Unprecedented enthusiasm, packed stadiums, top-quality football and a brand new champion: The FIFA Women's World Cup 2011™ in Germany took the feminine side of the world’s most popular sport to a whole new level and will remain forever in the memory.
For many, Japan's penalty shoot-out victory over USA in the Final was a fitting conclusion to the tournament, especially in light of the catastrophic earthquake and tsunami which devastated the country earlier in the year. The Nadeshiko, inspired by star player Homare Sawa, combined slick passing with technical finesse to prove that women's football has truly arrived in every corner of the globe.
A victory for modern women's football
Following in the footsteps of Norway (1995), USA (1991, 1999) and Germany (2003, 2007), Japan became only the fourth women’s world champions and can now count themselves among the true greats of the sport. "We definitely wanted a medal, but I never would have dared to dream that we'd win it or that I would win the adidas Golden Boot," said midfield maestro Sawa, who also received the adidas Golden Ball as the tournament's best player.
The competition sprang a number of surprises. Few predicted that Norway would be packing their bags by the end of the group stage, fewer still that reigning champions, hosts and favourites Germany would bow out in the quarter-finals along with fellow 2007 finalists Brazil.
Sweden and France reached the semi-finals and in so doing secured their place at the 2012 Women's Olympic Football Tournament in London. While the Scandinavians played their way into fans’ hearts with a refreshing brand of attacking football, Les Bleues were met with critical acclaim for their sumptuous technique and creative build-up play.
Exciting matches, spectacular goals
USA went into the Final brimming with confidence as they sought to become the competition's most successful nation outright. However, in a dramatic decider in Frankfurt, Japan twice fought back to force the game into penalties and ultimately held their nerve in the shoot-out to claim their maiden title. "It was a difficult moment for us because we were so close, but I think Japan, a country which has gone through so much over the past few months, almost needed the victory more than we did," said USA striker Abby Wambach. "The thought that their success will bring happiness and hope to the Japanese people is a consolation."
The teams representing Africa and Oceania also demonstrated how far the women’s game has come in their respective regions. While New Zealand collected their first-ever point at a FIFA Women's World Cup in the group stage, Equatorial Guinea also had the chance to display their impressive qualities on the biggest stage. Canada, meanwhile, left the tournament amid disappointment after failing to pick up a single point in the first round, but the North Americans can at least look forward to hosting the next edition in 2015.
"It was a top-quality tournament in Germany," said star player Christine Sinclair. "We need to start living up to expectations over the next four years, but the World Cup will be a great opportunity to prove ourselves."
A new milestone reached
Continuing from the huge success that was the men's FIFA World Cup™ in 2006 , Germany fully embraced the second chapter of their ‘summer fairytale’. A phenomenal total of 845,711 fans attended the 32 matches, and the breathtaking backdrop of 73,680 fans for the Opening Match at the historic Berlin Olympiastadion will live long in the memory. "The stadiums were great and the crowds' enthusiasm remained even after the German team went out," said a delighted FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter.
Indeed, the colourful mix of fans, countless Mexican waves and relentless chanting created an electric atmosphere at each and every match. This, along with the high standard of football and numerous close-fought encounters, ensured Germany 2011 reached a new milestone in the development of the women's game.
Furthermore, the number of teams capable of challenging for the title has grown - a development commented on by Tina Theune, a member of FIFA's Technical Study Group (TSG): "This is the right moment to increase the field for the Women’s World Cup 2015 from 16 to 24 teams," the 2003 FIFA Women’s World Cup-winning coach told FIFA.com.
Germany 2011 set a new benchmark for the future of women’s football. As the amount of worldwide interest continues to grow, players, fans and experts alike are already starting to look forward to the next edition of the tournament in Canada in four years’ time.
Augsburg, Berlin, Bochum, Dresden, Frankfurt, Leverkusen, Monchengladbach, Sinsheim, Wolfsburg
86 (average 2.69 per match)