FIFA Women’s World Cup’19 – A Lookback

With the ICC Cricket World Cup in its knockout stages, the Wimbledon Open progressing with its usual astonishing showcase of talent and fervour, and the Copa America having just drawn to a close, sports fans across the globe have been treated to a multitude of vibrant clashes and magnificent displays of skills across many different sports. 

But, while the Kohlis, Federers, and Messis have attracted plenty of attention in the past few weeks, another engrossing tournament recently reached its conclusion in France. Over the weekend, the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup witnessed its final battle, as the United States downed their Dutch opponents to claim the prestigious title.

And sure, maybe it’s not your fault that you didn’t catch any of the action. If you’re a diehard sports fan, you were probably already spoilt for choice. Even pure football fans would’ve had their eyes on the Copa America finals on Sunday, and not the Women’s World Cup finals. There’s also a good chance you didn’t even know it was happening.

That’s why we here at DoJMA are here with a brief summary of the best this tournament had to offer, and why you should definitely be ready for the action when it returns in 2023!

 

A Brief History of the Women’s World Cup

The first FIFA Women’s World Cup was contested in 1991, and after a further seven editions, the USA reign supreme with four titles, including Sunday’s win over the Netherlands. Apart from the Americans, only a handful of countries like Germany, Sweden, and Norway (the other winners), have had any sort of consistent success at the various editions. This highlighted the lack of interest and investment several national football associations have in women’s football, something several footballers are standing up to today, which set the precedent for this year’s World Cup as well.

 

USA vs. Thailand– 13-0!

The United States may not be powerhouses in men’s football, but they are giants when the women are the ones on the field, having won 3 of the 7 World Cups that occurred prior to this recently-concluded iteration. That, coupled with the Americans’ sizzling form in the build-up to the event, made them favourites to win the title– and they wasted no time in showing the world that they meant business, bullying a far weaker Thailand team into submission in their opening match and emerging with a 13-0 win– yes, 13-0!

From the very beginning of the match, the United States was on the attack, taking far more possession of the ball and easily penetrating Thailand’s defences. The scoreline was 3-0 in favour of the Americans at half-time, and there was a sense that they could’ve scored much more than just the three goals they did make. This was thoroughly made up for in the second half of the match, though, as the Americans scored 4 goals in a brilliant 6-minute period of play and 6 more goals in the remainder of the half to leave their Thai counterparts absolutely devastated. American co-captain and star striker Alex Morgan alone scored 5 brilliant goals, while 7 of the United States’ remaining players combined to score 8 goals. The 13-0 scoreline spoke volumes of the massive gulf in quality between the two teams, and also served as a clear warning from the Americans: they were not going to be an easy team to beat, to say the least!

 

New ‘Goals’ to Achieve?

There is no doubt that women’s football is growing faster than ever, but for now, however, there remains a large number of people who refuse to watch it, citing that women’s football is far less intense and therefore unenjoyable. It’s sad that this opinion prevails despite the genuine quality of players and matches that women’s football continues to produce.

A similar line of argument claims that the goalposts should be closer together for women than they are for men, as women are unable to properly defend the goalposts that men have. This proposed “handicap” has not been well-received by many, who claim that it’s plain sexist. The Women’s World Cup this year even proved that there’s no need for smaller goals.

Chilean goalkeeper Christiane Endler, widely regarded as the best ‘keeper in the game, helped her team fend off a much stronger Swedish outfit for the entire first half in what was Chile’s Women’s World Cup debut. A brilliant late, diving save to prevent what looked like a certain goal was followed by various other jumps and dives to keep the Swedes at bay and the Chileans in the game. Her remarkable performance wasn’t enough, though, as the Swedish attack was able to penetrate Chile’s defences twice during the second half. Regardless, Endler certainly showed the world that there is absolutely no dearth of quality when it comes to goalkeepers. Who needed smaller goals, again?

 

Cameroon’s kerfuffle

Despite its successes, the World Cup wasn’t spared the ignominy of on-field controversy. During the round-of-16, England and Cameroon played their a competitive women’s football match for the first time, and it ended up as a match to be remembered– but not for the right reasons.

With just minutes left in the first half, English defender Lucy Bronze set up a shot that was taken by Ellen White, who was barely a foot onside. When her shot overcame the goalkeeper, it was initially ruled as an offside (and therefore invalid) goal, but technology eventually ruled that the goal was valid as White had been onside. In spite of the replays, Cameroon disagreed with the decision, and they made sure their ire was clear. Referee decisions causing displeasure on the field is nothing new in football (or any sport, really), but towards the very end of the first half, Cameroon flat-out refused to play, with all the players of the team loudly demanding that the referee invalidate the goal. The Cameroon women apparently even claimed that racism was behind the goal being given, despite its legitimacy.

VAR (Video Assisted Referee), which is a relatively new development that uses technology to aid referees in making various decisions, was at the centre of the controversies in the match, which didn’t end at half-time. After the Cameroon team finally agreed to play, they scored a seemingly valid goal very early in the second half– but when VAR replayed the goal, it became clear that forward Ajara Nchout was millimetres offside when she made the shot, and thus the goal was not given. Needless to say, Cameroon was absolutely distraught.

In a game where both teams put up a somewhat shoddy performance, and where one of the teams (Cameroon) were far, far too physical and dangerous to the players on the field, it’s unfortunate that it has to be remembered for the controversies around technology made to help the game, and the players themselves.

 

Rapinoe vs. Trump

Something that was greatly covered during the knockout stages of the tournament was the dispute between USWNT star Megan Rapinoe and US President Donald Trump. Rapinoe launched a strong remark against Trump and said that she would not be going to the White House if they ended up winning. She even cast her doubt on receiving an invitation. Trump retorted that, in the act, Megan was disrespecting her country, a view that was not shared by many of those that supported her. In fact, it’s not new for prominent athletes to skip the White House visits: the entire Golden State Warriors team, from the NBA, did so last year.

However, this did put Rapinoe’s further performances in the knockout stages under much scrutiny. She responded in brilliant fashion, guiding the USA to a 2-1 win over France in the quarter-final, scoring both goals in the process. She even scored in the final win over the Netherlands, grabbing the World Cup, Golden Ball (best player), and the Golden Boot (top scorer) of the tournament. When many others flocked to send their congratulations to the team after their barrier-breaking performance, including former President Barack Obama, Trump sent a delayed message of congratulations, notably avoiding any mention of an invitation to the White House. How this saga plays out in the grander view of women’s sports in the USA remains to be seen.

 

Marta goes into the history books

As with the previous four editions, all eyes turned once again to Marta, who is regarded as the greatest female footballer ever, to pick up her first World Cup. Against Italy in Brazil’s final group stage match, Marta scored a goal from the penalty spot: the only goal in Brazil’s 1-0 win over the Italians. This saw her break a record for the most goals scored in the World Cup by a single player, male or female, overcoming Miroslav Klose’s tally of 16 goals, with 17 goals over five World Cups. In their next match, Brazil was unable to get past the France team and ultimately, got knocked out in the round of 16. The loss, however, was overshadowed by an emotional Marta sending out an inspirational message to the female footballers around the world. 

Acknowledging that footballing greats like her and her teammates Formiga and Christiane have their powers waning away, she cried out to the future stars to grit their teeth and dig into work harder and break the barriers others place on them. She called out the disparity between the men’s and women’s game, talking about how their recent closely-contested match was an example that the two games are not as different as people make them out to be. Passing on the baton, she called the youth to go past her and bring the women’s game to the level of recognition it deserves to have.

 

Hegerberg team snub

The most notable event before the start of the 2019 World Cup was the gaping hole left in Norway’s squad due to the absence of Ada Hegerberg, the winner of the inaugural Ballon d’Or Femenin (given to the best female football player in the world). Hegerberg wrapped up her season of club football in red-hot form, scoring a hattrick in Lyon’s 4-1 win over Barcelona in the 2019 Women’s Champions League final. The striker boycotted playing for her national side, however, in an effort for the Norwegian football authorities to give improved attention to the women’s national team after an abysmal showing in the 2017 Euros and a pay disparity. She remained steadfast in her withdrawal despite the pay increase from around £280,000 to £546,000. 

The move was met with mixed responses; however, it did highlight the differences in remuneration, attention, and facilities between men and women footballers in various countries around the world. Norway lost out to England in the quarter-finals and the big question in everyone’s mind is would they have fared better with Hegerberg on their team. The way it seems to be going, it looks like the world will never know…

 

Lionesses’ heartbreak

Against the backdrop of an agonising semi-finals loss in the 2018 Men’s World Cup, the whole of England turned to the Lionesses for a shot at finally bringing that elusive trophy home. In fact, they had more to play for than just the World Cup; back home: you see a stark contrast in the FA Women’s Super League and the men’s Premier League. While the latter has hundreds of millions of pounds being poured into it, an enormous growing viewer base, and the biggest names in world football, the former does not enjoy all these benefits. Women at English football’s top level earn around £26000 a year, the men? £2.6 million. Yes, things were bad and the Lionesses wanted to change that. A World Cup win could generate the momentum needed to carry their cause forward. They did look like they could be the ones who could upset title favourites the USA as the England team seemed to be confident with Phil Neville’s side displaying a series of impressive performances on their way to the last four. 

However, the sheer might brought by the most successful women’s team in the world dashed the hopes of English hopefuls. Despite the USA missing their talismanic co-captain Rapinoe, they exposed the Lionesses’ defensive vulnerabilities in a closely contested game of football. The Americans took an early lead with a 10’ goal by Christen Press, followed by a quick equalizer by Ellen White for England. The winner was scored by USA’s captain Alex Morgan, who then proceeded to imitate sipping tea for her celebration. This came under much scrutiny by the public but what captured all the UK newspapers’ headlines was a decisive penalty miss by England captain Steph Houghton, which sealed the deal for the USA. Things got worse from then on for the Lionesses, as they lost the third-place playoff to an impressive set of Swedes, exiting the football’s biggest competition in a similar fashion to their male counterparts. It looks like the wait continues as England looks to Qatar ‘22 for football to come home. 

Nevertheless, their performances did touch the hearts of many who tuned in to watch. It did prove to be what they needed as well, with the English Football Association setting up a new board to further development in the WSL. It was a well-deserved victory for the Lionesses in this regard and we cannot wait to see if this is the push they need to go ahead and win it all in four years’ time.

 

Conclusion

The 2019 Women’s World Cup was quintessentially football– all of the action, drama, nerves, passion, intensity, style, controversy, heartbreak, and glory that we associate with men’s football was there for the whole world to see. And there’s absolutely no doubt that the standards will just keep going up. Eventually, the Women’s World Cup will showcase just as many world-class teams and players as the men’s version does, and when it does, it will truly be Le Moment De Briller, or ‘the time to shine’, the 2019 Women’s World Cup slogan.

 

Until then, if there’s anything to take back from this World Cup, it’s that women’s football is absolutely worth watching! Whether you’re a hardcore football fan or a new viewer, don’t hesitate to check out how the women are faring if you get the chance!