The 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup is finally here and over 32 days the largest, most diverse event in the competition’s history will take place across Australia and New Zealand.
Defending champions, the USA, are seeking a historic third-successive title, a feat which has never before been achieved.
There will be several nations aiming to deny them, such as Germany and the Netherlands, while although England may be missing several big-names due to injury, they will still look to build on their breakthrough European Championship win, by landing a maiden global crown.
There will also be ground-breaking maiden appearances for eight countries – Haiti, Morocco, the Philippines, Portugal, Republic of Ireland, Vietnam and Zambia – who will each look to lay down the foundations for a last legacy in their homelands during tournament debuts.
Ahead of the competition we spoke to former Lioness Anita Asante, who was capped 71 times by England and competed for Team GB at the London 2012 Olympics.
Anita, who is retired last year after a highly decorated playing career, is now a first team coach at Bristol City Women and will be part of BBC Sport’s World Cup coverage.
Q – How excited are you about this year’s ‘biggest-ever’ FIFA Women’s World Cup?
Anita: “I'll be commentating on a number of games but I'm excited equally as a fan and looking forward to watching the Lionesses obviously compete.
“It's exciting because 32 teams in this competition for the first time, it’s the first time a women’s or men’s World Cup has been held in Oceania.
“It shows how it's grown again and expanding in the global market, creating greater visibility and even more interest, so I think it's going to be a fantastic tournament.
“Even the build-up, I’m already captivated by all the social media that's going around the Lionesses camps, but also all the other nations too, including the new nations entering the tournament for the first time, so I hope people tune in!”
Q – You’ve been involved with the England team on many occasions across World Cups and European Championships, but now from afar, how impressed have you been by the progress they have made under Sarina Wiegman?
Anita: “I've been incredibly impressed with this England group, because I think they show such maturity and they’re such a ‘together’ team.
“They performed exceptionally well at the Euros and I think they've just captivated the whole nation so we’re all backing them and supporting them down under.”
Q – They are missing the likes of Beth Mead, Leah Williamson and Fran Kirby, but do you feel they still have what it takes to go all of the way?
Anita: “I believe, despite the injuries to the squad, they could still get to the finals.
“They of course have to get through some of those tougher nations that they could meet on the way to the semi-finals.
“That said, sometimes adversity, in my opinion, makes the team stronger so I'm really backing the Lionesses to hopefully reach the final.”
Q – Who is your dark horse for the tournament?
Anita: “I think the dark horses are France, they’ve underachieved in many previous tournaments, but perhaps in acquiring an experienced international manager, in Herve Renard, they will feel that this is their time.”
Q – Which player are you most excited to watch this tournament and who will be the breakthrough stars to watch going into the World Cup?
Anita: “I’m most excited to watch the USA striker, Trinity Rodman, she’s a top player.
“There will be probably a few breakthrough players this tournament. The one I would really like to highlight is Athenea del Castillo from Spain, she is such an exciting winger.
“She showed glimpses of how threatening she can be in attack at the Arnold Clark Cup tournament.”
Q – Do you ever envy the players who are able to be out there for the Lionesses in the modern era given the change in profile and support they now receive verses previous generations?
Anita: “Ha, not with the way my knees are creaking now, not anymore no!
“I honestly am just so happy to see that the game in the place that it is now.
“I think it's fantastic because it's what we've all worked hard for, to make sure that this generation and the next generation get to have these opportunities.
“It's exciting, to think about the future and what it future holds.”
Q – Finally, you’ve played at the highest level, won at the highest level domestically too and now you’ve transitioned into coaching with Bristol City Women, so you have a great breadth of experience to tell us just how much things have changed during your time in the game…
Anita: “Absolutely, I think from when I started my career as a player to now being a coach and going from the amateur game to the professional game, you cannot deny the level of support and interest has transformed so much.
“You know, we're seeing that at Bristol in the Championship and their strategic plan, we had to try and get promoted which has come to fruition for us.
“It’s all because all the moving parts, such as the board, to the men's section to the women's team all pulling together, utilising the facilities and the resources to continue the growth.
“That’s what you need to continue to inspire grassroots and keep getting young players through the door, so really, that's how we've benefited.
“Now I think that's how the rest of the pyramid will continue to grow from that wider investment in the resources.”
Anita is backing the ‘Eat Like a Lioness’ campaign by AHDB, which aims to highlight to young girls the importance of eating a balanced diet in order to realise their full potential.
It follows research which found 53% of teenage girls who responded admitted to restricting what they eat and over a quarter had been diagnosed or suspect they have a vitamin / iron deficiency.