2023 World Cup: All 8 debutants and how far they made it

Chandler McDaniel, Ryley Bugay and Meryll Serrano of the Philippines applaud fans.
Chandler McDaniel, Ryley Bugay and Meryll Serrano of the Philippines applaud fans after their final 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup match. (Photo by Buda Mendes/Getty Images)

Eight teams debuted at this year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup. Although only one went through to the round of 16, all debutants left us something to remember from their performance.

Let’s take a look at every team who made their maiden appearance at the World Cup this summer and how far they went in the tournament.

Philippines — Group stage (4th place, Group A)

After New Zealand opened the tournament with a 1-0 victory over group favourites Norway, one could assume the co-hosts would secure a play-off spot. The Philippines’ Sarina Bolden sullied the Football Ferns’ plans in Game Two. But the final leg results meant the Philippines and New Zealand finished their 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup at the group stage.

Even with the final defeat of 0-6 to Norway, desperate to score as many goals as possible after the first two games to advance, the Philippines can be proud of their debut.

Ireland — Group stage (4th place, Group B)

They’ve got McCabe, Katie McCabe! And one could say it’s not enough. Indeed it wasn’t, and even though the Matildas were left without Sam Kerr during the group stage, Ireland were unable to surprise the co-hosts, however, they did avoid a large defeat.

But again, it was McCabe to score the first Goal of the Tournament contender just four minutes into the match against reigning Olympic champions Canada. That game ended with a 1-2 defeat and a loss of hope for the round of 16 after Megan Connolly’s own goal and an Adriana Leon strike. Though, the 0-0 tie with Nigeria, the eventual surprise of the group, brought some glory to the Irish team as they bowed out of this year’s tournament.

Zambia — Group stage (3rd place, Group C)

Previously on the international stage, Zambia showed up at the Tokyo Olympics and conceded many goals — but also scored some. You can see a glimmer of potential when Zambia play, so many believed the Copper Queens would be a potential tournament surprise.

The Women’s Africa Cup of Nations bronze medalists were weakened last minute with top goalkeeper Hazel Nali’s ACL injury and Grace Chanda, one of the team’s top forwards, hospitalised on the eve of opening day. Although backup goalkeeper Catherine Musonda showed excellent skills in the first game against Japan, it was not enough to save the team from the 0-5 defeat.

Overall, the Zambia offence suffered from lacking someone — whether Chanda or Avell Chitundu, who earned Bruce Mwape’s trust in the second game. Chitundu’s goal was enough to set the team up for their consolation match, which ended 3-1 against Costa Rica. Still, the team will take their newly gained World Cup experience to build for the future.

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Haiti — Group stage (4th place, Group D)

Showing promise beforehand, Haiti was the biggest disappointment among the 2023 World Cup debutants. They eliminated Chile in the intercontinental play-offs, with Melchie Dumornay (Christiane Endler’s nemesis) already set for her first season at Lyon and a few other experienced players from D1 Arekma’s top clubs in the national team squad.

Haiti set themselves up for many goal chances against all their opponents — England, Denmark and China. The fact they did not score any goals in the group games but conceded three out of four goals just from the penalty spot means the team has the potential to improve by the next World Cup. Thus, Haiti knows exactly where their weak points are. So far, they’re still not ready for the round of 16.

Portugal — Group stage (3rd place, Group E)

Portugal were just centimeters from becoming the biggest surprise of the tournament. After all, an unfortunate shot off the post in added time of their 0-0 game against the USA could have eliminated the defending champions from the tournament.

It would be harmful for the Portuguese to blame the USWNT for their nerves until the final whistle. The team needs more experience against top teams to become a legitimate threat at the World Cup and Euros.

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Vietnam — Group stage (4th place, Group E)

Vietnam’s 0-7 loss against the Netherlands was the biggest defeat of this year’s group stage. Not only that, the team also conceded the most goals (12) and had the fewest shots on target (two from 10 total shots) — none of which found the back of the net.

As most debutants and underdogs busted the myth about the Women’s World Cup featuring 32 teams too early, Vietnam’s only positive was the goalkeepers. Raking in 55 saves shows the quality in that position even with Trần Thị Kim Thanh allowing five goals in the first half against the Netherlands and being substituted at halftime by Mai Đuc Chung.

Panama — Group stage (4th place, Group F)

Panama were another team to concede a double-digit number of goals (11). But we can forgive and forget the opening game against Brazil (0-4) after the show they put on with France in their farewell match. The direct free-kick goal by Marta Cox in the second minute of the France game is among the Goal of the Tournament contenders. And the 3-6 defeat to the Les Bleues was one of the competition’s most exciting games, especially considering the 0-0 scoreline in the Jamaica–Brazil game happening simultaneously. The fate of the Group F advancers was insecure until the final whistle.

Morocco — Round of 16

The only debutant who made it through to the knockout stages, the mighty Morocco. The Atlas Lionesses started their tournament with a 0-6 defeat to Germany, featuring two own goals. But things could only improve from there — and they did, indeed.

Morocco did their job with humble yet crucial 1-0 victories against South Korea and Colombia. They also benefitted from Germany’s surprisingly weak performance on the final day of the group stage.

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Following fellow African sides Nigeria and South Africa, Morocco reached the knockouts, doing that as the debutant and the lowest-ranked team in round of 16 history (72nd, with 77th Zambia being the only FIFA Women’s World Cup participant ranked lower). Unfortunately, they were unable to reach the last eight teams after being knocked out by France in a 0-4 defeat. But regardless of the result, it’s a boost for women’s football in Morocco and the whole African continent. The Atlas Lionesses are a model example for other countries which still have much to do with women’s football development.

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