Women's World Cup teams head home to different futures

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Morocco's Nouhaila Benzina, left, is helped to her feet by teammate Sarah Kassi following the Women's World Cup round of 16 soccer match between France and Morocco in Adelaide, Australia, Tuesday, Aug. 8, 2023. (AP Photo/James Elsby)

SYDNEY – Teams headed home from the Women's World Cup with uncertain futures but hopes that the monthlong tournament would spur new interest and further investment in the game.

For some teams, like Nigeria, the Philippines and Jamaica, the struggle for funding, support and recognition will continue.

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More established teams like Germany, Brazil, Canada and the United States now begin the post-tournament soul-searching about what went wrong.

Spain, which defeated England 1-0 in the final on Sunday, can revel as first-time champions.

“We need to be ready, because after this FIFA Women's World Cup women's football is going to explode in every single one of your countries,” FIFA chief women's football officer Sarai Bareman said at a women's soccer conference held in the days before the final. "We need to be ready for it. There will be millions and millions of women and girls around the world who will sign up to play football for the first time ever after this World Cup.

“Everyone needs to stand ready, with investment, with infrastructure, with coaches, with referees, with tournaments, member associations, federations, confederations. We need to stand ready to receive that interest and retain it in our game in a sustainable way.”

The next major tournament for women's soccer is next year's Olympics in France. The French were eliminated from the World Cup in a penalty shootout after a scoreless draw with co-host Australia in the quarterfinals.

Before France even got to the World Cup the team had some upheaval. Wendie Renard threatened not to play for the team, and the French federation responded by firing coach Corinne Diacre in March and hiring Herve Renard, who coached Saudi Arabia's men at the World Cup in Qatar.

Herve Renard, whose contract runs through the Paris Olympics, was already looking forward to next year.

“We have no regrets," he said. "Next year we’ll be back, we’ll be back at home and we are going to try and glean something from this.”

The United States is in the market for a new coach after the two-time defending World Cup champions crashed out of the tournament at the earliest point ever. Sweden defeated the United States in a penalty shootout in the round of 16.

U.S. coach Vlatko Andonovski resigned after the tournament. The team needs to work fast to name a replacement, because the Americans are among four teams who have already qualified for the Olympics — along with France, Brazil and Colombia.

The Brazilians didn’t emerge from the group stage for the first time since 1995. Afterward, Marta said a tearful goodbye after her sixth World Cup.

“Women’s football doesn’t end here. Women’s football in Brazil doesn’t end here,” Marta said. “We need to understand this.”

Nigeria has asked global players' union FIFPRO to intervene and make sure the team received the World Cup bonuses for every player participating in the tournament. Nigeria's players were each set to earn $60,000 for advancing to the knockout round. The Super Falcons fell to England on penalties in the round o1 6.

FIFPRO confirmed it was assisting the team in not only receiving the bonuses, but also other payments dating back to 2021.

FIFA dedicated individual payments from the prize pool for each player at the World Cup. All participants were to receive $30,000, with the total growing the further along teams got in the tournament. FIFPRO was going to lend help to make sure each player received the funds.

Spain's players each earned a $270,000 bonus for winning the tournament. The federation earned $4.29 million.

The Philippines was among eight teams playing in their first World Cup. The team upset New Zealand 1-0 in the group stage for a historic victory. But it wasn't enough to get the team out of the group stage.

Canada returns to a messy contract situation with its federation. The women's team has been without a contract for a year, and reached an interim funding agreement during the tournament that guaranteed the players would be paid.

The Canadians will be back at work soon, hosting Jamaica in an Olympic qualifier in late September.

The Reggae Girlz did not have many friendly matches in the run-up to the World Cup and there were crowdfunding campaigns to help the players pay for travel and accommodations. It was hoped that their success in the World Cup — they advanced to the knockout round for the first time — would translate into additional support from the Jamaican federation.

“The smaller countries will realize that there’s a platform out there and I think young women all over the world, they’re looking,” Jamaica coach Lorne Donaldson said. “I think all of these governments, everybody, it’s time to step up. Cut the bull crap and step up for women’s football and let’s move along.”

Morocco was another of the first-time teams in the World Cup and played well enough to advance to the knockout round, a first for an Arab and North African team at the World Cup.

Morocco has poured money into its women's program. The federation not only created an academy but it pays its players monthly wages to encourage young women to play.

“I look at these debutant teams, I look at these players, so investment is paying dividends,” former U.S. coach Jill Ellis said. “I am yelling from the highest mountain top that it’s not a matter of if you should, it’s why would you not invest in women’s football?”

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AP Sports Writer John Pye contributed to this report.

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AP Women's World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/fifa-womens-world-cup