[WOMEN'S WORLD CUP SPOTLIGHT] By any criteria except goalscoring -- down to 2.65 a game from 3.47 in 2007 -- the 2011 Women's World Cup was a huge success. Record crowds, some great individual performances and back-to-back-to-back, as good a trio of games as you'll ever want to see in the USA's three knockout games against Brazil, France and Japan. For all winners and losers at Germany '11 ...
JAPAN.Who predicted Japan would win the Women's World Cup? Or beat host Germany in the quarterfinals? Or, given how the game went in the first 15 minutes, have a chance against the USA in the final? Or let alone come back twice against the Americans? (Japan's triumph did give credence to the FIFA seedings -- it was the top seed in Group B.) Many factors went into the Japanese victory over the USA in the final. A key: their patience to stick with their possession game even in the dying minutes of regulation and overtime. But Hope Solo said it best when she said "something bigger" was working in favor of Japan on Sunday. "I'm happy for them," she added, "and they do deserve it."
PIA SUNDHAGE.The 51-year-old Swede demonstrated just how far you can get with a smile on your face. Sundhage was upbeat throughout the tournament -- evening serenading the media with her rendition of Simon & Garfunkel's "59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin' Groovy)" -- and her players responded to her positive attitude. The USA got better as the tournament went along, playing its best soccer in the final against Japan. Sundhage promised to make the USA a better team and the introduction of Lauren Cheney to the midfield and key roles played by exciting Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan have the U.S. women headed in the right direction.
STEFFI JONES. The former German international and head of the Germany organizing committee -- the Franz Beckenbauer of the Women's World Cup -- delivered on her promise to show off the "most beautiful side of 2011." The opening game drew 74,000 fans at Berlin's Olympic Stadium, a record for a women's match in Europe, and stadiums were filled to 86 percent capacity. Most important, there was a real buzz about the tournament in Germany. Probably the most amazing statistic from the Women's World Cup was that almost 47 percent of Germans watching television Sunday night were tuned into the final between the USA and Japan in Frankfurt.
TONY DICICCO.ESPN's team includes many of the greats of the 1999 Women's Women's Cup -- Julie Foudy, Brandi Chastain and Mia Hamm -- but the star of the bunch was their coach, Tony DiCicco. Paired with Bob Leyand Chastain as the primary studio trio, DiCicco played the insider's role -- he knows all the U.S. players as the head coach of the Boston Breakers and is even friends with Japan coach Norio Sasaki -- but he never came across as a know-it-all or cheerleader. Instead, he was articulate and insightful.
WPS.Women's Professional Soccer was thrown a lifeline. Forget the fact that the USA lost the final. The USA's comeback victory over Brazil in the quarterfinals and its win over France put women's soccer on the front page for an extra week. For a league in desperate need of free publicity, you can't ask for more. Women's pro soccer is still a long shot -- average attendance in WPS has dropped below 3,000 and salary budgets could be slashed as much as 40 percent -- but the buzz created by Germany '11 gives league executives perhaps one last chance to find new money for the league. Wednesday's game in Rochester between Western New York and magicJack will be a good start. A sellout crowd of 13,000 is expected.
FRANCE.No team played better soccer throughout the tournament than Bruno Bini's Bleues. Like the French men's team of Spain 1982, the Bleues exited Germany 2011 sympathetic losers, having played the better soccer in their 3-1 loss to the USA in the semifinals. Women's soccer was a big winner in France, where the TV share for the France-USA on Direct 8 was a record 19.4, meaning almost one in five French TV viewers was tuned into the broadcast. With Marseille the latest pro club to announce plans to launch a women's program, things are looking up for the women's game in France.
SILVIA NEID. It was a sign women's soccer has come of age in Germany when the host country -- the two-time defending champion -- fell to Japan in the quarterfinals and its coach got hammered. The German federation had to come out in support of Neid as the best person for the job after her team's shock exit. She came in for criticism for Germany's tactics and her personnel moves, none bigger than dropping superstar Birgit Prinz.
BRAZIL.Brazil has promised so much yet delivered so little in women's soccer. Five-time Women's Player of the Year Marta was whistled by fans, and her teammates were jeered for time-wasting. The Brazilians had what was coming to them when Abby Wambach equalized in the second minute of stoppage time in the second overtime after Erika's time-wasting tactics. Brazil's quarterfinal exit will hopefully be a wakeup call to the CBF, its federation, that it finally needs to put money behind women's soccer in Brazil. Talent alone won't get Brazil an elusive women's world championship.
EUCHARIA UCHE.The Nigerian women's head coach demonstrated that homophobia that still exists in Africa, telling the New York Times that she needed "divine intervention" in order to curb the presence of lesbians in the Super Falcons, the reigning African champions. She added, "I tell you, it worked for us. This is a thing of the past. It is never mentioned.” For the record: Nigeria quickly exited from the Women's World Cup after losses to France and Germany.
NORTH KOREA. Considering its success at the youth level -- it won the 2006 Under-20 World Cup and 2008 Under-17 World Cup and was second to the USA at the 2008 Under-20 World Cup -- North Korea was supposed to be the new Asian women's power. But not only did the secretive Koreans fail to win a game but they had two players fail drug tests for steroid use. In a first for a FIFA tournament, the entire North Korean team was then tested and three more players tested positive. North Korea's excuse: the players had taken musk deer gland medicine. FIFA President Sepp Blatter was not pleased. "This is a shock," he said. "We are confronted with a very, very bad case of doping and it hurts."
CANADA.Canada entered the Women's World Cup with high hopes. It won the 2010 Concacaf Championship and 2011 Cyprus Cup and a core of players had spent months preparing for the tournament under the guidance of their popular coach, Italian Carolina Morace, at their training base in Rome. But Canada's best team ever crashed in Germany, losing all three games. Not the kind of momentum Canada was looking for to build up the 2015 Women's World Cup it will host.
NORWAY.The only country to have won the Women's World Cup, Olympics and European Championship, Norway failed to reach the knockout stage at the Women's World Cup for the first time when it fell to Australia, 2-1, in their final group game and finished third in Group D. Even worse, the setback means Norway didn't qualify for the 2012 Olympics, and its players stand to lose the financial backing they get from the Olympiatoppen, the Norwegian Olympic authority.