The Republic of Ireland have been drawn into Group B of the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup, where they will come up against Australia, Canada and Nigeria.
The teams who progress from Group B will play the winners and runners-up from Group D which include England and Denmark.
On the face of things, it looks as tough a draw for Ireland as you could have hoped to avoid. But this Irish team has proven themselves to embrace the underdog status. So how hard a challenge will this be?
Ireland face the hosts Australia in Sydney, which will be the opening game of the World Cup. The sides last met most recently in September 2021, where the Girls in Green pulled off a shock 3-2 win in Tallaght Stadium.
Packed with stars, Australia have failed to live up to the expectations of late. They have won just eight of the 24 games they have played since manager Gustavsson was appointed in 2020. Yet despite still training to find their way, the Matildas boast the likes of Chelsea superstar Sam Kerr and Arsenal forward Caitlin Foord who are a danger to any side.
Sam Kerr in 2021/22:
⚽️ 41 Goals + Assists
🏆 PFA POTY
🏆 PFA Fans’ POTY
🏆 FWA POTY
🏆 WSL POTY
🏆 Chelsea Women’s POTY
🏆 Australia Women’s POTY
� Asia Cup Top Scorer
� WSL Top Scorer
� WSL Goal of the Season
🔑 Keys to the City of Perth
A Global Superstar! 🤩 pic.twitter.com/r9p7wtYdJV
— London Is Blue Podcast ⭐️⭐️ (@LondonBluePod) July 19, 2022
A fourth-placed finish at the Olympics and a quarterfinals exit at the Asian Cup perhaps provide the best summation of where Australia are at right now but playing at home at a World Cup will make them tricky opponents.
Six days after the opening match against Australia, Pauw's side will travel 4,000km from Sydney to Perth to face the current Olympic champions, Canada, Ireland have faced the Canadians just once - back in 2014 at the Cyprus Cup.
The Canadians conquered the Olympics last summer in Tokyo. Since then, the Olympic champions have won four friendlies against lower-ranked nations that will be competing at next year's World Cup, including perhaps significantly, a pair of victories against Australia in Australia last month.
Boasting a strong squad playing their trade in the States and over in Europe, Canada will be a tough test for Ireland and have a vast amount of experience. The Canadian team is full of stars and Cheslea's Jessie Fleming and Kadeisha Buchanan will be familar faces for the Irish players who play their trade in the Women's Super League.
Finally, Ireland will also face former African champions Nigeria in their final group game in Brisbane. The Super Falcons will be appearing in an African record of nine World Cups, having progressed past the group stages twice, when reaching the quarter-finals in 1999 and then in 2019.
Nigeria captain Onome Ebi, 39, made her World Cup debut back in 2003 and has not missed one since, becoming the first African player to play in five Women's World Cups.
The star of the show for Nigeria is forward Asisat Oshoala who last year claimed the top goal scorer award in Spain for Barcelona scoring 20 league goals despite missing half the season through injury. Oshoala is Africa’s most decorated player and will be the player to stop as she looks set to make her return from a knee injury which has kept her out of the game.
The future looks bright for Nigeria who have progressed to the Under-17 Women's World Cup semi-finals after beating United States 4-3 on penalties.
Plans for an Irish international camp in November are being explored and there are also international windows in February, April and June next year before the World Cup starts on July 20th.
2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup – Group B
20 July, 2023 | Australia v Republic of Ireland (Sydney Football Stadium, Sydney)
26 July, 2023 | Canada v Republic of ireland (Perth Rectangular Stadium, Perth)
31 July, 2023 | Republic of Ireland v Nigeria (Lang Park, Brisbane)
Two teams qualify for the knockout stages and Ireland will cover nearly 8,000km in the space of 11 days across three cities as they make their maiden appearance at a World Cup.