors qualified by ousting Thailand and Chinese Taipei in a round-robin after reaching the quarterfinals of the Asia Cup for the first time in their history.
The squad boasts just one player plying their trade outside the country – star striker Huỳnh Nhu, who has racked up an impressive 67 goals in 103 international appearances and competes in Portugal’s top division for Länk FC Vilaverdense.
Given Vietnam’s relative paucity of resources and experience compared to its Group E competitors – the US, Netherlands and Portugal – its chances of advancing from the opening stage are slim.
Expect wild celebrations if the team scores at the tournament, particularly in the high profile contest against the USWNT, such as when Nguyen Thi Thanh Nhã, 21, grabbed a 92nd-minute consolation goal in a 2-1 defeat to Germany in a friendly in June.
Zambia vs Japan
Another of the tournament’s newcomers is Zambia, who will make its bow against 2011 World Cup winner Japan. Despite being the lowest-ranked team at the World Cup at No. 77, the Copper Queens have shown they are not to be taken lightly – recently shocking No. 2 ranked Germany in a friendly via a 102nd-minute winner from star striker Barbra Banda.
Japan has one of the youngest squads in the tournament, having largely eschewed the experience of known stars such as Mana Iwabuchi for the allure of youthful exuberance that has picked up World Cup trophies at lower age levels.
Saki Kumigai, the captain and lone member of the squad who appeared in the 2011 World Cup triumph, scored the decisive penalty in that historic moment for the Nadeshiko. Kumigai is the fourth highest capped Japanese woman of all time and will be relied upon for that nous as she attempts to shepherd the team to further glory.
England vs Haiti
Yet another David vs. Goliath affair on Saturday comes in the guise of European champion England taking on Haiti in the latter’s first ever World Cup match.
England coach Sarina Wiegman has had her preparations stymied by several serious injuries to key players – including captain Leah Williamson and forward Beth Mead.
The European Championship triumph in 2022 under Wiegman should help to dispel some of England’s semifinal demons in major tournaments; the team fell at that hurdle in both 2015 and 2019, to Japan and the USWNT respectively.
Haiti arrives at the event off the back of a relatively unexpected victory over Chile in the inter-confederation playoff. Both goals in the 2-1 win over Chile were scored by star player Melchie Dumornay, affectionately known as ‘Corventina’ in her home nation. Dumornay recently signed with French giant Olympique Lyonnais Féminin.
Denmark vs China
In six appearances at the World Cup, China’s women are yet to be eliminated in the group stage, and the Steel Roses would go some way towards maintaining that record with a positive result against Denmark.
The team’s most recent tournament football finished in resounding success – defeating Japan and South Korea en route to lifting the 2022 AFC Asian Cup for the first time since 2006.
Denmark, meanwhile, is appearing at the Women’s World Cup for the first time since 2007 having won all eight of its qualification matches. Bayern Munich’s new signing Pernille Harder will be key to any success, finally making her World Cup debut at 30 years old.
Escaping a tricky group which includes England, China and Haiti would represent an impressive showing for the Scandinavian outfit.
Source : CNN