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What is the CONCACAF W Gold Cup?

This is a brand new tournament which starts in the USA, with three venues in California (Los Angeles, Carson, San Diego) and one in Houston, Texas. It will seek to find the best women’s national team in the CONCACAF region, encompassing North and Central America and the Caribbean. As happens in the men’s version, which has existed for 33 years, South American countries are also invited to compete. The four South Americans in the inaugural tournament will be Brazil, Argentina, Colombia and Paraguay.

There was previously a tournament called the CONCACAF Women’s Gold Cup which acted as the qualifying competition for World Cups and Olympics and later morphed into the current CONCACAF W Championship.

But this new tournament, originally called the Nations League before adopting the W Gold Cup branding, is more like the men’s Gold Cup, the European Championships, Asian Cups and Copas America – meaning the women’s game in North America finally has an equivalent top continental tournament. 

How does it work? 

Like most men’s and women’s international tournaments in the modern era, there are multiple ways to qualify. Of the 12 competitors, two qualified as the region’s Olympic entrants (USA and Canada), three made it through a round robin qualification process (Mexico, Panama and Costa Rica) and three will be the winners of three one-off qualification games in the days before the tournament begins in earnest. The remaining four teams are the South American invitees.

Brazil and Argentina: A tale of two teams

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These 12 teams will be split in to three groups of four, who will play each other once each. The two top teams in each group and the two third-placed sides with the best records make the quarterfinals, where the straight knockout format starts. Mexico and Argentina open the tournament in Carson on February 20, while the final will be played on March 11 at the 35,000-capacity Snapdragon Stadium, San Diego.

Who are the favorites?

Though they are in the early stages of a rebuilding process that will gather pace when Chelsea coach Emma Hayes takes over later this year, it will be hard to look past the USA. With the sport so heavily established for women, a strong domestic league and other top players at European clubs, anything less than the trophy would be a failure. Canada, Olympic champions in 2020, are also rebuilding. As the USA lost Megan Rapinoe, they too must cope with the international retirement of their figurehead in Christine Sinclair. Usually defensively sound, the Canadians will still be among the hopefuls.

Outside of the North American giants, Brazil – who are trying to cope with the retirement of their own icon, Marta – have won eight of the last nine South American titles and showed glimpses of a bright future in the World Cup last year.

Who are the players to watch?

With the retirement of those greats, this looks to be a tournament where the next generation can make its mark. Trinity Rodman, Sophia Smith and Mia Fishel look the likeliest for the USA, Colombia’s Linda Caicedo was the breakout star of the World Cup while her teammate Mayra Ramirez has just moved to English side Chelsea for a record fee.

Linda Caicedo scored a stunner to help knock Germany out of the World CupImage: Mark Evans/AAP/dpa/picture alliance

There will also be those who will have to take on more prominent roles with the departures of national figureheads, among those are Debinha of Brazil and Canada’s Jessie Fleming.

What are the aims of the tournament?

The success of the 2021 European Championship and 2023 World Cup have pushed women’s football increasingly to the fore. With the exception of the North American nations, many in the CONCACAF region have fallen behind. According to the organization itself, this tournament is an attempt to redress that.

“These new competitions will be transformative for the confederation by providing a consistent structure of matches for all Member Associations. They will accelerate the growth of the women’s game in CONCACAF and I can’t wait for them to get started next year,” said CONCACAF Head of Women’s Football, Karina LeBlanc, who won 110 caps for Canada as a goalkeeper.

Edited by: Mark Meadows

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