Where FIFA gets it right, and the right to dream

By Paul Kennedy

FIFA has messed up a lot of things with the 2015 Women's World Cup, but one thing it got right was expanding the tournament.

It was only at the 12th World Cup, in 1982, that the men's tournament was expanded from 16 to 24 teams. It took only seven tournaments for FIFA to expand the Women's World Cup from 16 to 24 teams.

While the favorites have so far struggled to stamp their mark on the tournament -- only Brazil (2-0 and 1-0) and Japan (1-0 and 2-1) won their first two games -- six of the eight newcomers have come out and taken at least one point.

Indeed, there are parallels to 1982. Like Ivory Coast's 10-0 loss to Germany and Ecuador's 6-0 and 10-1 blowouts, there was an outlier at Espana 1982: El Salvador's 10-1 defeat to Hungary.

But many of the minnows held their own in 1982. Algeria beat West Germany and Chile but was famously eliminated in the Shame of Gijon. (Unlike now when the top four third-placed teams join the group winners and runners-up in the second round, just the top two teams moved on from each group to a second round of pool play in 1982.) Also in its first appearance at the World Cup, Cameroon tied all three games and was only eliminated by eventual champion Italy on goal difference. Honduras, another newcomer, played to a 0-0 tie with host Spain in their opener.

The expansion of the Women's World Cup resulted in the first tickets to the finals for the Netherlands, Switzerland and Spain. All three teams entered the final day of group play with a decent shot at qualifying. It's all relative, but women's soccer is fairly well established in Europe.

Where the expansion of the Women's World Cup will have its biggest impact is in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, all soccer hotspots where opportunities for women to just play soccer, let alone pursue the sport at a competitive level, have been limited.

When Ivory Coast qualified for the World Cup for the first time in 2006, its national team had already been playing competitive soccer for more than 40 years. Les Éléphants had a reservoir of European-based talent to draw up upon, players like Didier Drogba, who was raised in France. One might question the commitment of African federations, often embroiled in disputes with players over bonus payments and the misappropriation of funds, but one could never question that the men's national team was a state affair of the highest importance.

Women's soccer has been an afterthought in Africa. Clementine Toure's Éléphantes arrived all of four days before the start of the Women's World Cup, and if they looked like they didn't often play together in their 10-0 defeat to Germany, it's because they had not. In the eight months before the start of the Women's World Cup, they had played one game. And in the last 10 years, they played just six friendlies.

A 10-0 loss would discourage most teams, but Les Éléphantes came out and played the game of their lives against Thailand. Some dreadful goalkeeping (and a blown offside call) put Ivory Coast in a deep hole, but it came back to make it, 3-2, and was close to equalizing in stoppage time when Christine Lohoues hit the crossbar -- the third time in the game the Ivorians had been denied by the woodwork -- and fell to the ground in tears.

In Vancouver the next day, Cameroon's Lionnes Indomptables, another of the eight debutants, trailed defending champion Japan, 2-0, when Ajara Nchout, who signed to played in the NWSL this season, pulled a goal back in the 90th minute, and then, improbably, Gaelle Enganamouit came close to equalizing when her header went agonizingly wide of the far post and she covered her face with her shirt in disbelief.

Women's soccer has a long way to go in Africa before it begins to rival the interest on the men's side, but the success of the Lionnes Indomptables, whose 6-0 victory over Ecuador has them in good shape to claim at least one of the four third-place spots in the round of 16, has piqued interest back in Cameroon.

Cameroon coach Enoch Ngachu told the his players were receiving so many phone calls and texts with congratulations and encouragement that he confiscated their phones so they could prepare for Tuesday's group finale against Switzerland in peace.

"We have the right to dream," he said.

That's all anyone can ask for.
5 comments about "Where FIFA gets it right, and the right to dream".
  1. Robert Robertson, June 15, 2015 at 6:17 p.m.

    It was truly heart warming to watch teams post their first world cup goals ever. could not agree more with the article.

  2. James Madison, June 15, 2015 at 6:19 p.m.

    bravo, Paul
    Bravo, Paul! Bravo the women!!

    bravo the women!!

  3. Lucho Monge, June 15, 2015 at 11:01 p.m.

    Equally important are the newcomer teams from Colombia (beat France) and Costa Rica!

  4. Ed Cheval, June 17, 2015 at 12:21 a.m.

    I only saw Nigeria's first game, the 3-3 draw where they came from behind to give Sweden a very real scare that Nigeria would take all three points for a win. If it were not for their ill preparedness with defending corner kicks and the mishap of the first goal (the own goal by a Nigerian player), the Swedes would have rightfully lost. It is not for quality of play or athleticism that African teams routinely underperform, both men and women. It is infrastructure. Organization. The professionalism of logistically preparing, methodically so. They often shortchange themselves (more so a the managerial and federation levels). They handicap themselves, and the players pay the price. That case in point above of just arriving in Canada 4 days prior to the tournament start. The African haphazard approach to many things (and massive corruption in the federations) means, sadly, that African teams will most likely underperform. That does not mean fans like me won't be enjoying seeing the individual speed, bursts, skill and enthusiasm of individual players on teams like Nigeria's present one.

  5. John Soares, June 18, 2015 at 3:14 p.m.

    ONE thing right is good............. But so many wrong is REALLY bad.

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