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Biggest winners and losers from wild group stage at Women's World Cup

Who had 40th-ranked Nigeria beating Women’s World Cup co-host Australia or Japan destroying Spain on the counterattack? How about the United States’ unexpected brush with elimination or perennial powers Brazil and Germany heading home early in shocking fashion? The group stage in Australia and New Zealand served up the odd blowout but even more surprises. As we head into the knockout round, here are the biggest winners and losers from the opening weeks of the tournament.

Winner: The chasing pack

Alex Grimm – FIFA / FIFA / Getty

With 32 teams participating in the Women’s World Cup – up from the 24 that contested each of the past two tournaments – the overwhelming fear was that the top-ranked teams would gorge on all the bottom feeders.

Those concerns were put to bed emphatically in the group stage.

There have been far more upsets than anyone could’ve imagined, starting with New Zealand’s tournament-opening win over 1995 champion Norway. Nigeria’s incredible 3-2 stunner over Australia was the difference-maker in Group B, allowing a team beset by allegations of unpaid wages to advance ahead of Canada’s experienced Olympic gold medal winners. Colombia has faced its own fight for respect back home, but considering the way it beat Germany, with teenage sensation Linda Caicedo leading the way, no one would know it.

A number of teams also secured their first wins at the World Cup. New Zealand had gone winless in 15 World Cup matches before the aforementioned stunner against Norway. Jamaica, which fundraised its own way to the World Cup, beat Panama for its first-ever tournament victory after going 0-0-3 with a minus-11 goal differential at the 2019 tournament. The Reggae Girlz then held off Brazil to reach the knockout stage and send the Selecao home in one of the many shocks of the opening round. Zambia, a country participating in its first-ever men’s or women’s World Cup, beat Costa Rica to finish marginally behind previous champions Japan and Spain in a competitive Group C. South Africa used a 92nd-minute goal to oust Italy and reach the last 16 of the competition. And then, in arguably the big stunner of the group stage, World Cup debutant Morocco advanced at the expense of two-time champion Germany, which had never before been sent packing in the opening round of the competition.

For the first time in Women’s World Cup history, three African sides advanced to the round of 16, while three of the teams ranked inside FIFA’s top 10 – Germany (No. 2), Canada (No. 7), and Brazil (No. 8) – all fell at the first hurdle.

That wasn’t all. China has more pedigree than most – it lost to the United States in the infamous 1999 final decided by Brandi Chastain’s indelible penalty kick – but became just the second team in Women’s World Cup history to win a game while down a player. Portugal also came agonizingly close to eliminating the United States, a two-time defending champion aiming for an unprecedented three-peat, when Ana Capeta’s late effort hit the post.

All of the pre-tournament favorites have struggled, and some of them are already back home after early exits. That’s a testament to the growing level of competition in the women’s game. The gap is closing.

Losers: Underperforming stars

Anadolu Agency / Anadolu Agency / Getty

The Women’s World Cup is usually the domain of the game’s biggest stars. Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan, two of the most identifiable players in women’s soccer, led all World Cup scorers in 2019 with six goals apiece, and Australian star Sam Kerr led all pre-tournament promos as the co-host’s leading lady. French center-back Wendie Renard is a set-piece sensation whose headers routinely make highlight reels, and Canada’s Christine Sinclair is international soccer’s record scorer with 190 goals.

But the biggest names in women’s football have been conspicuously absent. Long-term injuries to England’s Beth Mead and the Netherlands’ Vivianne Miedema robbed the World Cup of two of its most exciting players before it even began. And with recent Ballon d’Or winners Ada Hegerberg and Alexia Putellas and Golden Ball favorite Kerr all battling to stay fit, others have had to step up. Sophia Smith has compensated for Morgan’s lack of sharpness in front of goal for the U.S., while Hayley Raso filled Kerr’s boots with a clutch two-goal performance in the Matildas’ group-clinching victory over Canada.

In the case of the 40-year-old Sinclair, 38-year-old Rapinoe, and 37-year-old Marta, age has been a limiting factor. Sinclair and Rapinoe have already confirmed they won’t play in another World Cup, and Marta, Brazil’s heart and soul for decades, broke down in tears as she described her legacy.

“Marta ends here,” the iconic forward said after Brazil’s surprising group-stage elimination. “But it is only the beginning … The only old one is me; most of (my teammates) are young girls with enormous talent. It’s just the beginning for them. I end here, but they continue.”

Players like Marta didn’t grow up with easily accessible role models in the women’s game. They became their own. It’s now up to the next generation to carve out their own roles.

Winner: Linda Caicedo


Enter Caicedo. The 18-year-old has arguably become the biggest story of the World Cup. Not only has she scored the most spectacular goal of the tournament to date – a quality strike bent into the far corner following a dazzling display of footwork – she’s excelled despite battling debilitating exhaustion. Caicedo collapsed while holding her chest during a training session and again dropped to her knees in the final minutes of Colombia’s upset win over Germany, sparking concerns over her welfare.

There was a time when Caicedo thought she wouldn’t play at all. Diagnosed with ovarian cancer at 15, the Colombian sensation underwent surgery to remove a tumor and lost one of her ovaries in the procedure. After six months of chemotherapy, Caicedo returned to training, and despite still being a teenager, she’s become a beacon for women’s soccer in her country. Caicedo played in four international competitions in 2022, including the Copa America Femenina, helping Colombia make an unexpected run to the final as the tournament’s MVP.

That helped her secure a move to Real Madrid, but her stunning performances at the Women’s World Cup have truly made her a global sensation. Caicedo plays with a nonchalance that makes everything she does look easy and handles the unfair burden of being an 18-year-old veteran with remarkable maturity.

Loser: Vlatko Andonovski

Buda Mendes / Getty Images Sport / Getty

It’s arguably the most scrutinized position in all of women’s soccer, so whoever stands on the touchline for the United States is always going to face some kind of criticism, even when the team is cruising along – just ask Jill Ellis. Winning alone isn’t enough to satiate fans of the two-time defending champion. A cohesive, entertaining style of play is necessary, too.

Unfortunately for Andonovski, the U.S. has accomplished neither at this World Cup. Outside of a subdued victory over an overmatched Vietnam side, it’s all been pretty grim thus far.

The Americans have looked horribly disjointed and uninspired – the latter is typically a direct reflection on the manager – and Andonovski’s tactical and personnel decisions have been questioned by pundits and former players alike. Carli Lloyd, the former USWNT star who scored a hat-trick in the 2015 final, has lambasted the team throughout the tournament, which drew a public retort from the coach. It’s all very tense right now after the U.S. came within literal inches of being eliminated by Portugal in the group stage.

Andonovski isn’t alone in that regard, though. Bev Priestman was maligned for her puzzling lineup choices during Canada’s meek group-stage exit, while Martina Voss-Tecklenburg was at a loss for words after Germany’s shocking elimination, saying only that the team’s failure was a “disaster.”

It’s been a tough tournament for high-profile managers. Andonovski, unlike some of his peers, can still turn things around. For his sake, he needs to.

Winner: England and Lauren James

Zac Goodwin – PA Images / PA Images / Getty

It’s coming home?

After a slow start and a distressing knee injury to star midfielder Keira Walsh threatened to derail the Lionesses’ progress, things have taken a sharp turn in the right direction. Suddenly, everything’s coming up England. Sarina Wiegman’s team crushed China 6-1 to close out the group stage, getting goals from five different players and a spectacular performance from Lauren James, who looks destined to take over the entire tournament.

Unlike so many other teams in the competition, the vibes around England are very good right now. That’s intangible, sure, but it matters. A more palpable advantage for England came in the form of the knockout bracket, which has presented the reigning European champion with a seemingly golden opportunity to make a deep tournament run. Considering the upsets witnessed at this World Cup so far, underestimating any opponent is incredibly foolish, but, at least on paper, England will fancy its chances against Nigeria in the last 16 and potentially one of Colombia or Jamaica in the quarterfinals. That’s the most favorable path to the semifinals of any team still fighting for the trophy.

“I think we are growing into this tournament,” Wiegman said following the win over China to conclude the group stage. “You could see from the whole team that we were enjoying ourselves; you could tell that we were really connected, the ball is going around, and we have different ways to go in attack.”

That’s a frightening reality for every other title contender.

Loser: Everyone’s bracket

They’re all busted.

If, by some miracle, you correctly predicted all the last-16 matchups prior to the tournament, you should probably purchase a lottery ticket right away.

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Ranking the 10 best deals of the January transfer window

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With a quiet January transfer window now complete, theScore ranks the 10 best moves made across the game’s top leagues.

10. Gift Orban ?? Lyon

Isosport/MB Media / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Details: Signed from Gent for reported €12M fee

There were some concerns when Gent signed Orban in January 2023. His scoring record of 20 goals in just 21 starts was clearly impressive, but that was in Norway’s second tier. Those reservations were soon forgotten as he amassed nine goals and two assists over 10 Belgian Pro League appearances and struck five times in five Conference League outings. His productivity has since slowed, but €12 million for an intensely competitive 21-year-old striker could prove extremely fruitful business for Lyon. Orban’s outgoing personality should also be a welcome addition to the dressing room.

9. Timo Werner ?? Tottenham

Details: Signed on loan from RB Leipzig with reported €17M option to buy

Like many transfers in the January window, bringing in Werner presented a low-risk deal for Tottenham. If it works out, €17 million is an affordable sum for a forward of Werner’s pedigree. The German was largely ineffective over his first two appearances but was much better in his third outing, setting up Destiny Udogie and Brennan Johnson for goals in Wednesday’s 3-2 win over Brentford. His incredible work ethic and pace, paired with Ange Postecoglou’s ability to instill belief in his players, could make this a great move for both parties.

8. Said Benrahma ?? Lyon

Details: Signed from West Ham in deal worth up to €20.4M

Lyon fought for this one, and it should pay off. After battling some administrative issues, the Ligue 1 side completed the deal a day later than expected, announcing Benrahma had joined on an initial €6-million loan deal that could become permanent for another €14.4 million. It’s a low-risk move that should enliven Lyon’s struggling attack. Benrahma’s a functional system player who can break games open and change their pace with the flick of a foot. Though he started just five times for West Ham in the Premier League this season, he hasn’t lost those progressive traits.

7. Marcos Leonardo ?? Benfica

Zed Jameson/MB Media / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Details: Signed from Santos for reported €18M fee

You just know Benfica are onto something here. They always are. Leonardo arrives from Santos in a deal that could look like a bargain in the years to come. Despite playing for one of the worst Santos sides in its 111-year history, the 20-year-old still managed to score 26 goals in 66 league appearances. He’s an old-school striker who loves to hang in the penalty area, and if Benfica can provide him with the right service, he’ll have no issues doubling that goal-scoring return.

6. Tommaso Baldanzi ?? Roma

Details: Signed from Empoli for reported €15M fee

The deal for Baldanzi is perfect in nearly every sense. Roma get a long-term replacement for Paulo Dybala without breaking the bank or running further afoul of Financial Fair Play regulations. The future Italian international also satisfies the club’s long-held preference for central attacking midfielders. Baldanzi even idolized Dybala during his formative years at Empoli. He could’ve waited to go to a club fighting for trophies, but he’ll get far more playing time at Roma, especially if Dybala’s injury issues persist.

5. Adam Wharton ?? Crystal Palace

Details: Signed from Blackburn Rovers for reported initial £18M fee

Crystal Palace are no strangers to fishing in the EFL. They plucked the thrilling double act of Eberechi Eze and Michael Olise from the Championship, and it took an impressive loan spell at Swansea City to convince the Eagles to sign Marc Guehi from Chelsea. Wharton is the next to join that contingent. The 19-year-old will bring some much-needed solidity to the midfield, but his admiration of Frenkie de Jong, Sergio Busquets, and Rodri hints at how much he treasures possession. He displays so much composure while he instigates attacks from the base of midfield.

4. Valentin Barco ?? Brighton & Hove Albion


Details: Signed from Boca Juniors for reported $10M fee

Tipping a player that Brighton & Hove Albion bought to shine usually works out, right? For a modest fee, the south coast club has acquired a cocksure 19-year-old who can play in any position down the left and also appeared across the midfield for Boca Juniors. Barco is a slippery operator, regularly dribbling past opponents and becoming difficult to track down once he’s wriggled free, and he’s constantly trying to ignite attacks with probing passes. It might take time for him to be a regular in Roberto De Zerbi’s lineup, but this signing should be yet another example of the Seagulls’ South American scouting network striking gold.

3. Jadon Sancho ?? Borussia Dortmund

Details: Signed on loan from Manchester United

Sancho is back at Dortmund – albeit temporarily – after leaving for Manchester United for around €85 million in 2021. The winger had a much-documented spat with Red Devils boss Erik ten Hag, and it’s difficult to envision a route back into the first team while the Dutchman’s in charge. By contrast, Sancho has been given a warm welcome in Germany, with club executives claiming he has no disciplinary issues and is in fine condition after being frozen out at United. It seems Sancho is in an ideal environment to revive his career.

2. Claudio Echeverri ?? Manchester City

Details: Signed from River Plate for reported £12.5M fee

Manchester City continue to bet on young talent during the January transfer window. Highly rated midfielder Echeverri follows in the footsteps of Julian Alvarez as the latest under-23 South American to sign for, if not necessarily join, the Premier League champions in the winter. Like Alvarez, whom City also signed from River Plate, Echeverri has been sent back to his boyhood club on loan for the year, allowing him to continue his development in a controlled environment. He’ll then arrive in Manchester in January 2025. City continue to hit the right note, never panicking while other clubs scramble for that elusive extra oomph to end the season.

1. Arthur Vermeeren ?? Atletico Madrid

Angel Martinez / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Details: Signed from Royal Antwerp for reported €18M fee

At just 18, Vermeeren already boasts plenty of experience. He played more minutes than any other player in Belgium’s top flight over 2023 and even captained Royal Antwerp during this season’s Champions League group stage. The midfielder has already won the Belgian league, cup, and super cup, too. Vermeeren might lack some physicality – and that weakness might not seem ideal when he’s going to play under the combative Diego Simeone – but he has a Koke-esque knack of progressing play while producing more interceptions, blocks, and clearances than the Atletico Madrid veteran. An €18-million deal is a bargain for someone who could become one of Europe’s leading midfielders.

Honorable mentions: Fabio Carvalho (Hull City), Radu Dragusin (Tottenham Hotspur)

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Transfer Deadline Day Live: Breaking down all the major deals, rumors

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Transfer deadline day is in full swing. We’re providing live, quick-hit analysis of the biggest deals and rumors until tonight’s 6 p.m. ET deadline.

Give Chelsea all of your money

Chelsea are the headline act again at the transfer deadline – but playing a different role entirely. Languishing in 10th place in the Premier League standings and without Champions League football on the horizon, the cash-guzzling Blues desperately need funds to comply with Financial Fair Play regulations ahead of the 2024-25 season. Armando Broja and Conor Gallagher are reportedly up for sale, not because they’re angling to leave but because they offer the juiciest profit margin. Chelsea are raising academy graduates for financial slaughter, having pawned off Lewis Hall, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, and Mason Mount for tens of millions of pounds in pure profit over the last six months. Fulham are interested in taking Broja off Chelsea’s hands, just not at the quoted £50-million asking price, according to BBC Sport’s Phil McNulty. A loan deal could be a welcome compromise.

Bayern getting instant relief

M. Donato / FC Bayern / Getty

Bayern are closing out the window strong. Signing Sacha Boey from Galatasaray for a reported €30 million solves a crisis at the right-back position, where midfielder Konrad Laimer and left-back Raphael Guerreiro have split time as square-peg-round-hole replacements for the injured Noussair Mazraoui. Further injuries to wingers Serge Gnabry and Kingsley Coman forced Bayern to bring in 22-year-old Granada winger Bryan Zaragoza six months ahead of his expected move to the Bavarians. The deals give Bayern the depth they need to continue competing on all fronts. Given their sputtering form and a surprisingly sustained challenge from Bundesliga title rivals Bayer Leverkusen, they need all the help they can get.

No place like home for Hojbjerg

Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg’s future at Tottenham Hotspur has been up in the air since Antonio Conte left the club in March 2023 – and it’ll be suspended in motion for a while longer. Hojbjerg, one of former manager Conte’s soldiers in midfield, has made just five Premier League starts under Ange Postecoglou. And while he remains on the periphery of Postecoglou’s plans, Hojbjerg remains committed to the cause. He doesn’t lack options – Juventus, Napoli, Ajax, and Lyon reportedly expressed interest in the midfielder – but still feels part of something big in north London. Credit to Postecoglou for making a player with such limited minutes feel connected to the cause.

Forest keep wheeling and dealing

Nottingham Forest are sticking to their usual deadline-day formula. Having closed out the 2023 summer transfer window with an incredible seven signings, Forest are back to juggling negotiations. They’ve completed the signing of highly rated Portuguese striker Rodrigo Ribeiro from Sporting CP and Gio Reyna on loan from Borussia Dortmund. Forest are also reportedly flying in Strasbourg goalkeeper Matz Sels after abandoning talks with Crystal Palace over shot-stopper Sam Johnstone. They’re allowing some departures, too, with Serge Aurier expected to leave for Galatasaray and Orel Mangala heading for Lyon.

Other deals to watch today …

  • Said Benrahma to Lyon
  • Stefano Sensi to Leicester City
  • Tommaso Baldanzi to Roma
  • Hugo Ekitike to Eintracht Frankfurt
  • Antonio Nusa to Brentford
  • Bryan Gil to Brighton & Hove Albion
  • Enes Unal to Bournemouth
  • Serge Aurier to Galatasaray
  • Thomas Meunier to Burnley
  • Rafa Mir to Valencia
  • Maxwel Cornet to Crystal Palace
  • Matz Sels to Nottingham Forest

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The Best FIFA awards: Follow live as Messi, Bonmati eye more trophies

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World football’s top players and managers of 2023 are being recognized at The Best FIFA Football Awards show on Monday. Below, theScore is tracking all the winners of the various trophies handed out in London.

Best Men’s Player finalists

  • Erling Haaland (Manchester City and Norway)
  • Kylian Mbappe (Paris Saint-Germain and France)
  • Lionel Messi (Inter Miami and Argentina)

Can Messi get one over on Mbappe yet again? The Argentine will look to retain the honor he won last year when he beat out his former Paris Saint-Germain teammate. The two superstars will face stiff competition from Manchester City striker Haaland for FIFA’s top individual prize, which was inaugurated in 2016 following the governing body’s split with Ballon d’Or organizer France Football. For this year’s award, accomplishments from Dec. 19, 2022, to Aug. 20, 2023, were taken into consideration by voters.

2022 winner: Lionel Messi

Best Women’s Player finalists

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  • Aitana Bonmati (Barcelona and Spain)
  • Linda Caicedo (Real Madrid and Colombia)
  • Jennifer Hermoso (Tigres and Spain)

Bonmati can cap one of the most dominant individual seasons in the history of women’s soccer on Monday. The World Cup-winning midfielder, already having captured the Ballon d’Or and various other accolades over the last 12 months, is looking to succeed compatriot Putellas, who won this award in each of the last two years. The qualifying period for this year’s honor was Aug. 1, 2022, to Aug. 20, 2023, the date of the most recent Women’s World Cup final, which saw Bonmati’s Spain defeat England.

2022 winner: Alexia Putellas

Puskas Award finalists

One of the sport’s most coveted individual trophies. This year’s Puskas Award, given to the scorer of the best goal, covers the period between Dec. 19, 2022, and Aug. 20, 2023. Finalists include a long-range strike to conclude an excellent team move, a sensational bicycle kick, and a perfect rabona.

2022 winner: Marcin Oleksy

Best Men’s Coach finalists

  • Pep Guardiola (Manchester City)
  • Simone Inzaghi (Inter Milan)
  • Luciano Spalletti (Napoli)

A trio of club managers are vying for the men’s coaching award; though Spalletti is the current Italy boss, his nomination came on the back of an enchanting title-winning campaign at Napoli. The two tacticians who were on the touchline for last season’s Champions League final, Guardiola and Inzaghi, square off once again, with the Manchester City boss considered the favorite after his team’s historic treble-winning season.

2022 winner: Lionel Scaloni

Best Women’s Coach finalists

Valerio Pennicino – UEFA / UEFA / Getty
  • Jonatan Giraldez (Barcelona)
  • Emma Hayes (Chelsea)
  • Sarina Wiegman (England)

A mixture of club and international coaches are vying for this prize. Wiegman and Hayes are the two most recent winners. The England manager has taken the award home on three occasions, more than any other bench boss (male or female). Giraldez, meanwhile, is looking for his first FIFA honor.

2022 winner: Sarina Wiegman

Best Men’s Goalkeeper finalists

  • Yassine Bounou (Al-Hilal and Morocco)
  • Thibaut Courtois (Real Madrid and Belgium)
  • Ederson (Manchester City and Brazil)

Bounou helped Sevilla win yet another Europa League crown in 2022-23 before departing for Saudi Arabia, while Ederson backstopped Manchester City to a trio of titles during the club’s record-breaking campaign. Courtois is the only finalist to have won this award before.

2022 winner: Emiliano Martinez

Best Women’s Goalkeeper finalists

  • Mackenzie Arnold (West Ham and Australia)
  • Catalina Coll (Barcelona and Spain)
  • Mary Earps (Manchester United and England)

Three netminders who shone brightly at the 2023 Women’s World Cup will battle for this accolade. Coll helped Spain take home the title, while Arnold and Earps have become cult heroes in their respective countries. The latter, in particular, is one of the most popular footballers in England thanks to her combination of on-pitch excellence and off-field personality.

2022 winner: Mary Earps

Men’s FIFA FIFPro World11

To be announced.

Women’s FIFA FIFPro World11

To be announced.

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