Monday 28 December 2020, 11:57

Women’s football makes strides despite challenging year

  • reviews 2020 in women’s football

  • Lyon, Lucy Bronze, Christine Sinclair and the WSL feature

  • Olympics looms as Women’s World Cup locked in Down Under

COVID-19 wreaked havoc on the women’s football calendar but there was still a surprising amount of on-field action during 2020. Europe managed to make significant progress on both the international and club stage, while the early part of the year saw several nations book their spot at the Women's Olympic Football Tournament. Despite a lack of matches, four-time world champions USA ended the year as they commenced it: atop the FIFA/Coca-Cola Women's World Ranking.

Off the field, important developments continue to point to a bright future for women’s football. The delay in numerous competitions also sets up a log-jam of mouth-watering action over the coming few years, none more anticipated than the FIFA Women’s World Cup Australia/New Zealand 2023™.

New frontiers for showpiece

Women’s football’s centrepiece event will create a number of firsts when it heads Down Under in 2023. Announced in June this year, the 2023 iteration will be the first to take place below the equator, the first to be shared among two countries, and the first to take place across two confederations. Football fans got a small taste of what looms last week with confirmation of the qualification spots for 2023 as well as news of an innovative qualifying play-off tournament.

Deferred Olympiad looms

The year kicked off with a flurry of nations booking passage to the postponed Women’s Olympic Football Tournament Tokyo 2020. Christine Sinclair became the greatest goalscorer in international football as Canada joined USA in filling the Concacaf allocation in February. Australia then did likewise in Asia, while a play-off between China PR and Korea Republic was postponed until 2021 at the eleventh hour.

Old Continent maintains momentum

The UEFA Women's EURO was pushed back a year to July 2022, but that postponement didn’t stop a flurry of teams locking up qualification when the action resumed in the second half of the year. Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Iceland, the Netherlands (holders), Norway and Sweden are all set to join hosts England, while Northern Ireland, Russia and Ukraine are already into the play-offs ahead of the final group matches in February.

England and Lyon headline club focus

Notable in 2020 was the heightened status of England’s Women’s Super League. A catalogue of stars arrived from all corners of the globe including Pernille Harder and Sam Kerr, while significantly a number of USA’s world champion players travelled across the Atlantic, among them Alex Morgan, Tobin Heath, Sam Mewis and Rose Lavelle.

USA’s NWSL was forced into an abridged competition, which Houston Dash made the most of to collect their maiden silverware. One thing that didn’t change, however, was Lyon’s incredible dominance with the team from France’s third city claiming a fifth successive continental crown and a jaw-dropping 14th successive domestic title.

Further afield, a host of nations demonstrated an ever-increasing focus on the game, including in Oceania ahead of the 2023 Women’s World Cup. In Japan, 2021 is set to see the nation’s first-ever fully professional domestic competition.

The best of the best

It was perhaps little surprise that Lyon also featured prominently in The Best FIFA Football Awards™. Lucy Bronze, who began the year with the French super club, became the first fullback to win the top gong ahead of former Lyon team-mate Wendie Renard. Lyon's Sarah Bouhaddi was named The Best FIFA Women's Goalkeeper.

Lucy Bronze is seen giving a acceptance speech via video link after winning The Best FIFA Women's Player

Building a stronger game globally

FIFA unveiled numerous development activities including the FIFA Women’s Development Programme, which allows for member associations to access additional resources and specialist expertise. The first-ever Women’s Football Administrator Handbook was also published which provides strategies, practices and procedures to help aid the growth of women’s football and further foster gender equality.

On the horizon

Tokyo 2020 was postponed for 12 months and is now scheduled for July-August 2021. Chile and Cameroon will joust for the penultimate ticket to Tokyo, kicking off another year of international football on 18 and 24 February.