If China in 1991 was the innovation, Sweden in 1995 was the
consecration of women's football at the highest level.
Players from the best dozen teams in the world came together in the quest for two prizes: the World Cup itself, but also qualification for the first women's Olympic Football Tournament the following year in the United States. The Americans, as Olympic hosts, had already qualified and were eventually joined by the new World Champions from Norway, runners-up Germany and fourth-placed China, together with Sweden, Denmark, Brazil and Japan.
Sweden '95 was a delightful combination of world championship prestige and provincial carnival, with the 26 matches played not only in the Rasunda national stadium near Stockholm but also in the smaller towns of Gävle, Helsingborg, Karlstad and Västeras, amid a typically Swedish festive mid-summer atmosphere. Teams mixed with the public in an easy-going mood, and most seemed to have their own band of supporters, including even those far from home such as China, Japan and Australia.
Sweden, long-time pioneers of the women's game, carefully chose its venues for the second edition of the FIFA Women's World Cup. Mid-sized population centers were picked to maximize impact, and 14,500 spectators at the opening match got the attendance figures off to a good start. Two weeks later, the Final crowd took the total past the 112,000 mark.
The tournament opened with a shocker, as Brazil downed host Sweden, 1-0, on a goal by Roseli. The Brazilians could not maintain the pace, and dropped their next two matches to go out of the tournament. Sweden rallied emotionally in front of the home crowd for a dramatic 3-2 comeback win over Germany, as Pia Sundhage and Malin Andersson scored the tying and winning goals in the last 10 minutes. Sweden then cruised by Japan to advance to the quarterfinals.
Despite the loss to Sweden, Germany advanced with wins over Japan and a 6-1 thrashing of Brazil, getting two goals from Heidi Mohr. Japan also advanced, based on its win over Brazil, but was quickly put out by the USA in the quarterfinals, 4-0.
China gained a measure of historic revenge in the quarterfinals. After being eliminated in their home country in 1991 by Sweden, China knocked the hosts out of the tournament in penalty kicks. Germany cruised past England, 3-0, to earn a berth in the semifinals. By 1995, Norway had nursed its wounds from the finals four years earlier, and made the short journey to Sweden for the tournament ready to roll.
Norway ripped through its three Group B opponents -- Nigeria, England and Canada -- scoring 17 goals and allowing none to establish itself as the elimination-round favorite. They then dispatched the always tough Danes in the quarterfinals, 3-1. That set up the match that the Norwegians had been waiting four years for -- a rematch with the United States.
The Americans traveled to Sweden as favorites to repeat, but lost star striker Michelle Akers to injury just seven minutes into their first game, a 3-3 draw in which China scored twice in a five-minute span near the end of the match. The U.S. rallied in their second group game to defeat Denmark, 2-0, a game in which superstar Mia Hamm played goalie after goalkeeper Brianna Scurry was ejected.
Against Australia, the Americans fell behind, 1-0, but rallied to score four times in the second half, with two goals coming in stoppage time, including Debbie Keller's dramatic tally to clinch the group for the U.S., her first-ever international goal. The quarterfinals saw a convincing 4-0 victory over Japan as Kristine Lilly scored twice.
Defenses dominated for the U.S. and Norway during their semifinal match on 15 June. Both teams played it close to the vest, and a 10th minute score by Norway's Ann Kristin Aarones proved to be the difference in the game. That pushed the Norwegians into the final where they would face a German squad, which had dispatched China 1-0, on a goal by Bettina Wiegmann in the other semifinal match. In front of more than 17,000 fans who sat through a steady rain, Norway got goals from Hege Riise and Marianne Pettersen to beat Germany 2-0 and capture the second Women's World Cup title.
FIFA experimented with the time-out concept for the first time at this Women's World Cup. The provisional rule allowed each team to call one two-minute break per half, but only about one in three such breaks were actually taken. The rule was tightened in mid-tournament to enable a team to call a time-out only when it was itself due to take a throw-in or goal-kick, or after a goal has been scored. Referees frequently used the interruption to consult with their linesmen, while coaches adjusted their tactics and players took welcome refreshment in the occasional Swedish heat.
There were 14 women and 11 men among match officials, with Sweden's Ingrid Jonsson becoming the first woman to referee a FIFA final. Forty-two yellow cards in the first 18 matches showed that the officials continued to apply FIFA's call for stricter refereeing in all 26 games, plus one yellow/red - ironically, being which kept Norwegian captain Heidi Store out of the Final.