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FIFA World Cup group stage reflects rapid rise of women's football

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With thrilling competitions, the group stage of the 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup has concluded, presenting the world with the charm of football.

CANBERRA, Aug. 4 (Xinhua) -- The group stage of the 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup has concluded, marking the end of the most exciting and competitive first round in the tournament's history.

The final whistle in the match between South Korea and Germany in Brisbane on Thursday night ended the group stage and delivered one of its biggest shocks, with the runners-up in the most recent Asian and European championships knocked out of the tournament at the first hurdle.

Taking their place in the round of 16 are relative minnows in the women's game, Colombia and Morocco, who overcame a 6-0 defeat to Germany on matchday one to progress to the knockout stages at their first Women's World Cup, sparking scenes of jubilation.

The final standings in Group H reflect a wider trend across the group stage of competition becoming more even in the women's game as the sport continues to grow and receive more support.

At the 2019 World Cup in France, five teams progressed from the group stage having won all three of their games.

This time around, despite the increase from 24 to 32 teams for the first time, only three teams - Japan, England, and Sweden - had a perfect group stage record.

In 2019, there were five teams that did not earn a single point in the group stage. That number has fallen to four despite the addition of two new groups.

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As well as two-time champions Germany, fellow top-10 ranked teams Canada, Brazil, and Asian powerhouses China were knocked out of the tournament in the group stage.

Even defending champions the U.S. were on the brink of an early elimination; the tournament favorites ultimately relied on Portuguese striker Ana Capeta's 91st-minute shot rebounding off the post to stay alive.

The slew of upsets means that 10 teams who qualified for the knockout stages at the 2019 World Cup have replicated the feat in 2023.

The six teams in the knockout stage that did not make it in 2019 are South Africa, Jamaica, Morocco, Switzerland, Denmark, and Colombia - the first three of which will make their round of 16 debut.

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Nowhere has the across-the-board improvement in the women's game been more evident than among the African teams.

Three of the four Confederation of African Football (CAF) teams that qualified for the tournament have reached the knockout stage, with Zambia the only exception, seeing Canada, Germany, and Italy out in the process.

It equals the number of African teams to progress past the group stage at the previous three Women's World Cups combined.

Europe remains the center of power in the women's game, with eight teams progressing past their groups - the same number as in 2019 - but the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) teams suffered from CAF's rise, dropping from three round of 16 teams to two.

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Critically for the success of the tournament in its host nations, one of the AFC teams to progress is Australia.

One day after New Zealand became the first host team ever to fall at the group stage, the Matildas ensured they would not be the second with a 4-0 defeat of Canada that consigned the Olympic champions to elimination.

Celebrating the success of the group stage, Football Australia (FA) on Friday revealed that the Matildas' jerseys have outsold those of the Socceroos during the 2022 World Cup by a factor of two-to-one.

The broadcast of the Matildas' game against Canada on Monday night was watched by an estimated 5.3 million Australians on television - approximately one-fifth of the population.

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More than 1.2 million fans attended group stage matches in both countries - surpassing the 1.1 million who attended all matches in 2019 - and ticket sales have surpassed 1.7 million, beating FIFA's original target of 1.3 million.

For matches in Australia, crowds have averaged more than 90 percent of stadium capacity.

"This FIFA Women's World Cup has been a milestone for Football Australia and women's football in our country," FA chief executive James Johnson said in a media release on Friday.

"The success of the tournament so far shines a spotlight on the transformative power of the FIFA Women's World Cup and football's ability to unite and inspire beyond borders."