“We should completely get out of this group with the level we are at now.”
England manager Sarina Wiegman was confident after seeing her European Championship-winning team play China, Denmark and the winner of Group D at next year’s Women’s World Cup.
Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland failed to qualify for the tournament in Australia and New Zealand, but they will be keenly following the Republic of Ireland as they end years of waiting to make their debut at a major tournament.
“It will be a tough and heavy tournament, but that’s what we’ve always tried to do,” said Vera Pauw, the coach of the Republic. “This is what we dreamed of and that’s where we’re going to shine.”
This is the first World Cup to feature 32 teams, up from 24 at the last tournament, so what can both teams expect from the group stage next year?
Where will England play?
The Lions have been evenly matched in terms of location, having played all of their games in Australia, without finishing first or second in Group D.
Their teams’ matches will be played at the 52,500-seat Brisbane Stadium, the 42,500-capacity Sydney Stadium and Adelaide’s Hindmarsh Stadium, the tournament’s smallest, with a capacity of 16,500.
How difficult are England’s opponents?
China – No. 15 in the world
In Group D, England’s toughest opponents on paper are China, former finalists and eight-time World Cup contenders.
The Chinese reached the final in 1999, where they only missed out on penalty kicks to host USA to become world champions.
China is no longer the women’s football superpower it once was – they finished third in their group in 2019, but still progressed before losing to Italy in the last 16.
However, they have some dangerous players including experienced striker Wang Shuang along with PSG duo Li Mengwen and Yang Lina.
Denmark – world number 18
Denmark will return to the Women’s World Cup for the first time since 2007, and will play in the fifth world championship.
However, this Danish side is the strongest they have produced in years, led by Chelsea star Pernille Harder.
They disappointed at Euro 2022, crashing out at the group stage after defeats by Germany and Spain, but reached the final five years earlier in the Netherlands.
Of the three opponents in the play-off, Chile is the highest in the FIFA rankings (38th) and has one of the best goalkeepers in the world in Christiane Endler. They made their World Cup debut in 2019 and beat Thailand, but were eliminated in the group stage.
Haiti is ranked 56th and the women have never reached a major world championship, although the men qualified in 1974. Most of the team plays in France with its captain, including Montpellier’s Nerilla Mondesir, who has scored 18 goals in 10 internationals.
Senegal is the lowest-ranked team in the inter-confederation qualifiers, 84th in the world. They have never even reached a women’s world championship, but if they were to make their debut this time, they would be emulating the men, who surprised world champions France in 2002.
How far can England go?
Former England striker Ian Wright likes England’s chances in the tournament. “Because of how strict our manager is and how we played and dealt with so many different styles at the Euros, I’m pretty confident in the team we’re in,” he told BBC Sport.
“Sarina is very good in her preparations. It will be interesting to see who plays in the friendlies now for this one.”
If the Lions advance from the group, they will play a team from Group B – Australia, Canada, Republic of Ireland or Nigeria – in the last 16.
If England won their group and the tournament went according to the current standings, England would play hosts Australia in that first round, Germany in the quarter-finals and France in the semi-finals.
They are in the opposite half of the draw from the United States, world champions in 2015 and 2019, so they cannot meet the four-time winners until the final.
On the opposite side of the draw for the Lions, the top seeded teams are Spain and Sweden.
Where will the Republic of Ireland play?
The Republic will also play all three group games in Australia, although they have more traveling to do than the Lions as the second game will be played on the west coast at the 22,500-capacity stadium in Perth.
The first and third games will be played in Sydney and Brisbane, respectively, a four-hour flight from Perth.
How difficult are Republic of Ireland’s opponents?
Australia – No. 13 in the world
When you think of Australia, you think of Sam Kerr. The Chelsea striker is a standout player for the Matildas and has just finished third in the Women’s Ballon d’Or.
It’s going to be a big summer for both Kerr and Australia, as a massive home support will no doubt be roaring on.
However, Kerr is not their only weapon. The Republic will have to look to summer signing Caitlin Foord from Arsenal and Mary Fowler from Man City in a strong attack.
Australia are yet to get past the quarter-finals, but have been knocked out of their group every time since 2007.
Canada – number seven in the world
Despite being in Pot 2, Canada is the highest ranked team in the group.
Captain Christine Sinclair, who has a record 190 goals in 317 caps, is a star player and is managed by England’s Bev Priestman, who led the Canadians to Olympic success in Tokyo last summer.
Despite their impressive Olympic record, the Canadians have struggled to match that at the World Cup and have advanced beyond the quarter-finals just once, a fourth-place finish in 2003.
Nigeria – No. 45 in the world
Of all the Pot 4 teams, Nigeria is the one most teams wanted to avoid and cannot be underestimated.
They have won the African Women’s Cup a record 11 times, but this year they could only finish fourth as South Africa lifted the trophy.
Nigeria’s World Cup record is mixed, but despite being a lower-ranked side they made it out of the group in 1999 and made their last appearance in 2019, where they stunned South Korea before being knocked out in the last 16 by Germany.
Barcelona’s Asisat Oshoala leads their attack, highlighting individual quality, while Atletico Madrid’s Rasheedat Ajibade is another to watch.
Can RoI get out of the group?
The Republic could hardly have picked a more difficult team to try and advance in their first major tournament, with the hosts, Olympic champions and top Pot 4 team.
Progression looks difficult, but not impossible for Vera Pauw’s side, and if they manage to get through they will face one of the teams in Group D, which could be an enticing encounter with England.
“Starting host nation, that’s great for them, an incredible experience,” Wright said.
“It’s going to be tough, but it’s their first. It’s a huge experience for them and that’s what you have to try to get out of it, it’s going to be great.”