Sports, Football

European heavyweights ready for another tilt at World Cup title

By Reuters
Published : 22 Jul 2023 08:19 PM

Sweden, France and the Netherlands will all be favourites to win their Women's World Cup openers on Sunday, kicking off a campaign where they will again hope to challenge for the title after falling short in the 2019 tournament.

Runners-up four years ago, the Netherlands return to the global stage aiming to revive fading fortunes but they will be without all-time top scorer Vivianne Miedema, who ruptured her ACL in December.

Their quest begins in Dunedin against Portugal, who are the highest ranked newcomers at this year's event at world number 21.

But the focus ahead of their Group E opener was on the training conditions in New Zealand, with Netherlands coach Andries Jonker saying the facilities had been inadequate.

"We are not satisfied," Jonker said on Friday. "We have raised concerns about the cricket pitch previously, we were promised things and now we are very disappointed and angry."

Sweden, who finished third in 2019, face South Africa in Wellington in their first Group G match and will be keen to shed the 'perennial bridesmaids' tag at major tournaments, having reached last year's Euro semi-finals and lost the 2020 Olympic final to Canada.

"History is history and the future is the future, you can only live where we are now," Sweden coach Peter Gerhardsson said on Saturday. "The focus is on the first game. You can't be weighing your mind on what's going to happen after that."

France reached the World Cup quarter-finals on home soil four years ago and will begin their campaign against Jamaica in Group F in Sydney with a clean slate under coach Herve Renard, with off-field issues finally behind them.

Renard, who led Saudi Arabia to a group stage win over Argentina at the men's World Cup last year, replaced Corinne Diacre after key players refused to play under her and will hope to pull off another miracle by turning the team into world champions.