The 2011 Women’s World Cup begins on the 26th of June at the Rhein-Neckar-Arena in Sinsheim, and it is appropriate that, with the tournament returning to Europe for the first time since 1995, it should be held in Germany. The Germans have won six of the last seven European Championships as well as the last two World Cups, and there has been a women’s Bundesliga since 1990, which began its life as two regional divisions in 1990 before becoming a national league in 1997. Although this is the first time that Germany has hosted the World Cup, the country has hosted the European Championships before in 1989, 1995 and 2001 (the European Championships changed from being hosted every two years to after every four years after the 1997 tournament), and this previous experience coupled with the successful 2006 tournament indicates that this summer’s tournament will be well worth watching.
The German team, then, is the current powerhouse of world women’s football (current betting odds, which are as good a way as any of gauging which way the wind is blowing as any, have Germany marked down as the 6/5 favourites to win this competition), and their nearest rivals, Brazil and the United States of America, will have their work cut out in order to catch the defending champions. This summer’s tournament sees sixteen teams play thirty-two matches at nine different venues, and these venues include such familiar venues as the Olympic Stadium in Berlin, Borussia-Park in Monchengladbach, the BayArena in Leverkusen and the Commerzbank-Arena in Stuttgart, where the final will be played on the seventeenth of July. This tournament is the sixth since its inauguration in 1991, though, and it’s appropriate now to have a brief look back at the preceding competitions.
1991: The first Women’s World Cup was played under the name of the Women’s World Championship, and was played twenty years ago this year in China, after an official invitation tournament was held in Taiwan three years earlier. Twelve teams took part in the competition and they covered all of the FIFA confederations, with China, Japan and Chinese Taipei (as Taiwan had by this time been renamed) playing from Asia, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Italy and Germany having qualified from Europe, Nigeria having qualified from Africa, Brazil from South America and the United States of America from Central and North America, and New Zealand having qualified from Oceania. The tournament was won by The United States of America, who beat Norway 2-1 in the final in Guangzhou, while the hosts, China, were beaten in the quarter-finals by Sweden. The tournament’s top scorer was Michelle Akers of the USA, who scored ten goals, including five in one match – their quarter-final against Chinese Taipei – and both goals in the final.
1995: The next tournament was held in Sweden, but it was Norway that lit up the group stages of the tournament with three straight wins which included an 8-0 win against Nigeria and a 7-0 win against Canada. In their other group match they beat England, first time qualifiers, but England also qualified from this group before losing to Germany in the quarter-finals. China, meanwhile, earned their revenge over Sweden for their elimination four years earlier in the quarter-finals by beating the hosts on penalties after a 1-1 draw at the Olympia Stadion in Helsingborg. The semi-finals of the tournament had a familiar look about them, with Norway beating the United States of America in one match, while Germany beat China in the other. In the final, which was played at the Rasunda Stadium in Stockholm, two goals in four minutes from Hege Riise and Marianne Pettersen were enough to give Norway a 2-0 win against Germany, and Norway’s Ann Kristin Aarønes ended the tournament as the top scorer, with six goals.
1999: If women’s football has one definitive moment, an iconic image to rank alongside anything that the men’s game has managed over the last two decades, this moment came at the end of the 1999 World Cup final, when the American player Brandi Chastain, in front of a crowd of over 90,000 people at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, scored the winning penalty for the United States against China, against whom they had played out a goalless draw. This moment – the image of her, on her knees with a look of delerious elation on her face with her shirt removed – flashed around the world and featured on the front covers of Time, Newsweek and Sports Illustrated magazines. Almost 1,200,000 people watched the tournament – an average of over 37,000 per match – and the coverage that the tournament was unprecedented. There were surprises elsewhere, as well. The defending champions, Norway, were thrashed 5-0 by China in the semi-finals and the tournament marked the arrival of Brazil, who had entered the two previous tournaments without making much of a mark, as a force in women’s football. They reached the semi-finals, before losing to the eventual winners of the competition.
2003: The 2003 Women’s World Cup was due to be held in China, but an outbreak of SARS there at the start of the year led to the tournament being switched to the United States of America just weeks before it was due to begin. This time, though, there was to be no repeat of the success of four years earlier for the host nation. The American team had coasted through the group stages of the competition, but lost 3-0 against Germany in the semi-finals. Germany had already been in magnificent form in this competition, having scored six in their group stage match against Argentina and seven in their quarter-final against Russia (it is no great surprise that the tournament’s top scorer, Birgit Prinz, was a German player), and they played out the final against Sweden, who had knocked Brazil out in the quarter-finals before beating the surprise successes of the tournament, Canada, in the semi-finals. It took a golden goal from a German substitute, Nia Kunzer, in the eighth minute of extra-time to win the tournament for Germany.
2007: Four years ago, the Women’s World Cup returned to China. After a relatively low key tournament in 2003, it was a return to the stature of the tournament that had held in 1999, with an average of over 36,000 people attending the matches of a tournament which started with a record-breaking 11-0 win for Germany against Argentina in Shanghai. The star of the tournament, came from Brazil. Marta was already established as one of the greatest players in the game from her club career in Sweden, where she averaged a goal a game in over a hundred matches for the Swedish club Umea IK. She finished the tournament with seven goals (including two goals in a 4-0 rout of the United States of America in the semi-finals, but she didn’t end the tournament with a winners’ medal. Germany qualified from their group, dropping just two points in a goalless draw against England, who had qualified for the tournament for the first time since 1995. They then went on to beat North Korea in the quarter-finals and Norway in the semi-finals, before beating Brazil 2-0 in the final, which was played at the Hongkou Stadium in Shangai. Birgit Prinz, the top scorer from four years earlier, opened the scoring for Germany and Simone Laudehr wrapped up the win with four minutes of the match left to play.
Over the next three weeks or so, we will be bringing you a full preview of this year’s Women’s World Cup, with a look at each group in the sixteen-team tournament. England have qualified again, and will play Japan, Mexico and New Zealand in their group matches, starting with a match against Mexico in Wolfsburg on the 27th of June. England’s matches and the final will be shown live on the television in Britain by the BBC, as well as the final, and the rest of the tournament will be shown by Eurosport. The sixteen qualifiers in full are as follows: Australia, Japan, North Korea, Brazil, Colombia, Equatorial Guinea, Nigeria, New Zealand, Canada, Mexico, The United States Of America, England, France, Germany, Norway and Sweden. It promises to be a fascinating tournament.
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