A Beginners Guide to the Women’s World Cup

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The World Cup is the biggest event in global soccer, and it brings in a lot of fans who don’t necessarily spend a lot of time or energy thinking about the game in between the big events. But it can sometimes feel a little overwhelming trying to catch up on months or years of information that have passed by since the last time you checked in.

If you fall into that category, this is the guide for you. It will give you a quick rundown on the tournament, and provide a few helpful tidbits to let you join in on the conversation.

Where is it happening?

The tournament is in France this year, with games spread across eight venues. The opening match will kick off in Paris, which will also host several more group stage games and a couple knockout matches. Other cities like Nice, Reims, Valenciennes, and Le Havre will host matches in the group stages and first two knockout rounds. At that point, all eyes will turn to Lyon, which will host the semifinal and finals in the last week of the tournament.

Because the tournament is in France, the games will mostly take place in the late morning and early afternoon for most US viewers–which is a pretty good time to watch soccer!

How can I watch it?

Soccer is more fun in big groups, so find your favorite local watering hole and ask them to put it on. If that fails, you can also watch at home, with every game being broadcast on Fox, FS1, or FS2, and will also be available in Spanish on Telemundo and Universo. And on the principle that soccer is more fun in groups, if there’s no local establishment you’d like to visit, you could always put together a watch party at home. 

For those cord-cutters out there, everything is also available through streaming services like fuboTV.

Who are the favorites to win the tournament?

  • The United States are defending champions, and have a strong chance to win again this time. There’s been some turnover since 2015, but most of the core of the old team is still around, supplemented with some important new contributors. This squad is deep and very strong.
  • Co-favorites are France. It would be a first-time title for the team, almost exactly two decades after their male counterparts accomplished the same thing on home soil in 1998. This French team is as good as they’ve ever had.
  • Germany are two-time winners (2003 and 2007), and the defending Olympic champions. They haven’t had a great last couple years, but things seem to be falling into line at the right time. They will be strong contenders.
  • Australia are the newest of new kids on the block. They have a core of young players who have grown together over the past decade, and with Sam Kerr, they’ve got arguably the best player in the world leading their line.
  • Honorable mentions: England continue to develop and could pose a real threat. The Netherlands are the defending European champions and have an impressive attacking array. This is likely Christine Sinclair’s final World Cup, and Canada will do everything they can to boost her to the final. And it’s never wise to count Japan out, even if they don’t look as strong these days.

Some key storylines to follow

  • Broken record. Christine Sinclair has scored 181 goals in her illustrious career, leaving her just three behind Abby Wambach’s record of 184. It would be a fitting capstone on the career of an all-time great to break the record in her final World Cup.
  • A deadly quarterfinal. If the United States and France both win their groups, they will be on a collision course for a quarterfinal showdown between the two tournament favorites. It would take place on June 28 in Paris, in front of 50,000 fans.
  • The Sam Kerr wrecking tour. There are several players with a case for being the best in the world right now, but in my opinion Sam Kerr is the first among equals. She’s led both the NWSL (United States) and W-League (Australia) in scoring in both of the past two seasons. If her form continues, this could be a performance for the ages.

Five group stage games that are worth watching

If you can only catch a few games, here are some that will be most likely to give you some serious bang for your buck:

  • France vs. South Korea. June 7. The opening match of the tournament, held at the Parc des Princes in Paris. The atmosphere should be raucous, as Les Bleus look to start things off with a bang.
  • England vs. Scotland. June 9. The oldest rivalry in soccer gets another new chapter in the book. England will be the favorites, but don’t sleep on this Scotland team. You’ll want to pay particular attention to Kim Little—one of the world’s best players finally given a chance to shine on the biggest stage with her country.
  • Germany vs. Spain. June 12. Germany are one of the best teams in the world, and Spain are a rising power. Whoever wins this group will gain a relatively easy slot in the elimination bracket. Whoever finishes second will probably have to play the United States.
  • Netherlands vs. Canada. June 20. Two excellent teams that will likely be playing to see who gets to top the group. Canada are a defensive stalwart, while the Dutch have one of the most exciting attacks in world soccer. Which will come out on top?
  • Sweden vs. United States. June 20. Two classic rivals facing off in the final slot of the group stages. They’ll not only be fighting to top the group, but there will also be an element of revenge, after Sweden bounced the US out of the Olympics in 2016.

Who should I support?

Support whoever you like, and don’t mind anyone who says otherwise! There are exciting stories with every single team in the tournament, and plenty to root for in every case. But if you still aren’t sure, here’s a short guide to provide some assistance:

  • If your favorite teams are the New York Yankees, Golden State Warriors, New England Patriots, and Real Madrid, then you should support the United States.
  • If you want to jump on a bandwagon, you should support Australia.
  • If you want to jump on a slightly hipper bandwagon, you should support Spain.
  • If you’re so hip that you only want to support a team if everyone else is jumping off the bandwagon, you should support Brazil.
  • If you want to support a team making their first appearance in the tournament (and you should!), you should support one of Chile, Jamaica, Scotland, or South Africa. My personal tip is Jamaica, but they’re all great.
  • If you want to see your team play beautiful soccer, you should support Japan.
  • If you want to support an African team with a chance to make a deep run, you should support Nigeria.
  • If you want to boisterously sing a great national anthem after a victory, you should support France.

But, again, there aren’t any wrong answers here. All the teams are well-deserving of some love.

Who should I follow to stay up to date?

I will be covering the tournament from France, and you’re certainly welcome to follow along with me at @olneyce. But assuming you want a wider range, there are some excellent lists of recommended follows provided by our friends Jacob Cristobal, Sophie Lawson, RJ Allen, and Kim McCauley.

I’m enjoying the World Cup so much, and I’m sad it will be over soon

You’re in luck! Almost everyone participating in the World Cup also plays in their domestic leagues. If you want to see more Sam Kerr, Crystal Dunn, and Christine Sinclair, you can tune into the National Women’s Soccer League – with games going on right through the World Cup and continuing on immediately after. And many other leagues around the world will start back up at the end of summer. There’s a world of great women’s soccer out there, just waiting for your attention!

Image courtesy of Carl Gulbish
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