FIFA Women’s World Cup: From humble beginnings to global event

Brandi-Chastain;-Women's-World-Cup

Brandi Chastain celebrates the U.S. winning the 1999 FIFA Women's World Cup. (Mark J. Terrill/AP)

One of the biggest events in soccer is set to kick off.

The 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup will be staged in France from June 7 to July 7, with the 24 nations in the eighth edition of the tournament expected to draw major media attention from around the world.

The tournament has gone on an amazing journey since 12 teams contested the inaugural World Cup in China in 1991.

Here’s a look at the history of the Women’s World Cup:

HOW DID IT BEGIN?

Joao Havelange was elected FIFA president in 1974, the Brazilian rising to power thanks to equal parts manipulation, scheming, politicking and chicanery. His 24-year reign was often described as “dictatorial” and corruption accusations dogged him during his entire tenure.

But, to Havelange’s credit, the Women’s World Cup was his brainchild, and the Brazilian oversaw the introduction of a slew of important FIFA tournaments, including world championships at the under-17 and under-20 levels.

THE FIRST TOURNAMENT

In 1991, 12 teams converged in China to contest the inaugural FIFA Women’s World Cup. The 26-game competition enjoyed modest attendance (averaging 19,615 spectators per match) but as a sporting spectacle, it largely fell flat.

There were highlights, the majority of them provided by Michelle Akers. After scoring three times in the group stage, the American forward exploded for five goals in the quarterfinals against Taiwan and then she bagged a brace in the final, leading the U.S. to victory over Norway.

The U.S.’s World Cup victory marked the birth of a dynasty, one that saw a generation of American players become superstars, including Akers, Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy, April Heinrichs and Brandi Chastain.

NORWAY STRIKES A BLOW FOR EUROPE

After losing to the U.S. in China, Norway rebounded four years later in Sweden.

Buoyed by the 1-2 scoring punch of Hege Riise and Ann Kristin Aarones, the Norwegians breezed through the first round with victories over Nigeria, England and Canada (making its World Cup debut) and then eliminated Denmark in the quarterfinals and the U.S. in the semifinals.

Norway completed their unbeaten run in Sweden with a 2-0 win over Germany to become the first European nation to win the World Cup.

WATERSHED TOURNAMENT

The World Cup became “big time” in 1999.

For starters, the tournament expanded from 12 to 16 teams. Also, the United States hosted the tournament and Americans embraced women’s soccer, as the competition drew 1,194,215 total spectators for an average crowd of 37,319 per match. But the Women’s World Cup became a global event thanks in large part to one memorable moment.

The U.S. and China met in the final before over 90,000 fans in the Rose Bowl. The Americans won in a penalty shootout, capped off by Brandi Chastain’s unforgettable celebration where she peeled off her jersey and fell to her knees in a sports bra after scoring the winning goal.

It was an iconic image that was instantly beamed around the world, and it made the cover of Sports Illustrated. The Women’s World Cup had finally broken through into the mainstream.

CANADA COMES GOOD

After first-round exits in 1995 and 1999, Canada made some noise at the 2003 tournament in the U.S. – the Reds finished second to Germany in the group stage and then upset China 1-0 in the quarterfinals, courtesy of a Charmaine Hooper goal.

The Canadians looked a sure bet to reach the final when Kara Lang scored in the 64th minute against Sweden in the semis. But the Swedes scored two goals in the final 11 minutes of regulation to advance.

Canada ended up losing to the U.S. in the bronze medal game, but the Reds acquitted themselves well, and Christine Sinclair showed glimpses of what we could expect from her in the ensuing years.

The final was a thrilling contest, with Germany’s Nia Kunzer scoring the Golden Goal in the 98th minute against Sweden.

GERMANY REPEATS

The 2003 tournament marked a turning point, with Germany replacing the United States as the dominant force in women’s soccer. The Germans’ reputation as the new kingpins was reinforced four years later in China.

The 2007 World Cup was one of the most entertaining tournaments on record: Marta scored seven goals for Brazil, English striker Kelly Smith celebrated her goals by taking off her shoe and kissing it, and there was plenty of drama thanks to a U.S. goalkeeping controversy involving Hope Solo and Brianna Scurry in the semifinals.

Led by the incomparable Birgit Prinz, Germany was the class of the competition, going undefeated without conceding a single goal and defeated Brazil in the final. In doing so, Germany became the first nation to repeat as champions.

THE RISE OF JAPAN

Germany entered the 2011 World Cup as the favourite, having won the previous two tournaments. What’s more, the Germans were hosting this time around. A three-peat looked like a sure thing.

But Japan quickly became the story of the tournament, as they upset the champions in extra time in the quarterfinals, and then dispatched Sweden in the semis.

A date with the United States in the final loomed, with the Americans hungry to win their third title — and first since 1999. Japan, though, showed it wasn’t a flash in the pan, fighting back from a goal down twice to beat the Americans in a dramatic penalty shootout. Japanese veteran Homare Sawa deservingly won the Golden Ball award as the tournament’s MVP.

WORLD CUP COMES TO CANADA

One of the biggest sporting events on the globe touched down in North America in 2015 when Canada hosted the Women’s World Cup.

There were great expectations of the Canadian side, led by iconic captain Christine Sinclair, to put on a strong showing on home soil. After labouring through the group stage, the Reds picked up momentum with a win over Switzerland in the Round of 16. But John Herdman’s team ran out of steam in the quarterfinals, losing to eventual bronze medallist England.

A sellout crowd of 53,341 fans jammed into BC Place in Vancouver to watch U.S. face Japan in the final, a rematch from four years earlier. The Americans stormed out to a 4-0 lead 16 minutes and never looked back, eventually earning a 5-2 victory. In doing so, the U.S. became the first team to win three Women’s World Cups.

QUICK FACTOIDS

Most World Cup titles: United States (1991, 1999 and 2015)
All-time top scorer: Marta of Brazil (15 goals)
Most goals in one tournament: Michelle Akers of the U.S. (10 in 1991)
Most tournament appearances: Japan’s Homare Sawa and Formiga of Brazil: 6 (1995, 1999, 2003, 2007, 2011 and 2015)
Most shutouts (goalkeeper): Briana Scurry of the U.S. (10)
Longest shutout streak (goalkeeper): Germany’s Nadine Angerer (622 minutes)
Most matches (player): Kristine Lilly of the U.S. (30)
Most matches (team): United States (43)
Most wins (team): United States (33)
Most losses (team): Nigeria (16)
Longest winning streak: Norway (10 games, 1995 to 1999)
Longest unbeaten streak: Germany (15 games, 2003 to 2011)
Biggest margin of victory: Germany beat Argentina 11-0 in the first round in 2007.

FIVE OTHER QUIRKY FACTS

• The 2003 World Cup was originally supposed to be hosted by China, but a SARS outbreak forced FIFA to move the tournament to the United States.

• Australia’s Alicia Ferguson holds the record for the quickest red card: she was sent off after only two minutes into a group-stage game against China in 1999.

• April Heinrichs of the U.S. is the first person to have participated in a Women’s World Cup both as a player (1991) and a coach (2003).

• Nigeria’s Ifeanyi Chiejine is the youngest player ever to appear at the Women’s World Cup. She was 16 years, one month and three days when she played at the 1999 tournament in the U.S.

• American defender Christie Rampone is the oldest player ever to play at the Women’s World Cup. She was 40 years and 11 days when she competed at the 2015 competition in Canada.

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