Australia, New Zealand win bid to host 2023 Women's World Cup

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Australia and New Zealand have beaten Colombia to win the bid to host the 2023 Women's World Cup.

In the vote by the FIFA Council, Australia and New Zealand beat Colombia 22-13 to host the tournament, which is being expanded to 32 teams.

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The 2019 World Cup in France was hailed as a watershed for global interest in the women's game, with record-breaking audiences of 1.2 billion people tuning in during the monthlong event.

The final, in which U.S. women's national team beat the Netherlands 2-0 to win their fourth World Cup, was the most watched Women's World Cup match ever, leading FIFA president Gianni Infantino to drive the campaign to increase the field to 32 teams from 24 for 2023.

Speaking at a news conference after the announcement, Infantino said he was sure the 2023 event would be "the best World Cup ever."

"It's not just a Women's World Cup, it's a World Cup," he added.

Initially, there were four bids to host the 2023 tournament, but Japan and Brazil dropped out before the final vote, citing the financial implications of the coronavirus pandemic.

"We did it. We freaking did it," Chelsea and Matildas star Sam Kerr said on Twitter after the announcement.

"I'm lost for words and want to say congratulations to Australia and New Zealand on this amazing achievement," Socceroos legend Tim Cahill tweeted.

Japan's decision to drop out was seen as a boost to the joint bid from Australia and New Zealand. However, sources told ESPN on Wednesday that the voting would be close, with as many as 12 votes undecided going into Thursday.

While the Women's World Cup is decided on by the FIFA Council, the host of the men's tournament is voted on by the FIFA Congress, which has 211 members.

Infantino said "it doesn't make sense" to him that the two bodies have different voting rights and he will look to change that in the future.

The joint bid from Australia and New Zealand ranked highest in FIFA's technical evaluations, while Colombia ranked the lowest of the three bids evaluated.

The level of infrastructure and commercial opportunities was highlighted in the report as an advantage for the joint bid, but there were concerns over the logistics of hosting a tournament across the two countries.

"As the first joint (and cross-confederation) bid to host a FIFA Women's World Cup, it also offers the opportunity for unity and cooperation with a view to boosting the development of the women's game across the Asia-Pacific region -- which would be hosting the tournament for the first time," the report said.

"A joint bid, however, can also be a more complex undertaking, since it requires the management of cross-border components for the delivery of the event."

Colombia met the minimum requirements for hosting a tournament but "would need a significant amount of investment and support" before it would be ready to host the tournament, according to the FIFA report.

The governing body also stated there would be "clear risks that the necessary improvements would not be carried out" in time for the tournament.

Neither Australia nor New Zealand has hosted a World Cup. In 2010, Australia bid to host the men's 2022 World Cup -- which will be held in Qatar -- but was eliminated in the first round after receiving just one vote.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his New Zealand counterpart, Jacinda Ardern, wrote in an open letter to FIFA on Tuesday that the two countries would host a tournament to be proud of.

"An Australia-New Zealand FIFA Women's World Cup would embody our passion for women's football and proud commitment to equality and fairness, creating a profound and enduring legacy for the future of women's football within the region and beyond," they said in the letter.

Australian football has grown in popularity in recent years, with many big-name Matildas moving to Europe and the United States. Kerr signed a record-breaking deal for women's football with Chelsea in January, while Ellie Carpenter recently traded Portland Thorns for Lyon. The French side are considered the top team in Europe and have won the Champions League six times and won their 14th consecutive Division 1 Feminine title in May. The team also boast many of the game's best players, including Ada Hegerberg, Lucy Bronze and Eugenie Le Sommer.

On the day leading up to the decision, many well-known Australians took to social media to back the bid, while national monuments such as the Sydney Opera House were lit up with images of well-known Matildas.

Writing in the Sydney Morning Herald before the result, former Matilda and FIFA executive committee member Moya Dodd said hosting the World Cup would have a "profound impact" on sport in Australia.

"Hosting the FIFA Women's World Cup would give us an iconic event around which we can wrap the actions, targets and incentives to make that happen," she said.

"It would be a catalyst to drive us towards FFA's [Football Federation Australia] goal of 600,000 Australian women and girls playing football by 2027, with better pathways towards the W-League and the Matildas."