Women's World Cup: Top 10 Stories


The long road to respect

Women's soccer has come a long way in the last half century since the DFB, the powerful governing body of German soccer, attempted to ban a group of women from forming a national league in 1955. "Irreparable damage" would come to their bodies and "the public display of their bodies will offend morality and decency," the DFB cautioned.

While the women's version of the Bundesliga still draws paltry crowds and players must work part-time to make ends meet, German interest in women's soccer has grown significantly.

Germany's 2-0 victory over Brazil in the 2007 Women's World Cup final drew more than 9 million viewers on a Sunday afternoon - more than the largest audience for a Champions League game on German television in 2005-06 - and 15,000 fans greeted the players at Frankfurt's Roemer city hall for the welcome home.

The idea of bonuses didn't exist in 1989 when Silvia Neid won the first of three European championships as a player - she and her German teammates were presented coffee sets as gifts - but each player on Neid's 2007 World Cup championship team earned $70,000 for winning.

The Germans earned those bonuses, putting in a record-setting performance in China. They are the first team to repeat as World Cup champion.

Star Birgit Prinz, playing in her third World Cup final, was again outstanding, scoring the first goal against Brazil to give her five goals on the tournament and a record 14 in her World Cup career.

But if Germany accomplished what the USA couldn't do in 1995 and 2003 and Norway couldn't do in 1999, it was because of Germany's depth.

Nadine Angerer was installed as the starting goalie last summer when veteran goalie Silke Rottenberg was injured, and Angerer did not disappoint. In a tournament marked by some horrendous goalkeeping, Angerer made two saves that won the World Cup for Germany. She stopped a Marta penalty kick that would have tied the score in the second half and four minutes later deflected Daniela's free kick off the post to preserve her record of going all six games without giving up a goal.

Following the World Cup, Angerer was much in demand on the German television talk show circuit, but just as impressive were a pair of other first-time players, 22-year-old Annike Krahn, stepping in for the injured Sandra Minnert on the backline, and 21-year-old Simone Laudehr as the holding midfielder.


Samba queen

One had to feel sorry for Tina Ellertson. With the USA trailing Brazil, 2-0, in the second half of their semifinal match, Coach Greg Ryan made the unusual move of bringing on Ellertson, a defender, for Heather O'Reilly, a forward.

The move was intended to provide cover for the USA, already reduced to 10 players following the sending off of Shannon Boxx just before halftime, but all it did was set up Ellertson to be Marta's foil for the greatest goal scored in the history of women's soccer.

Marta had already taken Ellertson to the cleaners once - beating her not once but twice along the endline before laying the ball off to Cristaine, whose shot was saved by Brianna Scurry - when she created her masterpiece in the 79th minute.

With her back to Ellertson, Marta collected a pass from teammate Renata Costa, lifted the ball in the air with her right foot, tapped the ball with the backheel of her left foot to the inside over Ellertson's right shoulder and ran around the outside to pick up the ball and set off toward the U.S. goal.

But the 21-year-old Marta wasn't done. She evaded central defender Cat Whitehill with such dizzying speed that Whitehill almost fell over and could only watch the Brazilian complete the Hangzhou Massacre with a shot into the lower left corner that Brianna Scurry couldn't stop.


Hopeless and hapless

Kristine Lilly was the mistress of understatement when she claimed that Greg Ryan's decision to bench Hope Solo and start Brianna Scurry against Brazil was "not a huge deal from our team's perspective."

Hopeless in goal and on the field, the U.S. women finally got media coverage, though it was not the kind they were hoping for.

Scurry's hapless performance in her first game in months, the heavy U.S. loss and Solo's scathing criticism of Ryan and Scurry became the story of the Women's World Cup from a U.S. perspective.

After being largely ignored by the American public and media until the semifinals, the Women's World Cup was briefly big news.

Within minutes of the end of the game, ESPN's experts were speculating whether Ryan was toast. Pundits who had never heard of Ryan before the Brazil game were calling his move the biggest coaching blunder in the history of sports. Soccer America's electronic editions - SoccerAmericaDaily and socceramerica.com - enjoyed record traffic for its coverage of the debacle.


Popular success

A little thing like a typhoon didn't get in the way of the Women's World Cup from being a huge success in China.

The 2007 Women's World Cup came within less than 100 fans a game of matching the record attendances of USA '99 - the greatest women's sporting event ever held. China '07 drew 1,190,971 fans for an average of 37,218 per game at its five venues, almost double the average attendance for the inaugural Women's World Cup in southern China in 1991.

The biggest complaint from local fans came when FIFA ordered the postponement of four group games after Typhoon Wipha hit the east coast of China. FIFA first ordered games in Shanghai moved to Hangzhou. Then it angered Chinese fans traveling to Tianjin to see China play New Zealand when it postponed the games scheduled to play in Tianjin only hours before kickoff so the games could kick off the next day at the same time as the games in Hangzhou.

Otherwise, the tournament went off without a hitch, bolstering China's claim as a candidate to host the (men's) World Cup in 2018.


Gender gap

Soccer remains a sport dominated by men even in the arena of the Women's World Cup. Only three of the 16 teams at the 2007 finals had women as head coaches: Germany (Silvia Neid), England (Hope Powell) and China (Swede Marika Domanski-Lyfors).

Their success in China is a strong argument for other teams to take on female coaches. Germany won the World Cup for the second time with a female coach in charge. Four years ago, Tina Theune-Meyer guided Germany to World Cup title. England reached the quarterfinals in its first appearance in the finals since 1995.

The Chinese sports ministry ordered the China Football Association to stop at nothing to keep Domanski-Lyfors, who took over a Chinese team in turmoil in March and led it to the quarterfinals.


Tower of strength

The USA went into the Women's World Cup with two main weapons: Abby Wambach and Kristine Lilly. Playing in her fifth Women's World Cup, Lilly was largely invisible, but you couldn't miss Wambach.

Wambach played during the tournament with a broken toe suffered in a pre-tournament game and took 11 stitches to her scalp when she collided with a North Korean player in the opener. Wambach was also involved in controversy when a stray elbow left Englishwoman Faye White with a broken nose.

While much was made of the USA's overreliance on Wambach, she certainly produced. She finished the tournament with six goals to give her 83 goals in 102 games - a strike rate better than U.S. greats Mia Hamm and Michelle Akers.


Show time

England's performance in China gave women's soccer a much-needed boost in the U.K., and much of the credit went to the popular Kelly Smith, the former U.S. college star at Seton Hall and WUSA pioneer.

Smith, who plays for the Arsenal Ladies, made headlines when she celebrated each goal against Japan by taking off her shoe and kissing it.

Hope Powell, the England coach, rebuked Smith for being "disrespectful," and Smith kept her shoes on when she scored her next goals in the win over Argentina that sent England into the quarterfinals.


Emerging power

Women's soccer remains repressed in most parts of the world, limiting the number of competitive teams to about a dozen and the number of world contenders to three (Germany, Brazil and the USA).

The only third-world country to burst on the scene in recent years is North Korea, which won the 2006 Under-19 Women's World Cup and reached the quarterfinals of the 2007 Women's World Cup after outplaying the USA in their 2-2 tie to open the tournament.

Women's experts compare North Korea to China of the early 1990s. China's Steel Roses went on to become a world power. How far North Korea advances in the next decade will depend on whether it ends its international isolation.


The pumping Matilda

There are few serious opportunities for players to make a living in women's soccer.

Lisa de Vanna, the 22-year-old Australian, was one of the revelations of the Women's World Cup, yet she returned to Perth to her old job pumping gas at a local service station.

De Vanna, who scored four goals during the Matildas' historic run to the quarterfinals and was one of 16 players named to FIFA's all-tournament team, admitted the return was a letdown.

"There are times when I just wish I was still with the girls at training and just having something to look forward to," she said. "I feel like it's just dead now."


Oh, Canada

Relatively speaking, Canada treats women's soccer seriously. It hired a veteran coach in Even Pellerud, who led Norway to the 1995 world title, to run the national team program. It pulled players out of college to train full-time for qualifying, and national team players attended a residency program thanks to the support of the Canadian government and benefactor Greg Kerfoot, a Vancouver millionaire.

But after Australia knocked Canada out of the Women's World Cup in the group stage, Pellerud ripped the Canadian Soccer Association for its lack of support, namely its failure to line up an adequate schedule of international friendlies.

"I have almost stopped to hope," he said recently. "Deep inside me there is hope but there is no indication of any changes at this time."

(This article originally appeared in the November 2007 issue of Soccer America magazine.)

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