In the lead up to this summer’s party here’s the lowdown from the very first World Cup in 1991 right up to giving a preview for this summer’s finals:
China 1991 (16-30 November)
Although the golden age of football began in the early 1920’s where the game came to prominence in the United Kingdom, the idea of a women’s game was ‘put off’ by the FA. It wasn’t until July 1971 that saw the women’s game take lift off. Twenty years later saw FIFA clash their heads together through major influence of the then FIFA president Dr. Joao Havelange to create the very first Women’s World Cup, which was retrospectively awarded to China due to the country hosting a model archetype in Guangdong in 1988.
The first World Cup tournament consisted of twelve teams from six confederations, divided between three groups with the top two advancing to the knockout stages, along with the two best third place finishers also advancing. The process saw the fixtures split across six venues in four different host cities.
China 1991 can be remembered for the United States setting proceedings alight with a front line dubbed by the Chinese media as “The Triple-Edged Sword”, consisting of captain April Heinrichs, Michelle Akers-Stahl and Carin Jennings, with Jennings winning Player of the Tournament whilst Akers-Stahl bagged an impressive ten goals to win the Golden Boot award. The Americans scored an astonishing twenty-five goals in six games with their most significant victory over quarter-finalists Chinese Taipei in a score-line that read 7-0 with Akers scoring five. She then went onto dispatch both goals for her Country in a 2-1 victory over Norway in the final, held in the Tianhe Stadium, Guangzhou with an impressive attendance of 63,000 who saw the Yankees become the first World Champions in the women’s game. Extra-time seemed inevitable before Norway’s Tina Svensson played a tame back-pass to goalkeeper Reidun Seth which Akers pounced on to convert with her right-foot into an open net. Norway’s route to the final did not go unnoticed however, after losing the opening fixture to hosts China 4-0, the runners-up recorded victories over Italy and Sweden, crushing the latter with the score-line finishing at 4-1.
Hosts China were eliminated in the quarter-finals by one goal to nil thanks to third-placed Sweden, who beat Germany 4-0 in a game involving both the losing semi-finalists.
Sweden 1995 (5-18 June)
Four years later took the game over the Scandinavian country of Sweden. The second FIFA Women’s World Cup followed the same format as China 1991 with 12 teams attending. China 1991 was seen as an innovation, bringing women’s football to the forefront whilst Sweden 1995 added sacramental character to the female side of the sport, with proof that both sexualities had the capacity to play intriguing football. It was a tournament that offered two prizes, firstly to become World Champions and secondly the opportunity to automatically qualify for the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament in 1996. On a more negative note, the competition was deemed a scavenger for low standards with many of the games held near Stockholm, in small, sparsely inhabited towns. However, it is said that the locals made full commitment to the World Cup fever by creating valued communities with fellow supporters to build a sense of atmosphere, most notably with travelers from the continent of Asia.
The tournament had an adverse beginning with the home nation feeling discomfort in defeat on the opening day to Brazil with a solitary goal settling the matter through Roseli. The mood swiftly changed with the Brazilians losing momentum and the Swedes turning the tides with victories over both Germany and Japan. There was a real sense of belief after the first round that the natives could go far. It wasn’t to be as China PR gained subsequent revenge in a reunion with the Swedes in the quarter-finals, vanquishing them on their home turf, giving the Blagult’s a portrayal of how they felt four years earlier.
The United States were believed to be the most able contenders following their triumphant escapade four years prior to Sweden 1995, an injury to goal hero Michelle Akers harrowed their campaign after the striker was taken off only seven minutes into their opening match. Their tournament took an impetuous twist when beaten finalists from 1991, Norway got payback in the semi-final over the Americans with a 1-0 win in a tight affair which was determined by which defence would slip up, before taking on the Germans in Solna Råsunda Fotbollsstadion in the final.
Goals from Hege Riise, who would later go onto to take gold in the Sydney 2000 Olympics with Norway, and Marianne Pettersen four minutes later saw the Gresshoppenes defy the odds after initial doubts that they could achieve such a feat following back-to-back European Championship final losses either side of the 1995 World Cup.
The United States took the bronze medal with a 2-0 victory over China PR in Gavle with goals either side of the half-time whistle from Tisha Venturini and American women’s football legend Mia Hamm. The hosting country were again to be eliminated in the quarter-finals as Sweden lost on penalties to China PR preceding an intense draw in Helsingborg.
USA 1999 (19 June to 10 July)
USA 1999 saw the number of teams increased from 12 to 16 with a fourth group added. The top two teams from each group advanced into the quarter-finals.
The United States put on a great spectacle which saw a total of 123 goals scored outright and match attendances reaching new heights with the average per-game standing at 37,319, a total of over 660,000, with games being played in huge venues which accrued new-found television audiences. The event saw eight cities taking part in hosting with the final, played at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, inviting a then record-breaking 90,195 supporters, including former President Bill Clinton who sat directly in the stands, with an estimated 40 million viewers in the U.S alone watching their nation capture a second title. USA 1999 had launched a new era of appreciation for women’s football with a tournament that has fulfilled a huge space in the history books.
A trio of teams caught the headlines in a three horse race for the title, with the hosts being thwarted all the way to the final whistle by the impressive Brazilians and the menacing Chinese. The semi-finals produced two wondrous outcomes with reigning champions Norway battered 5-0 by China PR following the United States impressive sweep of the dancing Brazilians in a 2-0 victory in a nail-biting game. The samba ladies would go on to clinch third place with a penalty shoot-out win over the Norwegians following a dull 0-0 affair; the first goalless draw in women’s World Cup history.
The Americans recorded their most influential victory in the cup final despite the tie going to penalties. The 5-4 spot-kick victory over the Chinese saw a significant rise in media publicity on the women’s game. The shoot-out saw eight of the first nine penalties converted before Briana Scurry of the U.S. dived to her left to stop China’s third kick taken by Liu Ying. Brandi Chastain sealed the famous victory, with a roaring strike past Gao Hong which was followed by the defender dropping to her knees and whipping of her shirt to reveal her sports bra in jubilation, an image which hit the front pages of many sports magazines and newspapers around the country. This very tournament is said to be the golden-point of prominence which saw many young girls across the world getting involved in the game.
The United States’ victory was deemed a majestic overhaul due to China’s potent attacking threat, with the Forceful Roses netting nineteen goals before the final and only conceding two. There were a few scares for the hosts, especially during the extra-time period which saw an almost certain goal by Fan Yunjie cleared at the vital moment by Kristine Lilly after the Chinese defender leaped highest to connect with Liu Ying’s driven corner.
United States of America 2003 (20 September to 12 October)
The 2003 World Cup was formerly awarded to China but was suddenly moved to the United States following the SARS epidemic, a viral respiratory disease which initially appeared in China and Hong Kong in early 2003, claiming 774 lives, with a recorded total of 8,096 cases in thirty-seven countries across a twelve month period. With the United States hosting the Women’s World Cup four years prior and putting on a noble show, it was thought that they would have the best facilities available to re-arrange the schedule in such a short space of time. Rather interestingly the tournament was being used as a safety mechanism in an attempt to save the U.S. Women’s United Soccer Association from entering bankruptcy which threatened to put an end to the women’s professional league in the States.
Due to the short preparation time the United States had many of the ties, including the final group games, the quarter finals, semi finals and the final played as same-day doubleheaders. For instance the final and third place play-off both took place on 12 October at Los Angeles Galaxy’s The Home Depot Center in Carson, with the final kicking-off before the decider between third and fourth. Such instances, especially with the final not being the last game of the competition, received unwanted media criticism. It has to be said that the football was not impeded by what was written by journalists and other critics. Despite having three debutantes to the finals with France, Argentina and Korea Republic, the tournament proved to be a close encounter. USA 2003 players had an average age of nineteen, which marked the beginning of a new era, with outstanding talents including Abby Wambach of the United States, Canada’s Kara Lang, Germany’s Kerstin Garefrekes and Josefine Oeqvist of Sweden being recognised as only a few of the emerging talents.
As a reparation tag the Chinese were given a free mandate to automatically enter the tournament after losing their right as original hosts. A few shock results were recorded, including one for the Chinese as Canada put an end to an eleven-game losing streak against the slick and artistic Asians with a 1-0 win, which in turn eliminated China in the quarter finals. Established Norway were also taken out with an all-inclusive 4-1 thrashing by a young and aspiring Brazilian side.
It wasn’t to be a second successive World Cup success for the United States on their home turf as tournament favourites Germany went on to defeat a brave Swedish side, who led through Hanna Ljungberg’s 41st minute strike before Die Nationalelf came from behind with goals from Maren Meinert in the second half ahead of Nia Kunzer’s Golden Goal which was awarded with the recognition of “Goal of the Year”, putting an end to a 30-year era of the German’s walking away empty handed in all major international competitions. 2003 was seen as the “Rise of Europe” with the final being a dramatic and thrilling encounter. For the first time four of the five European sides made it out of the group stage.
The Americans settled for a bronze medal after seeing off local rivals Canada by 3 goals to 1 in what was the first international tournament meeting between the two sides outside of the Gold Cup.
China 2007 (10-30 September)
After the SARS breakout in 2003 China was awarded the 2007 Women’s World Cup as compensation. It was the first time in the women’s game that a voting pole did not take place to decide who should host the spectacle.
The tournament began by setting a new record as reigning champions Germany recorded a momentous 11-0 win over Argentina, a score-line which stands as the highest scoring victory in women’s football history. The German’s continued in similar fashion by recording consecutive World Cup titles, a first in FIFA Women’s World Cup history. China 2007 can be remembered for the imposing performances of the two teams who reached the final. Germany and Brazil scored thirty-eight goals between them whilst conceding only 4, each of which hit the back of the Brazilian net. Germany became the first team in Women’s World Cup records to make it through an entire tournament without conceding a goal, a record goalkeeper Nadine Angerer superseded after Walter Zenga went 517 minutes without granting the opposition. The final, held in the Hongkou Stadium in the Chinese capital of Shanghai, which was the first FIFA Women’s World Cup final to be played between European and South American opponents, featured some of the biggest names in the female game with the likes of Marta, Cristiane and Formiga playing in Brazilian yellow going head-to-head with Germany’s Birgit Prinz, Renate Lingor and stopper Nadine Angerer. In what was a glorified final, the German’s shut off Brazil’s core strength before converting smartly and efficiently with goals in the second half by the impressive Prinz and 21-year-old winger Simone Laudehr, who headed in four minutes from time following Marta’s missed penalty which looked to have salvaged something from the game for the Auriverde. Despite Marta proving to be a talismanic dribbler for the Brazilians, which finally cemented some form of recognition for their skills alongside the men’s team, the Germans were clinical, a technique which the Brazilians were renowned for. A new supremacy had been born.
In the third place match the United States overcame Norway in a 4-1 victory with all-time women’s American top goal-scorer Abby Wambach scoring two of her team’s goals, another instance which saw the 3rd place play-off and the final featuring on the same day, at the same stadium but this time with the final being rightfully set as the last fixture of the tournament. One positive for the U.S. saw veteran striker Kristine Lilly become the only female international to feature in all five World Cups.
2007 did see the rise of the continent of Asia, with terrific mental strength proving to shake the confidence of the world’s best. Korea DPR recorded a 1-1 draw with the USA whilst Japan held the English in a surprise result. Australia took note of this by making it through the group stages, leapfrogging the Canadians. The three-time OFC champions came closing to working their way past Brazil before a late submission to Cristiane who hit a late drive to deny a first semi-final appearance for the Matildas.
Germany 2011 (26 June to 17 July)
To decorate Germany’s double-winning success at this level the sixth edition to the FIFA Women’s World Cup timeline champions were given the right to host the 2011 tournament back in October 2007, following an oath from German Chancellor Angela Markel to support the bid which successfully saw off interest from Australia, Canada, Switzerland, France and Peru. 2011 became a tournament which saw stadiums hit full attendance due to the top quality football on hand and it was the turn of another nation to record themselves on the shortlist of World Cup Champions.
The Germans did not prevail after a shock 1-0 loss to Japan. It was the Japanese who grew with confidence following the group stages to lift their first title, a wonderment to all critics as the Nadeshikos had previously only escaped the first round group stages once in their World Cup history back in 1995, where subsequently they were trounced in the quarter-finals 4-0 by hosts USA. The Americans were brimming with confidence as the out-and-out most successful nation remaining in the competition. Japan recorded a penalty 3-1 shoot-out win over the United States in the final at Frankfurt’s Commerzbank-Arena, coming from behind twice during 120 minutes worth of play, which saw the U.S. miss their first three penalties. The victory was heavily influenced by the brilliance of Golden-boot winner Homare Sawa whose five goals helped break the U.S. and German dominance of proceeding tournaments. Third place was awarded to Sweden who recorded a 2-1 result over France.
Japan’s win was seen as a fitting outcome, especially after the deadly earthquake and tsunami which ravaged the country in 2010. The modernization of the feminine side of the game had been born due to Japan’s success, with plenty of surprises deemed to be the catalyst to this. For instance, Norway’s early exit came as the first major shock, whilst Germany’s quarter final display was deemed as horrendous as the Brazilians at the very same stage.
Germany 2011 received the largest attraction numbers in terms of media coverage, sponsorship and German cities wanting to be a part of the three-week event. Initially twenty-three cities applied to host World Cup fixtures before the list was whittled down to 12 before Bielefeld, Essen and Magdeburg were taken out of the equation. Six of the twelve stadiums were home to Bundesliga clubs participating in the 2011-12 season which together with the other six, recorded attendances reaching 845,711, with the opening match at Berlins Olympiastadion drawing in an atmosphere which hosted 73,680 fans. The budget exceeded the £37.7 million mark whilst six major sponsors jumped on board. For the first time in women’s football, all matches were broadcasted in high definition which saw major sporting channels including the BBC Three, Eurosport, ESPN, Univision, Sportsnet, CBC Television and Al Jazeera screen all 32 games.
Canada 2015 (6 June to 5 July)
After coming to prominence in 2003 following a host of disappointing first round exits prior to their semi-final venture that year, the Canadians have been awarded the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup. With recent improvements to the standard of their play after winning the Gold Cup in 2010 and finishing with a bronze medal in the London 2012 Olympics, the Canadians were chosen over Zimbabwe to host the 2015 World Cup, the only two nations to raise their interest.
Following ongoing campaigns from FIFA President Sepp Blatter following Germany 2011, the number of participants has grown from 16 to 24 after abolishing any criticism over how this would possibly dilute the quality of play. This will see joining the host nation eight European countries, five Asian sides, three African allocations, one of the Oceania region, three from North America and three hailing from South America.
Canada will integrate six host cities including Vancouver, Edmonton, Montreal, Ottawa, Winnipeg and Moncton with the final being played at Vancouver Whitecaps BC Place, with a capacity of 54,500. Controversy has mounted the tournament with comments on the use of artificial pitches which is renowned for causing injuries to players. It is said over fifty of the professional players participating in the competition are set to protest against the use of plastic pitches on the basis of gender bigotry. Such statements have been dismissed by organisational bodies of the event, including FIFA.
The big guns have started strongly in preparation for this summer’s tournament. Frontrunners, the United States have been recording results in modest fashion, whilst European heavyweights Sweden have been in fine form, conceding just one goal in qualifying and dropping no points in the process. One player to watch will be Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Caroline Seger who has had a formidable year. Germany have found a perfect blend of experience and youth which was evident during the UEFA Women’s EURO 2013, being crowned the Queens of the European game. The Japanese will look to defend their title with honour despite not being the bookies number one choice, but having based their 2011 triumph on teamwork and a Barca-like short passing style which surpasses any criticisms over the lack of household names on the team sheet and their inferior build, the reigning champions are said to be a confident group. Norway seem to have recovered themselves to be one the potential dark horses following an notable qualification campaign which saw them record nine wins out of ten in their group thanks to the prolific profile of Isabell Herlovsen. Crossing over to South America, the Brazilians cannot stop scoring having recently being crowned the Copa America champions for the sixth time. An influx of new faces has refreshed the likes of Cristiane and having Marta back to full fitness will be welcomed with open arms. New coach Oswaldo Alvarez, otherwise recognised as Vadao, has introduced a new pressing game to their renowned trickery which has seen a distinct increase in possession statistics which could prove crucial to them.
Here is the list of the 24 FIFA Women’s World Cup 2015 competitors:
Canada, China PR, New Zealand, Netherlands
Germany, Ivory Coast, Norway, Thailand
Japan, Switzerland, Cameroon, Ecuador
United States, Australia, Sweden, Nigeria
Brazil, South Korea, Spain, Costa Rica
France, England, Colombia, Mexico
List of tournament favourites as per sports.ladbrokes.com:
5/2 United States
Written by Richard Wilkins