10 things we have learned from the Women’s World Cup | Sarah Rendell

Spectacular goals, improved goalkeeping and calls for more VAR are all features of a record-breaking tournament

1 Records are made to be broken

A multitude of records have been shattered on and off the field. For the first time Germany were knocked out in the group stage and USA failed to win at least a bronze, losing in the last 16. The overall attendance record of 1,353,506 for Canada 2015 was broken in Australia and New Zealand with the Sweden v USA last-16 match. Ticket sales smashed the initial target. In short: a tournament for the history books.

2 There has been no shortage of stunning goals

Before a World Cup there are always discussions about who could score the goal of the tournament. Who will produce a piece of magic that makes everyone stop and stare? There have been a few contenders, such as Leicy Santos’s strike for Colombia against England in the quarter-final, Brazil’s Beatriz Zaneratto linking up with Ary Borges against Panama and Katie McCabe’s goal straight from a corner for Ireland against Canada. But Marta Cox’s free-kick against France in the group stage has to take the top prize. Panama’s first World Cup goal was an absolute stunner from outside the penalty area.

Leicy Santos’s chip beats England’s Mary Earps.
Leicy Santos’s chip beats England’s Mary Earps. Photograph: Carl Recine/Reuters

3 All teams need further investment

The tournament has underpinned the urgency of investment for women’s national teams. Jamaica had to fundraise in order to travel, Nigeria’s team are still in a pay dispute with their federation and South Africa protested before the World Cup because of pay issues. Investment should be made regardless of where teams finished at the World Cup but good performances by those sides have shone a spotlight on the issues: after Nigeria’s 3-2 win over Australia, Ian Wright tweeted “pay them”. Female footballers should not have to be fighting to be paid.

4 Changing of the guard

So many players have played their last World Cup. The USA’s two-time winner Megan Rapinoe bowed out in the last 16, Marta played her sixth and final World Cup with Brazil out in the group stage and the talismanic Christine Sinclair has probably bowed out, too, with six finals, after Canada’s early exit. Marta encapsulated the feeling perfectly at the conclusion of her World Cup run – a feeling of passing on the baton. “When I started there were no idols in women’s football,” she said. “How could there be if you didn’t show women’s football? How could I understand that I would reach the national team and become a reference point? Twenty years ago, nobody knew who Marta was at my first World Cup. Twenty years later, we have become a reference for many women all over the world, not only in football.”


5 VAR should be used more widely in women’s football

Lauren James’s red card, Lina Hurtig’s winning penalty and Georgia Stanway’s spot-kick against Haiti were all key moments that required a VAR review. England’s James was initially shown a yellow but it was upgraded to a red, Hurtig’s penalty against the USA needed VAR to determine it was over the line by a matter of millimetres and Stanway initially had her penalty saved against Haiti but VAR showed Kerly Théus had moved off her line too quickly. These crucial interventions prove women’s football needs VAR introduced more broadly, at club level. The debate over whether leagues such as the Women’s Super League need the technology has been rumbling on over the past few seasons and this World Cup has provided plenty of evidence as to why it should be introduced.

6 Bonmatí is a real Ballon d’Or contender

Aitana Bonmatí has been a key cog in Spain’s progress to the final. Her technical ability and creative edge have helped her score three goals and provide two assists, and her performances should surely consolidate a Ballon d’Or nomination. Bonmatí won the treble with Barcelona in 2022-23 – Liga F, the Spanish Cup and the Champions League. In the last of these, Bonmatí was the joint second-highest scorer with five goals and had the most assists, with seven. A World Cup winner’s medal could help secure a Ballon d’Or.

7 Refereeing good but room for improvement

Overall the officiating has been good, with clear, consistent decisions, and referees have not worried about overturning an on-field decision after reviewing it. There have been a few games where the officiating has come into question, for example the Spain v Sweden semi-final, with a few fouls that should have been given overlooked; Sweden’s Amanda Ilestedt shared her frustration after the game. There were also a few inconsistencies over the tournament as a whole – why was Lauren James’s goal against China ruled out for offside, if Salma Paralluelo’s for Spain stood against Sweden? But no one can have a flawless performance, including referees, and overall they have been solid.


8 Goalkeepers making the difference

Female goalkeepers have been widely disrespected in the past and there have even been suggestions that the goals should be made smaller. The latest twist came shortly before the World Cup began with Mary Earps revealing Nike were not selling replicas of the England goalkeeper’s shirt for fans. The outrage from that revelation has been the backdrop to some superb performances, with Earps, the Netherlands’ Daphne van Domselaar and Australia’s Mackenzie Arnold winning player-of-the-match awards. Arguably the best goalkeeping performance of the tournament, though, came from Sweden’s Zecira Musovic against the USA. She made 11 saves over 120 minutes in their last-16 tie.

Zecira Musovic makes one of many saves against the USA.
Zecira Musovic makes one of many saves against the USA. Photograph: Robin Alam/USSF/Getty Images for USSF

9 Other countries have caught up with the USA

The USA had been a dominant force for such a long time. They have always been among the ones to watch but over the past 10 years they have been devastatingly difficult to take on. They had won back-to-back World Cups and headed into this tournament as one of the favourites. But they were dumped out at the earliest stage they have ever exited. Their tactics were criticised, particularly in the group stage, with some suggesting the team were still relying on having superior fitness, which is not the case any longer. The US will remain a force in the game but the tide has definitely turned.

10 Hinata Miyazawa: the Golden Boot is still on

Salma Paralluelo, Linda Caicedo and Mary Fowler have shown the world some of their best performances but one player stands out above the rest – Japan’s Hinata Miyazawa. She scored five goals and provided one assist, putting her at the top of the Golden Boot standings despite Japan being knocked out in the quarter-finals. There are some players who could knock her off top spot, including Spain’s Bonmatí and Jenni Hermoso (both scoring three goals and having two assists) and England’s Lauren James (three goals and three assists).


Sarah Rendell

The GuardianTramp

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