FIFAWWC Countdown: Day 53 - The Road to the World Cup

Marching into Day 53 of Edge of the Crowd's epic 70-day lead-up to the 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup, we've decided it's time to look back on the road to this moment. Today, we take a look at some of the highlights of the qualifying rounds.

It's been a long, and at times bumpy road to the World Cup. Two weeks ago, FIFPRO (the international footballer's federation) published a report into qualifying for the World Cup, and the players involved.

The report was damning, describing the process as "uneven and disparate". The report also complained that the qualifying rounds had "multiple inconsistencies in the scheduling, duration, format and conditions between tournaments".

Players were also surveyed about their experience in the qualifying process, and the 18 months leading up to the FIFA Women's World Cup. 362 players completed the survey, and found:

  • 70% were not provided with a pre-tournament ECG heart check-up

  • 54% were not provided with a pre-tournament medical

  • 66% said recovery facilities were not of an elite standard or did not exist

  • 70% said that gym facilities were not of an elite standard

  • 59% flew economy class, including for flights over long distances

  • 29% were not paid any compensation for participating

  • 66% had to take unpaid leave or vacation from another job to play

  • 39% did not have access to mental health support

  • 33% said there was insufficient recovery time between games

  • 32% said pitches and stadiums were not of an elite standard.

FIFPRO General Secretary Jonas Baer-Hoffmann said, on the release of the report, that "the World Cup is the pinnacle of national team football but the pathways to the tournament define the players’ conditions over a very long period.

"Therefore, ensuring the best possible conditions here is vital. We are prepared to work with FIFA and confederations to improve conditions for World Cup qualification and address the current inequities and fragmentation."

Despite the negative storylines, there were some highlights in the qualifying rounds that created Cinderella stories for a number of teams.

Philippines makes history and creates homecoming for Coach Stajcic

Alen Stajcic is a familiar name for Matildas' fans, but the former coach has been working with the Philippines, first on a temporary basis, and then on a permanent basis, since late in 2021.

The former Matildas' boss had been asked to coach the Philippines through a training camp and get them ready for the Asian Cup. That tournament had the potential to pave the way for the Philippines to qualify for the World Cup for the first time.

In a group with Thailand, Indonesia and the Matildas, Stajcic's side would have to make the semi finals to book their spot in the tournament. A 1-0 win over Thailand and a 6-0 win over Indonesia were punctuated with a 4-0 loss to Australia, but it was enough for the Philippines to finish second in the group, and qualify for the quarter finals.

A 1-1 match against Chinese Taipei wasn't split during regulation time, or the extra time. It could only be decided by a penalty shootout, and the Philippines got off to a bad start, getting behind a shot early.

In the end though, the Philippines found a way to turn it around, won the shootout, and booked their first ever place at the FIFA Women's World Cup. Sarina Bolden, who had missed a penalty earlier in the tournament, calmly stepped to the spot and put through the winning kick.

Tottenham star breaks new ground for Morocco

As with the Philippines and the semi-finals of the Asian Cup being the qualifying mark, so too for Morocco, who were tasked with reaching the final of the Africa Cup of Nations to book their first ticket to the FIFA Women's World Cup.

In a close match up again, Nigeria and Morocco were locked at 1-1 at the end of regulation, and of penalties. It was only with Morocco's last kick that they had the chance to put the match away,

For Rosella Ayane, it was a chance to make her mark on the national stage the same way she has on the domestic stage for Tottenham Hotspur. Up to the mark, and cool as a cucumber, Ayane slotted the penalty home and sent Morocco for their first appearance at the World Cup.

Following the success of the men's side at Qatar in the 2022 FIFA Men's World Cup, the women will be hoping that they can bank on the support of the nation and push to success, having already achieved a record-breaking performance.

Edge of the Crowd partners with Her Game Too for the Women's World Cup, uniting our passion for diversity and inclusivity in sports. Together, we aim to dismantle barriers, tackle sexism, and amplify women's voices in the sporting realm. Join us in celebrating the spirit of the beautiful game, free of gender constraints. The love for the game knows no gender; let's make every game, Her Game Too. Head to @HerGameToo on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to learn more.

Haiti and Portugal make history in New Zealand

As teams descended on New Zealand for the qualifying tournament, with their last hopes of the big dance on the line, and history to be made. A few teams have been on this stage before, but some teams were hoping to make it for the first time.

Haiti found themselves locked in a battle with Chile, and it was Melchie Dumornay who stepped up to the mark and made the difference. The 19 year old scored a stunner from the left side of the area that rocketed into the top bin that would have been unstoppable for just about any keeper in the world.

Demornay's left foot was on show late in the match as well, as she added another to her account to knock the life out of Chile. Despite a late goal in added time, it wasn't enough to force extra time and penalties, and Haiti sealed a debut appearance at the World Cup.

Portugal has a storied men's football team, but the women have not achieved the same accolades. In a matchup against Cameroon, history was certain to be made, with one team making the World Cup for the first time.

It was Portugal who drew blood first, with a goal in the 22nd minute. There was a scare as Ajara Nchout equalised in the 89th minute, putting extra time firmly front of mind.

A late error by Estelle Johnson between the sticks gave Portugal a penalty in added time, and Carole Costa made no mistake to make history, setting the Portuguese up for a chance at history.

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