- Germany win first Women's World Cup with victory over Sweden
- 1999 hosts USA step in to stage the tournament
- Birgit Prinz wins Golden Ball and Golden Boot, Nia Kunzer produces golden goal in Final
On 17 July, 2003, at the group draw in the Home Depot Center, China PR coach Ma Liangxing symbolically handed over the FIFA Women's World Cup™ trophy to April Heinrichs, coach of new hosts USA. The 2003 finals would go ahead - but far away and on a different continent than originally planned.
Through April and May concerns over the SARS outbreak in China had the tournament in flux, and on 26 May, in order to the keep the event on schedule, FIFA regrettably informed the world that the new hosts would be USA. Despite tremendous pressure to organise the event, everything came off without a hitch, and football fans everywhere turned their gaze Stateside on 20 September.
What they saw was a host of familiar faces - Sun Wen, Mia Hamm, Bettina Wiegmann, Hege Riise and others were back - and some new ones, most notably finals debutants France, Korea Republic and Argentina.
Breaking the mould
Echoing the thoughts of women's football experts the world over, China coach Ma Liangxing said at the group draw: "The gap between teams is narrowing all the time as traditionally weaker teams catch up with the stronger teams. This World Cup should see plenty of surprises."
Unfortunately for Ma, his own side were one of those to be caught off guard, as the slick and talented China were upset by Canada in the quarter-finals. The flourishing North Americans put an 11-match losing streak against China behind them to record a shock 1-0 win. Norway were another of the established elite to be on the wrong end of an unwelcome surprise. The reigning Women's Olympic Football Tournament champions were comprehensively beaten 4-1 by a young and engaging Brazilian side, before being eliminated by the hosts in the quarter-final.
More surprising still was Germany's 3-0 victory over favourites and holders USA in the semi-final. That game spelled the end for the seemingly all-conquering Americans, and handed Germany a place in the Final alongside Sweden. The Scandinavians, for their part, rebounded from an opening loss to the hosts and sent Brazil, and then Canada, packing with 2-1 victories.
And, for the second time, after Sweden 1995, the FIFA Women's World Cup had an all-European final.
The rise of Europe
The final match, which can tend to be a tense and dour affair, was celebration of all that is wonderful about football, women's or otherwise. The match was fast, thrilling, skilful and dramatic. It was a genuine feast of attacking football and physical determination. In the end, a golden goal gave the reigning European Champions, Germany, their first World Championship.
Before that dramatic victory, four of the five European teams made it out of their groups and into the quarter-finals. Although Russia and Norway were defeated in their second round matches, and France bravely went out of a tough group, they still outperformed Asian champions Korea DPR and African title-holders Nigeria, who were unable to make it out of their respective groups.
Europe's success was not merely a coincidence either. All five sides from the old continent showed vast improvements from the previous FIFA Women's World Cup in terms of skill and technique, and their experience in top-class matches was obvious.
Older players like 31-year-old Hamm and 30-year-old Sun Wen remained in the spotlight, but younger players also made their mark. The USA's 23-year-old Abby Wambach largely stole the show for the Americans with her decisive and practical technique. Her heading ability and tireless ball pilfering made her the most feared striker on the U.S. team.
Another rising star was 16-year-old Canadian Kara Lang, who impressed with her outstanding skill, alertness and stamina. A 17-year-old from Brazil by the name of Marta also left a lasting impression. Excellent ball control and positioning earned her the following praise from Ma Liangxing: "The way she plays points the way forward for football." Prophetic words indeed.
At 24-years-old, Germany's Kerstin Garefrekes also made her mark, finding the net four times, while Sweden's 20-year-old Josefine Oeqvist scored the spectacular winning goal against Canada. Korea DPR's 23-year-old Jin Pyol-Hui also showed herself a scorer of the future, and Russia's Elena Danilova, the youngest player at the 2003 FIFA Women's World Cup, scored an impressive solo effort against Germany in the quarter-final.
Germany, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, USA, France, Ghana, Japan, Nigeria, Norway, Korea DPR, Korea Republic, China PR, Russia, Sweden.
Foxboro, Philadelphia, Washington DC, Columbus, Carson, Portland.
107 (3.3 goals per game)
656,789 (20,525 average per match)
adidas Golden Ball: Birgit Prinz (Germany)
adidas Silver Ball: Victoria Svensson (Sweden)
adidas Bronze Ball: Maren Meinert (Germany)
adidas Golden Boot: Birgit Prinz (Germany), 7 goals, 5 assists
adidas Silver Boot: Maren Meinert (Germany), 4 goals, 7 assists
adidas Bronze Boot: Katia (Brazil), 4 goals
FIFA Fair Play award: China