With under 90 days until the FIFA Women's World Cup Germany 2011™ kicks off, the FIFA/LOC Welcome Tour stopped in Washington DC as three of the game's all-time great players and ambassadors - Mia Hamm, Kristine Lilly and Steffi Jones - came together and looked ahead to what they each hoped would be a special summer.
Although their playing days are through, the three share a passion for the sport and hope their respective national sides can stamp their mark on the upcoming showpiece of women's football. They also represent the mutual respect that has grown between the two great rivals of women's football. “Mia was my role model. She was the greatest leader I ever met,” confessed 2003 FIFA Women's World Cup-winner Jones, who is President of the German Local Organising Committee and has family and career ties to the US.
“I am half-American and half-German. I am two hearts beating as one: one for Germany and one for the USA,” said Jones, before coming down on the side of her birth country on the 13th leg of the Trophy Tour, which she said had been a huge success. “We had goals for the tour, and we have opened doors. We have shown that soccer can open these doors for women's rights,” she continued before pointing to the continued importance of the work done by Hamm, Lilly and other US pioneers of the game.
“I was happy to play the game, and I am just as happy to come here and be a part of the good work that Steffi, the tour and Germany are doing to promote it,” said Lilly, who amassed an astounding 352 caps before retiring at the age of 39 in January. “The one thing that every player wants to be a part of is the World Cup. Even though for me it's different from this side now, it will be amazing. The more people that will watch, the more people become fans.”
Fellow two-time FIFA Women's World Cup winner, Mia Hamm, agreed with her compatriot. “I think back to 1991 and the growth has been tremendous,” said the all-time top scorer in international football with 158 goals. “Soccer is growing every single day, and I feel honoured to be a part of that. Anything I need to do to help women's soccer, I will do. And clearly Germany are working hard on the same thing, and I know they will host a first-class tournament.”
Mutual respect amongst heavyweights
With Germany having won the last two FIFA Women's World Cups and the USA claiming two of the first three, the nations share a healthy rivalry. “I have nothing but respect for German soccer. They are so organised and so technical,” said Hamm, who claimed she had 'blocked out' the 2003 semi-final defeat to Germany on home soil. “I love the style they play. They respect the game so much, and they ask you to be at the top of your game to even be able to compete with them.”
Jones was equally full of praise for her American rivals. “[Germany] still have a negative record against the US," said Jones, who has been busy meeting the American press and public. "I get very excited about matches between the two, and if we meet them in the final, it would be perfect. We will have two teams trying to win a third trophy, but it will be a great World Cup anyway."
While Germany and the US have been powers in women's football, participants at the Washington DC press conference and reception at the German Ambassador's residence, which also included US Secretary General Dan Flynn, were at pains to point out that the game was becoming ever more competitive. “The depth of quality in the confederations is always getting better, and that can only be good,” said Tatjana Haenni, FIFA's Head of Women's Competitions. “Worldwide, there has been so much movement, and you can see new teams emerging. This tour has highlighted that.
"Women's football is a big thing in the US, and around the world we tell everyone about it as a success story. To have role models like Mia and Kristine is great."