As Planet Football eagerly awaited the start of the FIFA Ballon d'Or 2011 Gala, no less than six of the chief protagonists of the FIFA Women's World Cup Germany 2011™ convened at the Kongresshaus in Zurich for a pre-ceremony press conference. With the likes of Homare Sawa, Abby Wambach and Marta, as well as Pia Sundhage, Bruno Bini and Norio Sasaki all ready to answer the media's questions, it was an opportunity not to be missed.
The three respective nominees for FIFA Women's World Player and the FIFA Women's World Coach of the Year chatted convivially about last year's milestone tournament in Germany, and all agreed that women's football is making sound progress. The number of teams competing for honours is increasing all the time, as coach Sasaki and playmaker Sawa proved with Japan last June/July.
Japan's moving year
"Of course we were always aiming to become world champions, but I was still surprised as the results surpassed even my own high expectations," said Sawa, who claimed the adidas Golden Ball and Golden Boot as the competition's best player and top scorer respectively. "Now I'm on a level with such great players as Marta. I'm very happy to be here today."
Sasaki also reminisced about her side's historic victory, but insisted: "The success didn't appear overnight. It was the result of decades of hard work towards fulfilling our dream." Japan's national team coach is well aware of the impact winning a FIFA Women's World Cup had on her compatriots back home: "Japan had been hit hard by the earthquakes and in that respect it was remarkable how we were able to give the Japanese people courage and allow them to dream. It really meant a lot to us."
'Just the start'
Pia Sundhage, coach of the USA team which came within a whisker of a third title, had similarly fond memories of Germany 2011 in spite of her side's penalty shoot-out defeat against Japan in the Final. "I'm happy because people really got into the World Cup and women's football and they continue to do so. The reason I survived our Final defeat was the knowledge that some wonderful football had been played. I was amazed by the atmosphere at the World Cup, but that was just the start."
USA striker Wambach agreed and hailed 2011 as a landmark year for women's football. "All these individual awards are only possible as a result of teamwork, as I'm sure Sawa and Marta would agree. It's a result of hard work and the collective efforts of teams and coaches, as well as those around us and our friends. Last year was very exciting, even though we missed out on our ultimate goal. We have Homare to thank for that," the 31-year-old said with a smile.
Pride and joy
Another who enjoyed an extraordinary 12 months in 2011 was Bruno Bini. The French national team coach led his side to fourth place at Germany 2011 and hopes women's football will profit in his homeland as a result. "It came as a surprise to everyone who watched the tournament. I was very humbled. It was a great reward for the whole team, including all those who work in the background. They all showed incredible determination. Fourth place was a fantastic reward for everything the association has done for women's football."
Last year's FIFA Women's World Cup did not go quite as well for Marta's Brazil. The 2007 runners-up bowed out at the quarter-final stage, meaning the 25-year-old star, who has won each of the last five FIFA Women's World Player of the Year awards, was unable to showcase her skills in the latter stages of the competition. Even so, the iconic forward was in the best of spirits at Monday's press conference: "Of course I'm delighted to be here. It's wonderful for any athlete to be a part of an awards ceremony like this, especially when you're among the nominees. It's a way of rounding off 2011. It wasn't a normal year, but I'm still among the top three!"