A Brief History Of The Women’s World Cup Final
This evening in Lyon the United States of America seek to defend their title as the women’s world champions when they play the Netherlands in the eighth official FIFA Women’s World Cup final. The story of the tournament, however, goes back quite a way further than this, all the way back to the start of the 1970s, when two unofficial tournaments were held in Italy and Mexico which may be considered as forerunners to the official competitions, which began in 1991. Here’s a very brief history of it all. Clicking on the links in bold will take you to a corresponding video.
Before FIFA started to show any significant interest in the women’s game, and before several European associations even allowed women to use the facilities of men’s clubs, the Fédération Internationale Européenne de Football Féminine (FIEFF), which was formed in Turin in the middle of the 1960s as a vehicle for the development of the women’s game. In February 1970 they agreed a first tournament to be held that summer between eight nations under the sponsored name of the Martini Rosso Cup. The tournament followed a straight knockout format with club teams representing some national teams. Denmark, represented by Boldklubben Femina from the municipality of Gladaxe near Copenhagen, defeated the host nation in the final in Turin. England were represented but, after beating West Germany by five goals to one in the first round, they were beaten by Denmark in the semi-finals and then lost the third/fourth place play-off against Mexico.
Buoyed by the success of the previous year’s tournament, a second Women’s World Cup was arranged to be played in Mexico the following year. This time, there was a small qualifying competition (one qualifying match, between France and the Netherlands, is now recognised as the first “official” women’s match), with six teams making it through to the finals, with the sponsors paying all costs for travel, accommodation, and kits. With the goalposts painted in pink and white stripes and tickets competitively priced, the tournament consisted of two groups of three teams, with the top four going through to the semi-finals. England were there again, but lost both of their matches and finished at the bottom of their group. Denmark, this time represented by a team with players picked from across the country’s teams, won the tournament again, beating the hosts in the final in a match that has been reported as having been attended by between 80,000 and 110,000 people. It has been suggested that the success of these first two tournaments was one of the key factors behind the FA’s decision to finally end their ban on women’s football in 1971.
It took a further decade for the next unofficial tournament to take place, this time under the name of Mundialito (“Little World Cup”), following the use of the name for a six-team men’s tournament held in Uruguay a year earlier to mark the 50th anniversary of the first men’s finals. The first tournament was held in Japan in 1981, and further Mundialito’s were held in Italy in 1984, 1985, 1986 and 1988. Italy won three of these tournaments but the other two were won by England, who beat Italy in the final of the competition in 1985 and 1988. The 1985 tournament also soaw the first appearance of a team representing the USA, though they were beaten in the semi-finals. of the competition. The 1980s also saw the continuation of the the Women’s World Invitation Tournament, a tournament held in China every three years between a mixture of national teams and club teams. The match featured here is the 1984 final, which was played between Italy in West Germany.
With their interest piqued by the success of the Mundialito tournaments, FIFA organised an invitation-only tournament for 1988 to be held in China as a feasibility study for a possible Women’s World Cup. A crowd of between thirty and thirty-five thousand people turned out for the final in Guangzhou, where a first half goal from Linda Medalen was enough to see Norway beat Sweden. China, the host nation, had been narrowly beaten by Sweden in the semi-finals. The success of the tournament was such that FIFA decided to arrange the first official Women’s World Cup in Guangzhou for 1991. We were unable to locate any footage of the final itself, but linked above is the complete group match between Australia and Brazil.
The first FIFA World Championship for Women’s Football for the M&Ms Cup (to give it its full title) took place over two weeks in the second half of November 1991 between twelve teams from all six FIFA confederations. With the host nation being knocked out in the quarter-finals by Sweden, The USA and Norway competed in the final in Guangzhou, with two goals from Golden Boot Winner Michelle Akers being enouogh to win the final for the USA. Akers scored ten goals in five games throughout the tournament, including five goals in forty minutes in their seven-nil quarter-final demolition of Chinese Taipei. Akers ended the year as the USSF Female Athlete of the Year, and would go on to be one of the two female players listed in 2004’s FIFA 100, a list of the greatest players of all time produced by the governing body to mark its centenary.
The next edition of the tournament had been scheduled to be held in Bulgaria, but Sweden stepped in after Bulgaria dropped out. Twelve teams again competed, with FIFA using the tournament as an opportunity to experiment with rule changes. Each team was allowed a two-minute time out per half, per match. The experiment was not deemed a success and was not repeated. England qualified for the first time but were brushed aside by Germany in the quarter-finals, whilst the holders were beaten in the semi-finals by Norway. Despite the absence of influential captain Heidi Støre, who’d picked up two yellow cards in previous matches, the Norwegian team went on to win the touranament thanks to two goals in four first half minutes from Hege Riise and Marianne Pettersen. The team was accompanied back to Norway after the match by two army planes to mark their win, which was seen by an estimated one in four of the entire population of the country.
The 1999 Women’s World Cup finals remain arguably the high water mark in the tournament’s entire history. Following successfully winning gold in the women’s football even at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta it had been widely expected that interest would be high, and the 1.2m ticket sales for it remain a record. The tournament structure was certainly original, consisting of two matches being played back-to-back in the same stadium for all matches except for the semi-finals. The final itself, played at the Rosebowl in Pasadena, was attended by a crowd over more than 90,000 people and was won after a penalty shootout by the host nation, with the reaction to the winning penalty scored by Brandi Chastain providing women’s football with one of its first truly iconic images. It is occasionally forgotten that this followed an absolute stinker of a game, though.
Four years later, the Women’s World Cup had to be moved again. It had been scheduled to be held in China, but the 2003 SARS outbreak put paid to that, and at the last minute the tournament had to be moved, with the USA being the only country that could host it at such short notice, albeit in smaller venues than four years earlier. China were financially compensated by FIFA and promised the tournament for 2007. Whereas the 1999 competition had brken all attendance records, the 2003 edition featured the lowest seen since the first two competitions, and the host were knocked out in the semi-finals with a three-nil defeat by Germany. A goal from Nia Kunzer after eight minutes of extra-time won the final against Sweden in Carson, and Germany remains the only country to have won both the men’s and women’s World Cups.
Germany successfully defended their title in China four years later, and at the time of writing – although this could, of course, change later today – remain the only team to have successfully defended the Women’s World Cup. Their 11-0 win against Argentina in their opening group match remained the tournament record until this summer as well. England reached the finals of the tournament for the first time since 1995 but were beaten by the USA in the quarter-finals, but the USA were in turn thrashed four-nil in the semi-finals by Brazil. Not even the presence of the mercurial Marta in the Brazilian team, however, was enough to see them win the title. Goals from Birgit Prinz and Simone Laudehr win the final for Germany in Shanghai. Attendances for these finals only fell slightly short of those recorded in the USA eight years earlier.
With unprecedented media coverage and a strong host nation, the 2011 Women’s World Cup finals represented another great leap forward for the women’s game, although the host nation’s excitement was punctured a little after Germany were knocked out by Japan after extra-time in their quarter-final match in Wolfsburg. The same fate befell England, who were beaten on penalty kicks by France after winning their group. Indeed, England were the only team to beat Japan in these finals. The Japanese team went on to the final, coming from behind twice – including once in extra-time – before beating the USA in a penalty shootout which saw the USA team miss each of their first three kicks. Japan winning this tournament remains arguably the most surprising tournament win in the history of the Women’s World Cup.
The 2015 Women’s World Cup saw the tournament expanded to twenty-four teams, with the controversial decision being taken to hold all matches on artificial playing surfaces. More than 50 players protested and a lawsuit was issued against FIFA in 2014, but this was withdrawn before the start of the tournament. Still, however, the controversy persisted, with one television commentator measuring the air temperature before the quarter-final match between Australia and Japan at 82 °F (28 °C) and the pitch temperature at 150 °F (66 °C). Despite such dangerous conditions, officials decided against taking cooling breaks during the match because the air temperature was under 32 °C (90 °F). England’s gradual improvement continued, with the team reaching the semi-finals before being beaten by the holders Japan, though they did grab third place with a win against Germany in their play-off match. The USA demolished Japan in the final, scoring four goals in the first sixteen minutes which included a hat-trick from Carli Lloyd.