Women’s World Cup 2011 Preview
By Jason Beck
Barely a year after Spain rocked the soccer world with its first-ever World Cup victory in South Africa following a month of mostly tedious, defensive soccer, the 2011 Women’s World Cup in Germany has the opportunity to make the beautiful game, well, beautiful once again.
Running from June 26th until the Final match July 17th, the tournament boasts the strongest representation of women’s soccer ever from around the globe. And that’s good news for everyone from your average footy fanatic to the casual observer who might tune in for the odd game.
A recurrent criticism of the women’s game when compared to the men’s has been the disparity in level of play between nations, a core group of five to eight North American and European nations consistently thumping less established and developing national programs from elsewhere by a wide margin. Occasionally, scoring has reached double digits. Case in point: the opening match of the 2007 tournament where Germany destroyed an under-prepared and badly out-matched Argentina 11-0.
Don’t expect any NFL-like scores this time around. Although disparities remain and perennial favourites Germany, USA, and Brazil appear strong once again, the nations in pursuit have fast closed the gap. Japan enters the tournament ranked an all-time high fourth in the world and shouldn’t be dismissed despite a history of uneven results in the final tournament. Coming off an impressive qualification campaign in which they won the CONCACAF Gold Cup, sporting a perfect 5-0 record (17 GF, 0 GA) no country in the world top-ten has made a larger leap forward than Canada, sitting an all-time high sixth, and led by Burnaby’s own Christine Sinclair, truly one of the world’s elite and still only 28, yet already playing in her third World Cup.
Scandinavian neighbours Norway and Sweden look solid and continued their perfect record of qualifying for all six Women’s World Cups thus far, matching Brazil, Germany, USA, Japan, and Nigeria in this regard. Look for France, who compiled an impressive 11-0-1 qualifying record (53 GF, 2 GA), to surprise, while expect strong pushes from Korea DPR, England, and a youthful Australian side as well. Mexico returns to its first World Cup since 1999, while New Zealand looks for improvement in its third trip. Newcomers Columbia and Equatorial Guinea make their World Cup debuts to round out the sixteen nations who qualified.
Any list of players to watch must start with Brazil’s Marta, five-time defending FIFA Women’s Player of the Year, a wizard with the ball and clinical in her finishing. Often compared to the legendary Pele, Marta nearly single-handedly carried Brazil to the 2007 World Cup Final, before falling to Germany 2-0. Former Golden Ball and Golden Boot winner Birgit Prinz from Germany returns for what in all likelihood will be her swansong performance. American Abby Wambach, with her impressive 118 goals in 157 international appearances, is always someone to keep your eye on, but younger teammate Megan Rapinoe will get some attention if one of her cracking free kicks finds the twine. Experts believe two newcomers who may be able to lift their nations to the knockout stage and perhaps farther are Nigeria’s eighteen-year-old winger Ebere Orji, and Columbia’s seventeen-year-old midfielder Yoreli Rincon, who scored the highlight goal of the 2010 U-20 World Cup.
A record nine stadiums will be used for matches across Germany, varying in capacity from 23,000 spectators to over 70,000. Over one million tickets will be available for matches. Two of the nine stadiums have been used for previous men’s World Cup Final matches: Berlin’s 74,244-seat Olympic Stadium, which will play host to the tournament’s opening match between Canada and Germany, and Frankfurt’s Commerzbank-Arena, which will host the Final. Coincidentally for Vancouverites, the 49,240-seat Commerzbank-Arena employs the same retractable roof technology to be used at BC Place Stadium upon its reopening in September.
The significance of playing in some of the best soccer stadiums in the world in front of record crowds is not lost on the players. Sinclair recently told the Ottawa Citizen that it will stand as a highlight of her athletic career long after the fact before balancing that statement with the team’s primary focus: moving on to the knockout stages, unlike four years ago when the Canadians crashed in the round robin.
“We are aiming to get out of our group,” she told the Citizen. “Our team is very confident. We have had good results for the past year and a half and have the attitude now that we know we can win any game we play.”
Sinclair and her teammates won’t be the only Canadians taking part in World Cup matches in Germany. Montreal’s Carol Anne Chenard has been chosen by FIFA to serve as one of fifty-one match officials at this year’s tournament. Chenard earlier refereed the final of the U-20 Women’s World Cup in Germany last year making it entirely possible she may be chosen to work some of the tournament’s crucial knockout stage matches.
As the prominence of the women’s tournament has risen in recent years, unveiling many of the same elements anticipated for the men’s tournament are now a regular feature, from mascots to match balls. In attendance at every match will the be the official 2011 tournament mascot, Karla Kick, a brown tabby cat never far from her football and sporting German red, yellow, and black facepaint on her cheeks. Born in Germany in 1995 on the very same day that the German team played in a FIFA Women’s World Cup final for the first time, Karla’s bio describes her as embodying German virtues such as thoroughness and discipline, while also adventurous, spontaneous, bubbly, fond of children and very playful.
For the 2011 tournament, Adidas has produced the SPEEDCELL official match ball, similar in design to the wildly popular Jabulani used at last year’s men’s World Cup. The central design element of eleven lines found all over the ball’s surface symbolically represents the eleven players on the field and the unity of every team.
Regardless of what transpires beginning June 26th, what we do know for certain is come July 17th, one nation will hold aloft the FIFA Women’s World Cup Trophy. Thousands of eyes and cameras will focus in on the beautiful handmade trophy featuring a green Serpentino marble base and a 23-carat golden spiral enclosing a ball. The 45cm high trophy weighing 1.8kg is valued at $30,000 US. To the victors, however, none of these stats will matter, only that the greatest prize in women’s world football is now theirs.
Past Tournament Winners Runners-Up
1991: USA Norway
1995: Norway Germany
1999: USA China
2003: Germany Sweden
2007: Germany Brazil
Past Tournament Hosts Attendance
1991: China 510,000 (19,615 per match)
1995: Sweden 112,213 (4,316 per match)
1999: USA 1,194,215 (37,319 per match)
2003: USA 656,789 (20,525 per match)
2007: China 1,156,955 (36,155 per match)
Past Golden Boot Winners (Top Scorer)
1991: Michelle Akers, USA, 10 goals
1995: Ann-Kristin Aarones, Norway, 6 goals
1999: Sissi, Brazil, and Sun Wen, China, 7 goals
2003: Birgit Prinz, Germany, 7 goals
2007: Marta, Brazil, 7 goals
Past Golden Ball Winners (Tournament MVP)
1991: Carin Jennings, USA
1995: Hege Riise, Norway
1999: Sun Wen, China
2003: Birgit Prinz, Germany
2007: Marta, Brazil