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Back the USWNT to beat the Republic of Ireland this weekend. The favorites for the Women’s World Cup 2023 should run out of comfortable winners on home turf.
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The countdown for the Women’s World Cup 2023 is under way. The ninth edition of the tournament is scheduled to begin in Australia and New Zealand on July 20, with 32 teams set to take part for the first time ever.
We now know the identity of all those sides following the inter-confederation play-offs in February. Both the United States women’s national team (USWNT) and the Republic of Ireland had already booked their places before that mini-competition. The former did so by winning the CONCACAF Women’s Championship last year, while Ireland triumphing in a European play-off.
The USA are the favorites to lift the trophy with the best online sportsbooks. That will not come as a surprise to any followers of women’s soccer. The four-time winners were victorious in France four years ago and remain a formidable force in the women’s game, which they have long dominated.
With expectation comes pressure, though, and the likes of England, Spain and Germany could pose a strong challenge this summer. Preparation will therefore be vital for the USA, who have arranged a double-header against Ireland around three and a half months ahead of the big kick-off.
Vlatko Andonovski will no doubt already have an idea of his favored team for the World Cup, but friendlies like this one provide an opportunity for various players to state their case. The big roster news is the return of Julie Ertz, who gave birth to her first child in August and is currently without a club.
As is the case in most of the matches they contest, the USWNT will dominate possession and do most of the attacking on Saturday.
Andonovski will want his team to be ruthless in the final third, and although this is a friendly we should not expect the USWNT to take their foot off the gas if they go ahead. However, the home team’s rhythm could be disrupted in the second half if the manager makes several substitutions.
The Republic of Ireland will be one of eight debutants at this summer’s competition, which is the first to be held in the Southern Hemisphere. Their achievement is even more impressive when you consider Ireland have never even competed in a Women’s European Championship before.
Given their lack of pedigree at the highest level, Ireland are unlikely to reach the latter stages of the World Cup. But that does not mean they should be written off. They have been drawn into one of the easier groups, alongside Australia, Canada and Nigeria.
The first two of those teams are the favorites to reach the knockout phase, but Ireland’s group lacks a proven powerhouse and that could work to their advantage. They will be underdogs against the likes of Australia and Canada, which is why this double-header against the USWNT will be valuable.
Ireland will spend long periods of both matches without the ball. They will have their concentration, discipline and organization put to the test against a USA side that is capable of some dazzling attacking soccer on their day.
Ireland have some talented players of their own to call upon. The captain Katie McCabe plays for Arsenal in the Women’s Super League (WSL) in England, while the USA-based Denise O'Sullivan is in line to win her 100th cap for her country this weekend. Needless to say, Ireland are not going to Australia and New Zealand to simply make up the numbers.
There have been 13 previous meetings between these two sides - and the Stars and Stripes have beaten the Girls in Green on every occasion. They last locked horns four years ago, shortly after the USA’s victory at the Women’s World Cup 2019, with the scoreline finishing 3-0 in the Americans’ favor.
Because this is friendly, the performance matters more than the result. That is the case for both teams. A 2-0 defeat, say, would be a decent outcome for the Republic of Ireland if the USWNT had to work hard for their victory.
Conversely, a 1-0 victory would be welcomed by Andonovski as long as his team created numerous chances and gave up very little at the other end of the field.
Ultimately, though, it is hard to envisage anything other than a comfortable USWNT win. They are the best team in the world right now and the deserved favorites to win a fifth championship later this year, while the Republic of Ireland are novices at the highest level. Back the USWNT to come out on top at the Q2 Stadium in Austin.
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Greg Lea is a freelance soccer journalist from London. He is the former editor of The Set Pieces, and has contributed to the Guardian, FourFourTwo, and ESPN. A Crystal Palace fan, he is a long-time subscriber to the belief that it's the taking part that counts. Email: [email protected]More info on Greg Lea
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