When 13 nations descended upon Uruguay in 1930 for an ambitious, unknown global footballing extravaganza, no one new exactly what to expect. Similarly, at the start of a new millennium with football firmly entrenched as the globe's game and the World Cup its biggest stage, twelve young teams representing each continent have converged on an alleged "non-football" nation with mixed expectations and doubts aplenty.
No one truly could have predicted what a sensational success was to transpire over the past two weeks in western Canada as three cities played host to the inaugural FIFA U-19 Women's World Championship.
FIFA president Joseph S. Blatter had some frank words about expectations and surprises on the eve of the final. "There was initial reluctance within FIFA about bringing the competition to a country more renowned for ice hockey and the traditional American sports, than football. That is why we are so overjoyed about the phenomenal and pleasantly surprising success we have all witnessed here in Canada."
After two weeks of fine football, all doubt was summarily put to rest after the final at the Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton was declared a total sellout, and nearly 50,000 football-frenzied supporters turned out to watch their beloved hosts do brave battle with favourites the United States.
FIFA's top executive commented again, "Many people wondered why we should have the final stages at such a large stadium, figuring it would remain half empty…but I am more than proud to say, there are no tickets left for the final…Mama mia!"
Humble, elegant, full of verve, and with a sharp point to prove to numerous nay sayers, each nation brought something different, yet equally crucial, to the inaugural global event that Team Canada coach Ian Bridge referred to as "a great moment for women's football," following a down-to-the-wire final defeat to the Americans.
Group A - in the picturesque environs of British Colombia's capital of Victoria - brought the tournament some of its biggest surprises in Oceania representatives Australia and European unknowns England. Few knew what to expect of the brave Aussies, but spurred by coach Mike Mulvey and adept at speedy, direct football they proved one of the more pleasant surprises, surging into the second round and grabbing what their boss referred to as "a little piece of history." England too offered up a bit of panache as the overshadowed lasses fought for respect and a place in the quarter-finals on the character and sheer brilliance of diminutive number 10 Ellen Maggs who claimed "we'll turn a lot of heads back home if we do well."
Even minnows Chinese Taipei, though they couldn't manage a win or more than one goal, turned some heads on their own with a courageous, proud run through the group stage. Though the US seemed to steamroll over the competition out west, the gracious and impressive favourites always maintained a genuine sense of modesty.
Vancouver offered up the tournament's group of death with brilliant, soulful Brazil leading the charge. Germany fought tooth-and-nail to earn a spot in the knockout phase, while competitive France became the only squad with a win under their belt to be eliminated in the first round after earning three points from a victory over truculent, undisciplined - but highly entertaining - North American outfit Mexico. Meanwhile Group C in Edmonton proved a spectacular round of football as powerful hosts Canada were made to earn their dessert against some of the more skillful sides in the competition. Clever, talented Nigeria, hyper-technical Japan and effective, direct European outfit Denmark did themselves proud in varying degrees.
In the end Christine Sinclair proved too hot to handle, and with five goals in a 6:2 win over England in the quarter-final, distinguished herself as the tournament's top finisher - eventually earning the golden shoe for most goals and also the golden ball for tournament MVP.
As the US proved gracious and able champions, each nation that trekked to Canada for what has proven a momentous, pivotal footballing moment can consider themselves true champions.
As goals tumbled out of the Northern sky and a new breed of football, and footballer, earned the respect of numerous doubters, President Blatter rhetorically asked on the eve of the tournament's end, "what has happened in this country?" His colleague and FIFA vice president Jack Warner surely came closest to nailing the answer as he spoke of Canada's "football miracle" of 2002.