Thursday marks one year out to the 2018 FIFA Women’s World Cup in France, and fans are already busy planning on how to watch the games or making travel arrangements to witness them in person.
But so far, only eight teams have the luxury of thinking ahead to the World Cup, of having a full year to plan and train and prepare for the most important tournament in women’s soccer. For most of the rest of the world, before they can start to dream of lifting a trophy, there’s still the small matter of qualification.
And count the United States in that same boat.
So for players like Sam Mewis of the North Carolina Courage, balancing club and country, it’s still one step at a time. So first up: these two friendlies against China PR, with qualification looming as the next big target for the team.
“I definitely just think we want to focus on getting better at this camp,” she told NWSL Media on Wednesday before training. “We definitely have qualifiying on the back of our minds, and that’s certainly our goal to qualify for the World Cup, but I think taking what we can learn at this camp here in Utah and going into Cleveland and playing against a really good team in China – we just want to keep growing and keep preparing ourselves for what’s going to be a really tough tournament in October.”
But the fact remains: we’re exactly one year out. In 365 days, the eighth FIFA Women’s World Cup will kick off in Paris, France. A total of 24 nations from six confederations will participate in 52 total matches between the the opener on June 7 until the final on July 7. Games will take place in nine cities across France, with the tournament culminating in Lyon for the semifinals and final.
In addition to Parc des Princes in Paris and Parc Olympique Lyonnais in Lyon, the other seven host cities and venues are:
- Stade des Alpes in Grenoble
- Stade Océane in Le Havre
- Stade de la Mosson in Montpellier
- Allianz Riviera in Nice
- Stade Auguste-Delaune in Reims
- Roazhon Park in Rennes
- Stade de Hainaut in Valenciennes
FIFA put together a quick video of the host cities, and it’s pretty much guaranteed to have you start looking at airfare and hotels.
As for the format itself, the 24 teams are divided into six groups, A-F. The groups will be chosen at the official draw later this year once qualifications are complete. The draw is set for December 8, 2018 in Paris.
Rendez-vous à Paris ! ??
It’s official! The #FIFAWWC draw will take place in Paris at la Seine Musicale on December 8th 2018.
— #FIFAWWC ?? (@FIFAWWC) February 8, 2018
The tournament will start with host nation France squaring off against a fellow Group A team. Each set of four teams per group plays three matches in the group stage, with the top two teams from each group advancing to the knockout stage. Additionally, four more teams advance – the top four from the third-place finishers of each group also head to the Round of 16.
From the Round of 16 on, it’s all direct head-to-head competitions, with the quarterfinals, semifinals, and third-place match and final following.
Opening match in Paris, semi-finals and final in Lyon.
All you want to know is in the #FIFAWWC?? schedule.
Le calendrier officiel de la Coupe du Monde Féminine France?? 2019 a été dévoilé.
Match d’ouverture à Paris, 1/2 finales et finale à Lyon.
Retrouvez-le ici ! pic.twitter.com/VHuBicv5Q0
— #FIFAWWC ?? (@FIFAWWC) February 8, 2018
You can also download a PDF of the schedule directly from the FIFA website for printing at your home, office, car or wherever else you might need it.
As for the teams that are actually heading to France, so far only only one-third have officially qualified. So far, France, China, Thailand, Australia, Japan, South Korea, Brazil and Chile all know they’ll be playing next summer for the biggest trophy in women’s soccer. Of those qualified teams, Australia, Japan, Brazil and Chile all include athletes who play in the National Women’s Soccer League – including Sam Kerr of the Chicago Red Stars/Australia, Nahomi Kawasumi of Seattle Reign FC/Japan, Marta of the Orlando Pride/Brazil and Yanara Aedo of the Washington Spirit/Chile.
There are also plenty more NWSL players still looking to qualify for the Women’s World Cup with their national teams, including the entire contigent of U.S. national team players in the league.
So far only two qualification tournaments have finished. Australia and Japan qualified in April thanks to the 2018 AFC Women’s Asia Cup, with Japan defeating Australia 1–0 in the final. Brazil won the 2018 Copa América Femenina, which also serves as CONMEBOL’s qualifying tournament. Chile, who hosted qualifiers, earned their first ever berth to a Women’s World Cup. Argentina, home to Washington Spirit midfielder Estefanía Banini, finished third and will get another shot to qualify via a playoff match.
There are still four qualifying tournaments left to go: the Confederation of Africa Football (CAF), the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (Concacaf), Oceania Football Confederation (OFC) and Union of European Football Associations (UEFA).
The first round of CAF qualifiers wraps up on June 9, 2018, with the 2018 Africa Women Cup of Nations set for November 17 through December 1. Ghana, Nigeria and South Africa are all in the mix to represent Africa at the World Cup, and all have NWSL players on the roster: Elizabeth Addo (Seattle Reign FC/Ghana), Francisca Ordega (Washington Spirit/Nigeria) and the Houston Dash trio of South Africa players Thembi Kgatlana, Linda Motlhalo and Janine Van Wyk.
Alex Morgan (Orlando Pride), Megan Rapinoe (Seattle Reign FC) and their fellow U.S. national teamers will try to get their official business wrapped up in October after the conclusion of the NWSL season in the Concacaf Women’s Championship, October 4 to 17. The U.S. will be competing on home soil, with matches in North Carolina and Texas.
Christine Sinclair (Portland Thorns FC) will once again lead Canada and plenty of fellow NWSL players representing the red and white. Bianca Henninger (Houston Dash) and Katie Johnson (Sky Blue FC) have been regularly rostered for Mexico, and Raquel Rodriguez (Sky Blue FC) and Costa Rica will all also be looking to lock their berths in October.
New Zealand, featuring Utah Royals FC’s Katie Bowen, Sky Blue FC’s Rebekah Stott and Chicago Red Stars’s Rosie White, also has to make it to December to find out if they’re going to France. Their qualifying tournament, the 2018 OFC Women’s Nation Cup, runs November 18 to December 1.
Finally, UEFA. Europe is well-represented across the league, with Denmark, England, Iceland, Ireland, Norway, Scotland, Sweden, Switzerland and Wales all in the hunt for one of UEFA’s eight slots.
Thanks to the crowded field in Europe, teams are put in one of seven groups during the qualification stage, which started back in September of 2017 and will continue through this September. The top finisher from each group qualifies, with the eighth and final spot going to the winner of a playoff round between the four best teams who finished their groups in second place.
England and Wales are both in Group 1 together, which means Seattle Reign’s Jodie Taylor and Jess Fishlock are squaring off for qualification. In Group 2, Ana-Maria Crnogorčević (Portland Thorns FC) and Switzerland are in good shape atop Group 2, with Rachel Corsie (Utah Royals FC) and Scotland also in the mix.
Ireland (Denise O’Sullivan, North Carolina Courage) and Norway (Elise Thorsnes, Utah Royals FC), both in Group 3, are hoping to find a way past reigning European champions the Netherlands. Lotta Ökvist of the Orlando Pride and Theresa Nielsen of Seattle Reign FC will find out which of their respective home countries of Sweden and Denmark will finish atop Group 4. And finally in Group 5, Gunnhildur Jónsdóttir and Iceland are trying to topple the likes of Germany for an automatic berth to France.
While everyone waits to see the final list of the 24 nations vying in the 2019 Women’s World Cup, and then the results of the draw on Dec. 8, 2018, the NWSL will have you covered with all the latest news and analysis every step of the way. You can always follow the NWSL on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to make sure you don’t miss any coverage.