Women's World Cup Daily: Everything you need to know ahead of matchday 1

The stage is set for the Women's World Cup (1:28)

The curtain is about to come up on the biggest Women's World Cup ever and ESPN are ready for it. (1:28)

The 2023 Women's World Cup begins Thursday and teams are getting ready to kick off the action.

These daily files will give you the latest reporting from around the 2023 World Cup as well as betting lines, what to watch for information and best reads. Check in with ESPN throughout the tournament as we bring you the latest from Australia and New Zealand.

Today's edition: one more sleep until the opening game! What's the mood like in the host nations? Here's what you might have missed from Wednesday, and what you need to know about Thursday's opening matches.

VIBE CHECK: First impressions from ESPN writers

Auckland shooting mars opening day

The opening day of a World Cup should be a hive of excitement for all involved with the focus zeroed in on the first match yet little more than 11 hours before the ball was due to get rolling at Eden Park, a gunman walked onto a construction site in the heart of the city and opened fire and suddenly, we weren't talking about the football.

Like my home of England, New Zealand is a country with firm gun regulation, a country where people aren't permitted to have casual access to firearms, as such the reaction from the emergency services was swift. Armed police flooded into the unfinished building that saw the bloodshed as cordons went up and hotels -- playing home to World Cup teams, fans and assembled media alike -- went into lockdown.

As we sat watching the news, listening to reports of the gunman being "neutralised," American colleagues spoke of being desensitised to this kind of gun violence as Auckland held its breath in shock.

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Tucked away less than a 10-minute walk from the scene of the fatalities, there was an immediate feeling of impotence, of floating in limbo; the question of what the killings meant for the World Cup was swiftly followed by a sense of shame when juxtaposed with the loss of life. There was the flood of relief when, when holding a press conference, the New Zealand Prime Minister, Chris Hipkins reiterated, "there is no wider national security threat. This appears to be the action of one individual." As well as confirming that the match between New Zealand and Norway would take place as scheduled, just with a heightened police presence.

Police tape hung under lampposts adorned with BEYOND GREATNESS banners as Auckland's fan zone -- right in the middle of the police's cordoned off area -- remained closed even after the tape had lifted, with police eventually confirming it wouldn't be opening on Thursday. The streets, in the busiest part of Auckland had people milling around but there was a heaviness in the air, like a weighted blanket was hugging the city, muffling the noise, the question of just how the events of the morning would impact the match in the evening left unanswered as the clock ticked down. -- Sophie Lawson

"The best soccer weather" for the USWNT

AUCKLAND, New Zealand -- Touching down in a part of the world I never imagined I'd visit, I couldn't help but feel I was in a familiar place.

The air was cool and misty, on the brink of rain. Off in the distance there were tree-covered landscapes at different elevations and, on one side, a vista of the coast. The brick buildings with glazed terra-cotta populated the downtown, housing hip coffee shops and restaurants.

It hit me: It was like I was in Portland, Oregon, a city where I've covered soccer for years and that is roughly 7,000 miles away. U.S. women's national team forward Sophia Smith, who plies her trade on the Portland Thorns, apparently has made the same connection.

"I love this weather -- it reminds me a lot of Portland," she said Wednesday. "It's cool. I think it's the best soccer weather, personally."

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While in 2019, the small city of Reims, France, was positively overrun with American fans for the Women's World Cup, it hasn't felt that way in Auckland -- at least not yet.

The city has put the World Cup on display, with impossible-to-miss signage greeting travelers at the airport and signs dotting the lampposts along Queen Street, the city's main thoroughfare. Taxi drivers are aware of the tournament and are ready for it. But Auckland -- the largest city in New Zealand, with a population of 1.7 million -- is no Reims, with a population of less than 200,000.

Smith ready to prove herself on a 'global stage' at the World Cup

USWNT's Sophia Smith looks ahead to the Women's World Cup and speaks about her connection with Trinity Rodman.

FIFA has confirmed that American fans are again the largest traveling contingent of fans for this tournament, as usual. The Americans are here, and we'll probably be hearing from them soon at Eden Park when the USWNT faces Vietnam on July 21. But for now Auckland is playing it cool, like a hipster city should. -- Caitlin Murray

Bronze, England frustrated by bonus impasse

BRISBANE, Australia -- At roughly the same time Gianni Infantino was talking in Auckland about FIFA's payment structure, England star Lucy Bronze faced the press in Brisbane at the team's hotel, and there was only one topic in town: the deadlock in the talks between the FA and the Lionesses over bonus and commercial structures.

There wasn't a single question about their first opponent, Haiti, on Saturday; instead, the build-up to the World Cup has been dominated by off-field issues. The statement posted on Tuesday by the 23 Lionesses here in Australia was an attempt to draw a line under the matter, saying they are disappointed no resolution has been found, but equally, they must focus on winning the World Cup.

Bronze is a senior member of the England team, about to embark on her third World Cup, and she knows the power of their collective voice. "It's about pushing every single angle that we can to make sure that women's football can, you know, smash through that ceiling that we're constantly getting put under," Bronze said. And as Bronze added, it's a byproduct of these moments that they have to use this spotlight to push change. "It's unfortunate that it has come before the World Cup, but at the same time, it's because the World Cup gives us the big stage. It's when people want to listen to us, it's when things really matter."

The Lionesses care deeply about their individual and collective legacy. They've already achieved so much on and off the field. Last summer they won the Euros and subsequently lobbied the government to commit to providing equal access to all sports for boys and girls in England. There's a collective will to ensure the sport is left in a better place for the next generation. But as Bronze knows, to do that, they must achieve on-field success at this World Cup.

The news agenda will shift in time and the focus will be more drawn to on-field matters -- the opener is on Saturday and they should have a fully fit squad, with captain Millie Bright back in action. But it's already shaping up to a be a World Cup of evolution and on- and off-field accountability. -- Tom Hamilton

Explained: How VAR will work at the Women's World Cup

Dale Johnson explains the process that will see referees announce why they have overturned a decision in the stadium.

The "FOMO" is real in Melbourne

MELBOURNE, Australia -- After the 50,629 fans who packed into Marvel Stadium to watch the Matildas' 1-0 win over France set a new record and World Cup excitement started to spread across the nation, there has been a seeping sense of moroseness in Melbourne, a city that styles itself as the sporting capital of the world, that ground availability issues mean it will host only six games during the WWC, none of which take place beyond the round of 16.

Tournament organisers determined very early on that the exclusivity FIFA demands of its venues made pursuing Marvel Stadium and the 100,000-capacity Melbourne Cricket Ground unfeasible given that it would require significant compensation for the disruption it would cause to other major events. The Australian Football League (AFL) -- who themselves weren't too keen on the idea of vacating a venue they own in Marvel, nor one that represents their crown jewel in the MCG -- meant that the smaller Melbourne Rectangular Stadium got the World Cup nod. And now that the tournament is here, the FOMO is real.

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Additionally, the announcement on Tuesday morning by the Victorian State government that it was abandoning hosting the 2026 Commonwealth Games across the state has quickly moved to dominate the news cycle across the city. Debates have broken out about the merits of the decision, how it was handled and even the place of the Commonwealth Games (with its historical ties to the British Empire and colonialism) in modern society. In other words, conversations that aren't about the WWC.

Nonetheless, despite the distractions, the vibe in Melbourne is still generally upbeat amongst WWC fans -- matched by the Canadian goalkeeping crew, who interspersed their warm-up at training Wednesday with moves busted to the likes of Madonna and S-Club 7. -- Joey Lynch

Destiny for the Matildas is just around the corner

SYDNEY, Australia -- It's been 1,118 days since FIFA president Infantino uttered the misleading sentence confirming Australia and New Zealand as the World Cup hosts.

At times, the journey to this point felt like a slog, for fans off the field and for the players on it. But soon Australia will wake up to a sunny winter's morning, grab their coffees, don their scarves and make their way down to Stadium Australia to watch the Matildas play a World Cup opener at home. Pubs and lounge rooms across the country will be packed, filled with giddy nervousness.

The Matildas will walk out under the floodlights, face their adoring nation and play a game of football that will capture the attention of the nation in a way not felt since the Socceroos' return to the World Cup stage in 2006. A determined debutant in Ireland, 75,000 fans and a date with destiny await these Matildas. -- Marissa Lordanic


Group A: New Zealand vs. Norway - (Eden Park, Auckland; 7 p.m. local / 3 a.m. ET / 8 a.m. BST)

Odds: New Zealand +950, Draw +420, Norway -380

In five previous World Cups, New Zealand have never won a game: It's an easy stat to remember, and it's one the players surely can't forget as embark as tournament co-hosts. Once again, they will have three chances to claim that illusive W, yet with all eyes on Auckland for the first game of this summer's (winter's) tournament, Norway are set to be the Ferns' sternest test.

Norway themselves will be looking at progression from the group and finally turning a corner after a decade of disappointment and mediocrity, despite boasting some of the finest players in the world. There is no reason the Football Girls should have any trouble picking up three wins even if their primary tactic is to get the ball to generational talents Caroline Graham Hansen and Ada Hegerberg.

Playing their first tournament under Hege Riise, the world-class attacker who came before Hegerberg and Graham Hansen, the first match is likely to set the tone and give an indication to whether or not this team has finally, finally metamorphosed into a group that knows what they're doing.

The focus will be on Norway's attack but the vibe will be about the sold-out stadium and just how far home support could lift the Ferns. -- Sophie Lawson

Group B: Australia vs. Republic of Ireland - (Sydney Football Stadium; 8 p.m. local / 6 a.m. ET / 11 a.m. BST)

Odds: Australia -380, Draw +400, Rep. of Ireland +1100

Every media opportunity the Matildas have done so far this week has revolved around the same question asked: How's the fitness of the squad? With utility player Tameka Yallop limping off during a friendly against France and forward Kyah Simon still recovering from her ACL injury, with an eye to being utilised later in the tournament, the duo had trained away from the main group for the past three days.

Each time a player was asked, the same kind of response was offered. Mentions of the individual plan of these players got wheeled out. Midfielder Clare Wheeler began her answer by saying she's not a doctor. At the official prematch news conference, Matildas coach Tony Gustavsson blanked questions about the fitness of the squad before finally answering that he would keep his cards close to his chest regarding the starting XI and the health of his squad. With the 24-hour deadline for squad changes now gone, it turns out there really was no update.

The team that took to the park against France is likely to start again with a potential switch in centre-back -- Clare Polkinghorne coming in for Alanna Kennedy -- an option. However, whether Polkinghorne or Kennedy starts should have no effect on how the Aussies approach this match, nor their favouritism against Ireland in their debut World Cup match. -- Marissa Lordanic

Group B: Nigeria vs. Canada - (Melbourne Rectangular; 12:30 p.m. local / 10:30 p.m. ET [Thursday] / 3:30 a.m. BST)

Odds: Nigeria +850, Draw +400, Canada -340

Both Nigeria and Canada will enter the WWC in peculiar positions, both units possessing the talent to go deep into the tournament but also facing significant off-field distractions.

Nigeria has consistently been the strongest women's side from Africa and will call upon stars such as Barcelona's Asisat Oshoala in Australia, yet they've also been in significant conflict with their federation. Coach Randy Waldrum last month accused the Nigerian Football Federation of interference and being significantly behind on wages on the "Sounding off on Soccer" podcast, while the team's players have reportedly gone so far as to threaten to boycott their opening game should the NFF not pay them previously agreed match bonuses.

Meanwhile, led by the iconic Christine Sinclair, Canada are the reigning Olympic champions, possess one of the most defensively sound units at the tournament and shape as genuine contenders. However, they have also been in a long-standing dispute with Canada Soccer over working conditions and remuneration, with a deal still yet to be struck.

With Australia and the Republic of Ireland also drawn within it, Group B has come to be seen as a Group of Deathâ„¢ at the WWC, which gives Friday's game extra impetus: You might not be able to secure progression with a win, but a loss would represent an absolute hammer blow to those chances. -- Joey Lynch


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YOUR BEST BETS (odds via Caesars Sportsbook)

The United States has won the last two women's World Cups and is the betting favorite to win an unprecedented third in a row this year. But the gap between the U.S. women and the competition has narrowed, and the odds reflect a more competitive field than in the most recent World Cups.

Caesars Sportsbook has the U.S. at +225 to win the Cup, followed by England (+450), Spain (+500) and Germany (+750). France is +1,000, with Australia next at +1,200. Sweden is +2,000 and the Netherlands are +2,200. The U.S. was an even-money favorite to win the 2019 World Cup.

The U.S., which has won four World Cups overall, is unsurprisingly attracting overwhelming support from bettors at American sportsbooks. FanDuel reported Tuesday that the U.S. had attracted 82% of the money wagered on its odds to win the Cup. England is second, with only 5% of the overall money wagered.

U.S. striker Alex Morgan is the favorite to win the Golden Boot award, given to the player with the most goals in the tournament. Morgan is +550, followed by teammate Sophia Smith at +800. -- David Purdum


  • FIFA president Gianni Infantino said on the eve of the Women's World Cup that although FIFA has for the first time started earmarking prize money payments to be paid to players, FIFA will still distribute money to federations rather than oversee direct payments to players. The world governing body of soccer announced in June that every player competing in the tournament would be paid at least $30,000 by FIFA, and "we are guaranteeing prize money for players." But Infantino said Wednesday ensuring such payments go directly to players isn't feasible. Rather, prize money will still be paid to federations, but now FIFA is asking a portion of that money to go to players. Read

  • United States women's national soccer team forward Sophia Smith said that everything she and defender Naomi Girma will do at this World Cup will be in memory of former Stanford teammate Katie Meyer. Meyer, who along with Smith and Girma was part of Stanford University's national-championship-winning soccer team in 2019, died by suicide in March 2022. Meyer's parents, Steve and Gina, are attempting to get colleges to adopt a policy called "Katie's Save" in which students can opt for a trusted adult "designated advocate" to receive notice and provide support when they need it the most. Read

  • Cathy Freeman has surprised the Matildas in camp to give some key advice on how to handle the pressure in their own bid to make history at the Women's World Cup. Many players, including captain Sam Kerr and Indigenous stars Kyah Simon and Lydia Williams, have cited Australian athletics legend Freeman's incredible gold medal 400m run at the 2000 Sydney Olympics as a defining moment of their childhoods. Last Wednesday, while preparing to play France in Melbourne, players entered what they thought was a tactics meeting with coach Tony Gustavsson -- only to be stunned when Freeman appeared in the room. Read


Group A: New Zealand vs. Norway - (Eden Park, Auckland; 7 p.m. local / 3 a.m. ET / 8 a.m. BST)

Group B: Australia vs. Republic of Ireland - (Sydney Football Stadium; 8 p.m. local / 6 a.m. ET / 11 a.m. BST)

Group B: Nigeria vs. Canada - (Melbourne Rectangular; 12:30 p.m. local / 10:30 p.m. ET [Thursday] / 3:30 a.m. BST)


VAR at the Women's World Cup may look and feel very different as FIFA trials a new method of keeping the fans informed about decisions. Here's how it will work.

Until this year, fans had to rely on messages put on the big screen in the stadium, or the commentator on television working out what the referee had decided.

FIFA has embarked on a yearlong trial of referees announcing the outcome when the VAR has sent them to the monitor.

After watching the replay, the referee will make the TV sign and then say how play will restart, and any possible sanctions such as a red card. This will be heard by the fans in the stadium and those watching on TV.