Women's football is in rude health and increasingly commanding the spotlight, especially with the hotly-anticipated FIFA Women's World Cup 2011™ now just three months away. There has also been plenty of exciting action on the domestic scene, as FIFA.com reports.
A new era beckons
It has been a long time coming, but finally England can look forward to its inaugural Women's Super League (WSL) season, beginning on 13 April with the London derby between Chelsea Ladies and Arsenal. Another high-profile derby is scheduled the following day as Liverpool meet Everton, and players across the UK are hoping the new league will give the women's game a major boost. "We've been waiting for this moment for a long time and the excitement is really starting to build," said Chelsea coach Matt Beard, whose side go up against the championship favourites in their opening fixture.
Further titles for Potsdam and Frankfurt
Turbine Potsdam and 1. FFC Frankfurt remain the teams to beat in Germany, with both further adding to their bulging trophy cabinets over the past few weeks. Potsdam, led by veteran coach Bernd Schroder, celebrated the club's 40th birthday in fitting style by collecting their third consecutive German title, before losing out to record champions Frankfurt 2-1 in the DFB Cup final a week later. "This again shows the high level women's football is currently at," said Federal President Christian Wulff, who was among the 20,000 spectators at the final in Cologne.
New York finds new stars
There is an air of anticipation in the country which currently sits top of the FIFA/Coca-Cola Women's World Ranking, with the USA's WPS league preparing to welcome the highly-rated Western New York Flash into its ranks. Founded in 2008, the Flash not only boast the likes of FIFA World Player Marta, New Zealand prodigy Ali Riley, Canadian superstar Christine Sinclair and Swedish talent Caroline Seger among their numbers, but also the top pick of the latest transfer draft, USA international Alex Morgan. No wonder the club are already confident of following in the footsteps of the now defunct reigning champions FC Gold Pride.
Hot competition for European crown
Four powerhouses from three different countries will battle it out for a place in the final of this year's UEFA Women's Champions League. One of the semi-finals is an all-German affair, with FCR 2001 Duisburg facing holders Turbine Potsdam in a match that pits the two top scorers of the competitions against one another: Duisburg's Inka Grings (ten goals) and Potsdam's Anja Mittag (eight). In the other semi, last year's finalists Olympique Lyon take on Arsenal. The first legs will be played on 9 April with the return matches due to take place on 16 and 17 April.
Redemption in east London?
The women's international scene took centre stage again in March by way of two prestigious tournaments. While USA lifted the Algarve Cup, Canada triumphed at the Cyprus Cup, where perhaps the biggest surprise was England's 2-0 loss against Scotland. Hope Powell's ambitious team have the chance to put that first defeat against their neighbours in 30 years behind them this coming Saturday as they take on USA in a pre-Germany 2011 friendly at Leyton Orient's stadium in east London. "It would be a big step forward for us if we could beat them," said England captain Faye White.
Chapman announces surprise retirement
England's hopes suffered a blow ahead of their clash with the two-time world champions when 28-year-old Katie Chapman of Arsenal announced her retirement from international football. Capped 82 times for her country, the midfielder will now miss out on this year's showpiece event in Germany after deciding to spend more time with her family. "I was surprised," said coach Powell, "but I can completely understand it."
Hopes for Solo comeback
In contrast, another star of the international stage could be in line for a long-awaited comeback in London, with USA goalkeeper Hope Solo set to return between the sticks for Pia Sundhage's side. The 29-year-old has been out of action since last September following a shoulder operation.
Germany taking shape
Meanwhile Germany coach Silvia Neid has already decided on a list of 26 players later to be trimmed to a squad of 21 for this summer's FIFA Women's World Cup. Alongside stars such as goalkeeper Nadine Angerer and forwards Birgit Prinz, Inka Grings and Fatmire Bajramaj are five youngsters from last year's FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup winning side, including 18-year-old Dzsenifer Marozsan. The reigning champions and hosts do have personnel problems at the back, however, with Annike Krahn lacking match practise following a crucial ligament tear and Ariane Hingst out for another month with ankle ligament damage.
Another particular highlight in March was the week-long 'grass roots' project in Malaysia, in which 30 coaches from various parts of the country took part. It was the first project of its kind to take place in the region. Two other football courses were also held in Russia and Albania, as well as a seminar in Madagascar.
18 - The number of wins the Olympique Lyon women's team have recorded in as many league games this season. Their 100 per cent record has already secured the club a fifth sucessive national title.
"I don’t agree with those that say we keepers are the weak link. It’s true that the outfield players might dazzle more, but there are some superb keepers, like USA’s Hope Solo or Nadine Angerer of Germany. Training and preparation is difficult and very solitary for keepers, as we still don’t have dedicated coaches like they do in the men’s game. Still, everyone’s working hard and doing a great job," Ingrid Hjelmseth (Norway goalkeeper) in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com.