The 2023 Women’s World Cup will take place from July 20 to August 20, with games split between the two host countries of Australia and New Zealand. The field of teams was expanded to 32 from 24 in 2019 making the 2023 tournament the largest in the history of the competition. Argentina plays its first game on July 24th with all of their group-stage matches taking place in New Zealand.
Since the last edition of the tournament in 2019, there has been a massive transformation in institutional support for women’s football, both in Argentina and around the world. Only 6 years ago, Argentine players had to go on strike due to a restriction on the use of grass fields at the training facility in Ezeiza and unpaid per-diems. It was only a few months before the tournament in 2019 that the league in Argentina became professional, requiring each team to maintain 8 professional contracts.
The national team held a press conference on June 14, the first time journalists gathered to interview the players before leaving for the World Cup. Appearing alongside coach Germán Portonova were Mariana Larroquette (León), Vanesa Santana (Sporting de Huelva), Dalila Ippólito (Parma) and Aldana Cometti (Madrid C.F), who spoke about their expectations ahead of the tournament.
Searching for its first World Cup win, the team is looking to leave a lasting impression on the world stage. Although they may not be favored to qualify past the group stage, Larroquette insists that they must have the “minds of champions”.
They face a tough road into the knockout rounds with their first game against a strong counterattacking Italian side. South Africa, their second opponent, is also without a World Cup win but won the last African Cup of Nations in 2022. Their final opponent will be Sweden, a team with immense pedigree who finished third in 2019. Argentina’s performances in the last World Cup included a pair of draws, 3-3 against Scotland and 0-0 against Japan, as well as an impressive performance against England, a consistent top team in women’s football, where they lost 1-0.
“We will try to give you all the tools to compete in the best way and go with a lot of faith… Journalism sometimes says that if you lose, you’re bad, if you win, you’re good, and the truth is that we believe something else, we believe in this process,” Portonova said when asked about how he mentally prepares the team.
In his second major tournament since becoming coach, Portanova is looking for his squad to show resilience and use their tournament experience to their advantage. Players like Ippólito, who was only 17 during the last World Cup, now have four more years of experience and the benefits of having played overseas. With the men’s team winning the 2022 Cup in Qatar, comparisons between the two squads are inevitable.
“The emotion of the World Cup, being able to enjoy it with my family was something incredible, but our reality is different. Now you see girls, young women, adults, playing football on any 5-a-side field, when just a few years ago, it would have seemed something strange. The players have persevered in jumping obstacles because they are going to play football,” Portonova said.
Before being named coach ahead of the 2022 Copa America Portonova had won three titles as the women’s coach at UAI Urquiza. Through an intense training scheduled he hopes = to develop unity among the provisional 16 players before the final 23-player squad is named on July 11th. Five more players were added to the training squad this Monday. As more players finish their domestic seasons next week, it is possible the squad could be expanded further.
Estefanía Banini (Atletico Madrid), who was unable to join the provisional squad due to vacation laws in Spain, is the team’s most well-known player. In 2021, she was named one of the best 11 female footballers by FIFA. Aged 32, she has also said this will be her last World Cup.
This World Cup will be the first time all female players will be paid, starting at USD$30,000 for each game in the group stage. If Argentina were to make the final, each player would be paid around USD$270,000. The base contract for female professionals in Argentina is only around USD$300 every month, equivalent to fourth-division male players.
“To me, this speaks as to how much women’s football is changing. It also says a lot about our past. How many World Cups have passed before we received money? It tells us about a woman’s soul; she plays because she really loves it and wants to represent her country. If we are speaking about the obstacles and challenges we must overcome, well, I could give a lecture on that,” Larroquette said.