When all is said and done, the trophy has been held aloft, the temporary podium dismantled, and the glitter cleared from the pitch, perhaps the most that can be said in realistic assessment of tournament football is that it provides a a snapshot of a particular time. Within this context, it is thoroughly well deserved that the United States of America should have been crowned as the winners of the 2015 Women’s World Cup. Last night, the American team put Japan to the sword in a manner thoroughly befitting of a team of world champions, throwing in a five star performance from Carli Lloyd, who grabbed an extraordinary hat-trick within the first sixteen minutes of the match. It might not have made for the taut, tense spectacle that the non-partisan viewer may have hoped for, but at least we can say with absolute certainty that we know who the champions of the world are.
Whilst the young footballer is growing up, he or she may well spend their idler moments daydreaming of their future, but it’s debatable whether Lloyd could ever have even imagined scoring a World Cup final hat-trick, including one goal scored gloriously from the halfway line, and then lifting the trophy at the end of the match. Perhaps thoughts such as these flickered through her imagination in the past. If they did, she almost certainly would have dismissed them as too improbable to be realistic. There was something poetic about the ball sailing over the head of the Japanese goalkeeper Ayumi Kaihori, who scrambled back towards goal in the manner of a cricket outfielder trying to prevent a perfectly placed shot heading for six, and this moment of improvised brilliance has provided women’s football in America with a second truly iconic moment, one that is at least the match of Brandi Chastain’s exuberant winning penalty kick celebration in Pasadena sixteen years ago.
Watching from the other side of the Atlantic ocean, the English might well have been forgiven for feeling a little retrospective relief at their team’s defence not being subjected to Lloyd’s magnificence last night. Following on from their traumatic last minute defeat against Japan last week, England ended their involvement in the tournament on something of a high with a one-nil win against Germany in the bronze medal match on Saturday evening, with the winning goal coming thanks to an extra time penalty kick from Fara Williams. This result finished off a highly successful tournament for England, who can now add their bronze medals, a first ever win against Germany and finishing as the top placed European nation to what was already their best ever performance in a World Cup finals. They have made plenty of friends over the last few weeks, and it is to be hoped that their success can now be converted into greater exposure for women’s football in a country that has paid it too little heed in the past.
Of course, there’s no such thing as a truly happily ever after story where anything to do with an England national football team is concerned, and this morning the Football Association themselves managed to cover themselves in inglory by sending a tweet to mark the team’s departure from Canada which was as ill-advised as it was ill-thought out. This morning, the FA’s Twitter account sent out a tweet which read, “Our Lionesses go back to being mothers, partners and daughters today, but they have taken on another title – heroes.” After considerable criticism the offending tweet was deleted, but there has, at the time of writing, been no apology or even any public comment on the matter from the organisation itself over it all, even though its director of content, James Callow, did take to his personal feed in order to apologise for it. It doesn’t really feel as if it should be necessary to go into detail over why such a comment was so ill-judged – perhaps, at this stage, we should merely consider the extent to which the fact that somebody speaking on behalf of the FA in public thought that this was a good idea demonstrates in and of itself the continuing issues over objectification that women face in all walks of life, never mind merely in the world of sport.
If women’s football in England has, despite the stupidest behaviour of its overall governing body, the opportunity to seize a brighter future that it has never had before, then the present most definitely belongs to the United States of America. Yesterday’s win might yet turn out to be a great leap forward in terms of the growth of the game in a country which was slow to adopt it and in which competition for the attention of enthusiasts remains undoubtedly fierce. This is the third time that the Women’s World Cup has been won by the United States of America, and the profile of women’s football has been higher with each of their wins. There remain hills to climb and battles to be won, but the days of association football in the United States of America being primarily known as the domain of children and “soccer moms” already feels like a dated stereotype. The formation of the National Women’s Soccer League – the third iteration of a women’s professional football league in the USA to have been attempted since the national team’s 1999 World Cup win – in 2013, coupled with yesterday’s success, offers a real chance of this stereotype receding even further into the history books.
Perhaps normal service will now return to the football calendar from the start of the new men’s season in Europe, which will begin grinding back into gear over the next few weeks. At this time, however, it feels as if there is an opportunity for the major development of women’s football in both the United States of America and England. Whether these opportunities can be grasped tp the extent that we might hope they can be is uncertain, though, and the previous collapses of professional women’s leagues in the USA and the apparent ongoing sexism of the Football Association in England demonstrate just two of the hurdles that the women’s game will have to overcome if it is ever to achieve so much as a reasonable proportion of the profile and attention that the men’s game enjoys across the globe. For now, though, perhaps it is enough to say that this profile has already been significantly raised, and that at least the opportunity is most definitely real, right now.
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