The 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup was not a tournament that a great many football fans looked forward to.
The past history of the Women’s game suggested that this, like it’s predecessors, would be another exercise in fan patience: Waiting quietly until the semi finals come and the games are actually competitive.
From the early group games, however, it was clear that most of us were dead wrong on that count. Upsets and expected blowouts that turned into keenly fought contests became the norm.
As historically competitive sides like Norway & Canada discovered to their chagrin, the women’s game had comprehensively moved on.
More impressive than the general competitiveness of the tournament, however, was the quality and fairness of the play.
Unlike practically every Men’s tournament in the last couple of decades, there was little sign of diving or embellishment from the players. Violent or reckless tackles were infrequent aberrations rather than standard fare.
As this tournament moved into the knockout stages some surprises were evident. As mentioned, Canada and Norway failed to advance.
Perhaps the most impressive (and unexpected) performance came from the French team. Not considered a great power in Women’s football, France had invested heavily a program and that commitment showed in their performance.
They obliterated a highly regarded Canadian side and, but for a couple of bad bounces and an iffy red card, might even have beaten double defending champions Germany to win their group.
England’s association had also invested in its women’s program (reportedly some $10m) in preparation for the Olympics in London in 2012.
Meanwhile, some historic powers had experienced a difficult run up to the tournament. Top ranked USA lost to Mexico in Concacaf qualifying and required playoff wins over Costa Rica & Italy to earn a place in the tournament at all.
1999 Finalists China did not make it out of the Asian qualifying group.
Shockingly, Denmark joined Italy in failing to earn one of the four UEFA places in the tournament despite an undefeated qualifying campaign in which they surrendered no goals in 8 games!
Unlike past years, the group stage did not display a vast difference in team performance. The largest margins of victory were France’s 4-0 destruction of Canada and Japan’s 4-0 win over Mexico.
Nor could it be said that any of the elite teams eased up on their less fortunate opponents. The group stage was also very well officiated across the board (barring an embarrassing gaffe on an obvious handball in the Equatorial Guinea v Australia match which fortunately did not affect the game result).
Overall, the women’s football community is to be applauded for the dramatic improvement in the organization, play and administration of this tournament. The degree to which the women’s game has advanced since the 2007 tournament is truly remarkable.
At the end of a hard-fought group stage fans were left with the following quarterfinal matchups:
Germany v Japan Sweden v Australia
France v England Brazil v USA
Unlike recent men’s tournaments, only one looked a mismatch on paper. Onward, then, to the knockout round…
Knock out stage summary to follow later today.
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