The massive crowds and record TV ratings might have already
seen the recent FIFA Women's World Cup declared an unqualified
commercial success, but what of the response of football's
'cyberfans'? Were they as captivated by the quality on show
in China as the paying customers and armchair supporters?
The answer, if feedback on FIFA.com was anything to go by, could only be described as a resounding yes. Our unrivalled in-depth news, background and analysis and exclusive free live footage and highlights packages proved a massive hit with users and ensured the comments section came spectacularly to life as the tournament progressed and supporters began to form opinions and allegiances.
The extent of the debate could best be summed up by statistics for one story - 'Stunned US lick their wounds' - the English version of which generated over 5000 words in publishable comments from 47 separate users. There was quality to match the quantity too, with FIFA.com users proving themselves to be discerning analysts of the women's game in their dicussion of where the US had gone wrong in their crushing 4-0 defeat to Brazil.
The controversial decision to drop Hope Solo dominated
phsoccerfan writing: "Hope Solo has started 40 of the
last 50 matches, she has the consistency and experience. The coach
threw off the whole dynamic of the team". There was also an
epic 407-word contribution from
Dreaddy, who rejected the focus on US failings to point
out: "Anyone who knows soccer and saw that game would realise
that Brazil were just the better team."
Brazil win backing
The general excitement at Brazil's performances, and those of Marta in particular, was evident in the comments that poured in as the tournament neared its climax. One Brazilian user, setegalo, contributed this comment to our Spanish channel: "US, Norway, Germany... be careful, because now Brazil will pay attention to women's football and become like a giant. Just wait and see."
Inevitably, the Canarinhas' ever-improving displays also led to a little overconfidence, with one fan, kunlealaba, providing this tribute on the English channel: "I knew from Brazil's first game that the Women's World Cup belongs to them. They are a joy to watch. The German-Brazil match is all about robust football vs artistry and class. Class wins!"
This wasn't, of course, quite how the final transpired, although Brazil's many supporters remained steadfast in defeat. Commenting on Marta's exclusive post-final interview with FIFA.com, a Beijing-based female Chinese fan, wusa930, added a personal tribute: "Marta, I fell in love with women's football because of you. Words can't show my appreciation. It does not matter you missed the trophy... showing the world we girls can play football as well as the boys is more important."
There was also, of course, praise for the champions after Germany became the first team in the competition's history to retain the trophy. Brazilian user BrodiFAAbs led the tributes: "I was pulling for the samba girls but you stopped them... with technique, tactics and devotion. You all did wonderfully and the title stays with the best team." These sentiments were echoed by another user, patti12, who also lauded the tournament in general: "I watched almost every game of this World Cup and it was fabulous. I'm so happy for the German players. They played wonderful team soccer and it was spellbinding."
Tributes for the hosts
This was far from an isolated display on enthusiasm for the football on show in the Far East. Even fans new to the women's game felt compelled to share how pleasantly surprised they had been, with Spanish language user MARIOTG even suggesting the men's game could learn a lesson or two. He wrote: "This is the first time that I have watched women's football and I am impressed by the quality of all the countries. I think that we (men) have a lot to learn from all these women who've made a big show out of football. I hope we can see all that magic again in the next women's tournament."
He wasn't the only user left looking forward to the next female showpiece, which will see the world's best return to China to do battle in the Beijing Olympics. US user glenn1 believes that tournament is in safe hands: "My hats off to China and producing some great games. The next Olympics should be a classic. Women's soccer is in for continued growth and prosperity. The Chinese people should be very proud."
Indeed they should, as should the teams involved. After all, they served up a tournament that not only captured the public's imagination to draw in crowds and viewers, but also generated enough talking points to ensure that, even now, debate continues to rage on among online enthusiasts.