US favourites to defend Women's World Cup title

20 July 2023 5 min. read

As the Women’s World Cup kicks off in New Zealand and Australia, a new study has predicted the potential winner. Despite the impressive form of co-hosts Australia going into the tournament, Gracenote’s simulations suggest the Matildas are less likely to pick up the trophy than Spain, England, France, Germany, Sweden or the holders – the US women’s team.

While women’s football had been trying to replicate the glory of the men’s World Cup since the 1970s, FIFA only sanctioned its own Women’s World Cup in 1991. In the nine editions since, the US Women’s National Team (USWNT) has quickly become the dominant force in the sport. Racking up four titles, the USWNT is the polar opposite of the US Men’s National Team, which was recently dumped out of the Gold Cup by Panama – a position which enabled its players to finally secure equal pay for both male and female soccer player for friendlies, tournaments and even the World Cup, last year.

According to Nielsen’s Gracenote, an entertainment data analysis firm headquartered in California, the Women’s World Cup being hosted Down Under in 2023 is set to be no different. According to approximately one million simulations of the entire tournament in New Zealand and Australia, the defending champions are still the favorites to prevail, despite a strong showing from its competitors going into the event.

US favourites to defend Women's World Cup title

In approximately 18% of the simulations, Gracenote’s analytics system found that the USWNT would end up with a third consecutive championship. This placed them seven points ahead of closes rivals Sweden and Germany. Meanwhile, taking into account the group-stage draw, the study found the most likely match-up in the tournament’s showpiece final was between the US and Germany – at 5.9%. The closest-run alternative was a combination of the US and France, featuring in 5.5% of Gracenote’s simulations. A number of competitors at the tournament might feel slightly hard done by these predictions, given their form going into the tournament.

While the US has repeatedly demonstrated a knack for bringing young talent through to regenerate its squad, and maintain its dominance on the world stage, head coach Jill Ellis stepped down after winning the 2019 World Cup, and her replacement Vlatko Andonovski was only able to guide the side to a bronze medal at the 2020 Olympics (which actually took place in 2021). While the team has had plenty of time to develop since then, and strung together an impressive run of wins stretching to February 2022, their opponents have not been especially illustrious. Most recently, this saw them defeat Wales and the Republic of Ireland by slender margins.

Other contenders

At the same time, other teams are arguably peaking at precisely the right moment. Co-hosts Australia go into the World Cup on the back of a friendly victory over France – a team not only seen as more likely to win the tournament, but who Gracenote’s predictions suggested would edge the Matildas out of the tournament at the quarter-final phase. Thanks to Chelsea’s prolific goal-scorer Sam Kerr, Australia’s women have also overcome England and Spain (both also noted as having a better shot at glory by the simulations) in 2023 – though a 1-0 defeat to Scotland in between those results points at a defensive fragility that may be open to exploitation by top contenders.

Meanwhile, England – who Gracenote correctly marked out for glory at Euro 2022 – are contending with an injury crisis that has claimed three of their star players over the last season. Beth Mead, who won the Golden Boot on home turf last year, was struck down by an ACL injury, and later in the season her Arsenal teammate Leah Williamson (the Lionesses’ captain) joined her with the same injury – as women’s football faces what some people have termed an “epidemic” of ACL damage. Chelsea midfielder Fran Kirby also recently announced she would not be joining the team, after doctors determined she would require knee surgery. 

In spite of that, England still boast an impressive starting line-up, especially as Champions League winning right-back Lucy Bronze and acting skipper Millie Bright have both recovered from their own respective issues in time to board the plane. At the same time, Lauren James – sister of Chelsea defender Reece James – has added explosive attacking options to Sarine Wiegman’s team from last summer. Perhaps the biggest plus of all for England is the retention of Wiegman as head coach, though. She had won Euro 2017 with the Netherlands before becoming England’s boss, and repeated the trick – and England will be hoping her tactical nous and experience will do the same again; after all, she took the Netherlands to the 2019 final.

US favourites to defend Women's World Cup title

Ahead of England by one point in Gracenote’s simulation are France, who prevailed in 9% of the tests. This is a different team to the one which crashed out to Germany in the Euros last year, though. After months of turmoil under Corinne Diacre, who captain Wendie Renard reportedly refused to play under, the French football association sacked the divisive boss, and brought in Hervé Renard. Whether the ship will steady in time for the World Cup or not remains to be seen – and the friendly defeat to Australia suggests Renard may not know his best team still – but if the players can be given the time to focus on football again, the results may follow in the unfolding tournament.

That is time that they will likely get. At 96%, France are calculated as most likely of any team to move beyond the group phase of the World Cup. That’s ahead of Sweden, Spain and Germany on 95%, the US on 92%, Japan on 90%, Australia on 89%, and England on 88%. Meanwhile, the eight most likely quarter-finalists in the simulations were Spain, US, France, Germany, Sweden, England, Japan and Australia in that order.

Speaking on the analysis, which Gracenote will update throughout the tournament, Simon Gleave, head of analysis for Gracenote, said, "Our simulations confirm that World Cup 2023 is likely to be a very open and competitive tournament. There is a strong challenge to champions and favourites US, from Europe, and from Australia's home advantage, which has boosted them to the seventh most likely team to win the competition."