Huge summer of women’s soccer: Your guide to Euros, USWNT qualifiers and more

Football

Ahh, summer — ’tis the season for the beautiful game’s biggest and best international tournaments. This year, however, with the World Cup in Qatar set to start in November, the spotlight will be on what the women’s game has to offer — and there is a lot on offer.

Almost every region in the world has a big women’s soccer tournament starting in July where the best and most exciting players will be squaring off. In every competition, the stakes are incredibly high: Either a spot at the 2023 Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand is on the line, or in the case of the European championship, there’s a most-ever €16 million prize pool and some major bragging rights up for grabs.

Let’s just put it this way: The month of July is going be fun. If you’re not up to speed, we’re here to help. This is your guide to an epic summer of women’s soccer, with input from a global team of ESPN’s Caitlin Murray, Cesar Hernandez, Sophie Lawson, Ed Dove and Tim Vickery.

High-stakes tournaments across the globe

UEFA Women’s Euro 2022: July 6-31
Often simply called the Euros, it’s the third-oldest confederation tournament in the world, and arguably the most prestigious. That’s because of the parity and quality throughout Europe, and also because it is a rare standalone tournament that does not double as a World Cup qualifier. Initially a four-team tournament, the Euros have gradually expanded to 16 teams now, and the tournament has seen 19 different nations compete over the years. England will host this summer, with the monthlong Euros starting at Old Trafford and wrapping up at Wembley Stadium.

Where to watch: ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN+, the ESPN App (U.S.)

– Watch the Euros LIVE: Navigate the schedule
– Don’t have ESPN? Get instant access

CONCACAF W Championship: July 4-18
The newly formatted CONCACAF W Championship for North America and the surrounding region may not boast the competitiveness of the Euros — the reigning World Cup champion, the U.S. women’s national team, remains the perennial favorite — but it will certainly offer the high stakes. This tournament, hosted in Monterrey, Mexico, is a new one devised by CONCACAF to serve as both the qualifiers for the World Cup and the Olympics, so teams have to go all-out to win — even the mighty Americans.

Where to watch: CBS Sports Network, Paramount+ (U.S.)

Africa Women Cup of Nations: July 2-23
Kicking off in Morocco, the Africa Women Cup of Nations — called AWCON for short — is Africa’s premier women’s soccer competition. For three weeks, the continent’s finest women’s sides will contest the 14th edition of the competition, with the winner to be decided in a final in Casablanca, Morocco. Three stadiums in two cities will be used as the tournament makes its comeback following a hiatus of three years, and World Cup qualification is on the line. The four semifinalists advance automatically to the 2023 World Cup, with losing quarterfinalists getting another chance via a playoff.

Where to watch: beIN Sports XTRA (U.S.)

Copa America Feminina: July 8-30
The women’s Copa America tournament comes to Colombia for the first time, and it’s perhaps overdue — the women’s game is well-established in the country. This Copa will qualify three South American nations for the 2023 World Cup, with another two going into playoffs. In this tournament there are two groups of five, with the final stages taking place in Bucaramanga, and an expectation that most of the matches will be played in front of big crowds.

Where to watch: FS1, FS2 (U.S.)

OFC Women’s Nations Cup: July 13-30
Oceania’s World Cup qualifying tournament in Fiji will look a little different this year because the reigning champion of the last four tournaments won’t be participating. That team is New Zealand, and as co-host of the 2023 Women’s World Cup, they’ve automatically qualified for the big stage. (Australia, the other co-host, qualifies through Asia after it left the Oceania confederation in 2006.) But that means the OFC Women’s Nations Cup is guaranteed to have a first-time winner when it’s over.

(No U.S. broadcast available yet)

Storylines to watch, questions to answer

Can the Netherlands repeat at the Euros?
At the last Euros five years ago, the Dutch were buoyed on by an ever-growing home crowd to win it all, and the question is whether or not they can do it away from home. A team undergoing something of a personality change since Mark Parsons took over, the European champs could be viewed as a wild card this tournament, still in a transitional stage.

How will hosts England do?
There is plenty of buzz around England and their potential ability to harness home support as the Dutch did at the last Euros. The English FA even went as far as to bring in the Dutch coach from 2017, Sarina Wiegman, as their new manager.

Will France falter again?
As we head into another major tournament, it’s impossible to escape rumblings around France, who are in their own mini group of death at the Euros. France have long been considered a top contender in global women’s soccer, but despite so much promise, they have little to show for it. Just like Germany, Les Bleues will have to be at their best from their first match against Italy, an outing against Belgium something of a reprieve before they end the group stage against an improving Iceland.

– Euro 2022 teams: Squad lists for all 16 countries
– Euro 2022 kits: New jerseys revealed

Will the USWNT’s youth movement pay off?
While the U.S. are fully expected to qualify for their ninth consecutive World Cup, there are lingering questions about how they’ll do it. Despite the presence of long-time veterans Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan, and Becky Sauerbrunn, the U.S. roster boasts plenty of untested youth. Ten players on the roster have never competed in a senior World Cup qualifier, and the last time the USWNT came close to missing out on a World Cup, it was during a qualification tournament in Mexico in 2011. Might Mexico have a repeat of history in store this July?

Who can challenge Nigeria’s supremacy?
Nigeria have enjoyed remarkable dominance during the AWCON’s 31-year history, winning 11 of the 13 previous editions. They’ve never lost a final — failing to reach it only twice — and to suggest they’re the team to beat would be an understatement. The Super Falcons are massively popular in Nigeria, and having won 52 of the 62 matches they’ve played in tournament history, they will be heavily expected to romp through again.

Is the opposition to Brazil’s dominance stronger than ever?
Brazil have won all but one of the eight previous Copas — Argentina came out on top when they hosted the 2006 tournament — and Brazil would still seem to be way ahead of the pack. But the opposition are getting stronger — fitter, more talented and more organized — and contenders like hosts Colombia, Argentina and Chile shouldn’t be written off. For Brazil, then, the tournament is a staging point on the way to the 2023 World Cup. An upset is always possible, but for Brazil, missing out on the title is hard to imagine, while failing to qualify for the World Cup is unthinkable. For the others, making it to the 2023 World Cup is the main priority.

Players to watch, from known stars to potential breakouts

Alexia Putellas, midfielder/forward, Spain
Considered by many to be the best player in the world, Alexia Putellas will be tasked with leading Spain to their first Euros title ever. Putellas’ accolades are plenty — she won the Ballon d’Or last year and was named UEFA’s top player of the year — but Spain hasn’t had similar success. If La Roja can top their quarterfinals appearances in the previous two Euros, they will be counting on Putellas’ creative playmaking to do it.

Marie-Antoinette Katoto, striker, France
She wasn’t picked for France’s World Cup squad in 2019 and Marie-Antoinette Katoto may yet be an unknown quantity to fans around the world regardless of a stunning goal scoring record for PSG or her increasing tally for France, which includes 24 goals in 28 appearances. A determined striker, Katoto is the goal scorer the great French teams of 2011 and 2015 were crying out for, the type of player who only needs service to score. The 23-year-old is certain to impress during the Euros if her teammates can get her the ball.

Lauren Hemp, forward, England
A talented player who has already caught the wider eye for her exploits with Manchester City as well as Team GB at the Tokyo Olympics, Lauren Hemp is set to cement herself as one of the most talented players in her age group this summer. The pacey 21-year-old winger has been delighting for the Lionesses since 2020 and is sure to be one of England’s best attacking outlets at the Euros.

Damaris Egurrola, midfielder, Netherlands
Having declared her intention to play for the Netherlands, rather than Spain or the United States, the American-born Damaris Egurrola is the natural replacement for an aging Sherida Spitse at the heart of the Dutch midfield. Despite only earning her first cap in April, Egurrola has quickly settled into the Oranje side. As well as being a reliable midfielder, she has already shown her prowess at set pieces, with two goals in her two appearances. She may not be a star yet, but she just might announce herself on the Euros stage.

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Julie Foudy explains why Megan Rapinoe has made the USWNT squad despite limited NSWL minutes so far.

Megan Rapinoe, winger, U.S.
Does she still got it? The 37-year-old’s inclusion on the roster for the CONCACAF W Championship raised eyebrows and drew pushback from critics, but Rapinoe has that special undefinable it-factor that coach Vlatko Andonovski said couldn’t be ignored. She probably won’t be starting every game, but her clutch play could be a key factor for the USWNT. Rapinoe, for her part, told ESPN earlier this week that she is excited by her new role as a mentor to the youngsters and isn’t worried about the critics: “If people don’t like that, that’s fine. They’re not the coach of the national team,” she said.

Trinity Rodman, forward, U.S.
On the other end of the spectrum, it’s worth keeping an eye on the youngest player on the USWNT’s roster for World Cup/Olympic qualifying. Named ESPN’s top U21 player, Trinity Rodman is more than the hype surrounding her famous family. She is the youngest player ever drafted into the NWSL, was named NWSL Rookie of the Year for her debut season last year and led the Washington Spirit to an NWSL Championship in November. The thing is, for all her club success, she hasn’t proved herself at the senior international level — at least, not yet. Andonovski has cautioned against expecting too much from her too soon, but the CONCACAF W Championship could be her big breakout.

-Exclusive Trinity Rodman interview: The future has arrived
-ESPN’s best players under 21: Trinity Rodman tops the list

Alicia Cervantes, forward, Mexico
Mexico will have no lack of forward options in the CONCACAF W Championship, but none have been as deadly as Alicia Cervantes of Chivas. The 28-year-old, who was the Liga MX Femenil leading goal scorer in both the 2021 Apertura and 2022 Clausura tournaments, is a constant threat in the 18-yard box with her potent finishing and aerial capabilities. Cervantes has averaged a goal every 83.3 minutes of regular season play since last summer and scored five times in Mexico’s four CONCACAF W qualifiers this year. If Mexico is going to qualify for a World Cup and the Olympics, Cervantes needs to play a big role.

Asisat Oshoala, striker, Nigeria
She is the undisputed superstar of African women’s soccer. A Barcelona forward, Champions League winner, and four-time African Women’s Footballer of the Year, Asisat Oshoala is the most decorated player in the history of African soccer — and many would argue she’s the greatest the continent’s game has ever seen. She’s already won the title on three previous occasions, but after recovering from a recent injury, she’ll be raring to add further Golden Balls and Golden Boots to her expansive trophy haul.

Deyna Castellanos, forward, Venezuela
There will be a lot of eyes on the Venezuelan striker, who at club level is now swapping Atletico Madrid for Manchester City. Venezuela are one of five South American nations never to have made it to a World Cup at senior level or an Olympics, but the nation has high hopes of the generation who did well in under-17 soccer back in 2014, and Deyna Castellanos is the leader of the pack. Back in 2017, she was placed on the shortlist for FIFA’s best player of the year. Castellanos should now be keen to show that her time has arrived.

Key dates and matches for your calendar

July 4: Nigeria vs. South Africa
Heavyweights Nigeria and South Africa were pitted together in their Group C opener at AWCON, which will take place at the Stade Moulay Hassan in Rabat. Not only is this a blockbuster bout between two of the tournament favorites, but it’s also a rematch of the 2018 final — the last match played in the competition — as underdogs Banyana Banyana looked poised for an upset over the Falcons before eventually succumbing on penalties.

July 6: England vs. Austria
As the opener of the 2022 Euros, this match is already worth scribbling on your calendar for the pomp and circumstance alone. The last time England hosted the Euros back in 2005, a record crowd showed up for the opener, and the atmosphere for this one ought to be even better. But luckily, this is also a solid matchup. England and Austria both reached the semifinals at the last Euros in 2017 and will be eager to issue a statement of intent.

July 9: Netherlands vs. Sweden
This promises to be an intriguing group stage match to set the tone, not just for Group C of the Euros, but the whole of the tournament and who we’re likely to see in the last four. The past two competitive meetings of the two nations have seen the Dutch triumph, knocking Sweden out at the quarterfinal stage of the last Euros before dispatching them in extra time of the World Cup semifinals in 2019.

July 9: Brazil vs. Argentina
Brazil meet Argentina in Armenia, Colombia on the second day of the Copa America Femenina. This is a meeting of the only two teams ever to have won the trophy. Argentina, as was clear from their past World Cup campaign, have worked hard on tightening their defense, while the Brazil side are not scoring as many goals as they would like. The script for this match, then, would seem to revolve around whether Argentina can frustrate the Brazilians.

July 11: USA vs. Mexico
While the rivalry between these two nations is red-hot on the men’s side, it’s been tempered a bit on the women’s side by the dominance of the U.S. and Mexico’s struggles to keep up. However, there is a huge wrinkle to keep in mind: The only time the U.S. almost failed to qualify for a Women’s World Cup came in 2011 in a loss to — you guessed it — Mexico, in Mexico.

July 12: Germany vs. Spain
Die Nationalelf and La Roja will square off in a match that pits one longtime European powerhouse against a new kid on the block. It would be prudent to remember that when these two sides met earlier this year at the Arnold Clark Cup, the match ended 1-1 and it figures to be an even affair again. With Germany and Spain both viable candidates to win the Euros in a very difficult Group B, this will be a key match.

July 15: England vs. Northern Ireland
The hosts of the Euros take on a team that is appearing in their first major tournament ever. England are the heavy favorites, and given that the Lionesses rolled Northern Ireland the last time they met, it probably won’t be close, but a scrappy performance from the debutante could keep things fun.

July 16: Denmark vs. Spain
After you watch Germany face Spain on July 12, you’ll have to come back for this one. With Group B slated to be the so-called “group of death” because it has three viable Euros contenders in Germany, Spain and Denmark, this match could deliver the final blow for one of these teams.

July 18: Olympics spot-decider
By this day, we will already know which teams in the CONCACAF W Championship have clinched their World Cup spots — we will know some berths before the knockout games start — but the final of the tournament will decide the lone automatic qualification spot for the 2024 Olympics. While most of the other tournaments in July do have World Cup spots on the line, no other tournament will decide who’s going to the Paris Olympics. The favorites are the U.S. and Canada, but anything is possible.

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