From FIFA's gallery of the first Women's World Cup
Don't pack up your jerseys yet folks! Don't you put that vuvuvuvuzazula on eBay! The next World Cup is just one year away! In fact, it'll be the twentieth anniversary of the first FIFA Women's World Cup.
The first Women's World Cup was (I'll wait for you to finish your finger-counting) in 1991 and came about with the initiative of then-FIFA president Dr. João Havelange. Now, if you do the math (and unfortunately this requires more than fingers), 1991 comes a total of sixty-one years after the men's World Cup began in 1930.
Twelve countries were represented in China (Nigeria, People's Republic of China, China Taipei, Japan, Brazil, New Zealand, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Sweden, Norway, and the USA), with the finals coming down to the USA against Norway. The game was destined for overtime when Michelle Akers (US) scored the winning goal within the last three minutes of the game.
Even though the Women's World Cup started relatively recently, there are already some women who will be going down in history...
Kristine Lilly of the United States has played in each of the five Women's World Cup tournaments--the only woman to do so (she also joined the US National Team at the age of fifteen). The goal she scored against England in the 2007 Cup also made her the oldest woman to score. Although she hasn't scored as many goals, sold as many bottles of Gatorade, or received iconic status by removing her shirt (as one of my soccer friends put it, "It would be hard for Nike to sell 'She's a solid player who makes great decisions on the ball and is a hard worker.'"), she's definitely heralded as one of women's soccer superstars. She currently plays for the Boston Breakers.
Lilly in the USA-North Korea game in 2007
Another star to watch out for is Brazil's Marta, who's already achieved Pelé-esque first-name status at the age of 24 (her full name is Marta Vieira da Silva).
Marta's received the Women's World Player of the Year award four years in a row (2006-2009). In the last World Cup (2007) she won both the Golden Ball award (for best player) and the Golden Boot award (for top scorer). She played for the Swedish team Umeå IK from 2004-2008 and currently plays for the Santa Clara California--based FC Gold Pride soccer team.
If you're looking for a new way to pass the time, I suggest this clips vid of Marta which I have probably watched thirteen times today (blame it on the Bossa nova...no wait, blame it on THAT WICKED FOOTWORK!)
Germany's Birgit Prinz is also recognized as a powerhouse. She's one of the leading strikers of the Women's World Cup (with 14 goals to her name) and wins the FIFA World Player of the Year award whenever it doesn't go to Marta or Mia Hamm (specifically 2003-2005). I like Prinz because 1. If she kicked a soccer ball at a tree I imagine it leaving a smoldering, circle-shaped Looney Toons hole in the middle. 2. She is a an official FIFA anti-racism ambassador which means she takes an active role in fighting against racism in soccer, and 3. She's also a physiotherapist off the field (as one of her bios put it, "to make ends meet, she has sponsorship deals with Nike and a local BMW dealership.")
A KAPOW-imminent kick from Prinz
The Women's World Cup isn't just important for women to finally be able to compete on an international level and receive the respect they deserve. The existence of these games, and the coverage of these ass-kicking, athletic women is inspiring to women and girls the world over. The USA win in 1999 meant the world to many of my gal pals who were starting out on their youth or school soccer teams. They still reminisce deeply about watching the game and its players, who no doubt kept them inspired as athletes through high school and college. Unfortunately, these images of strong, capable female athletes are only taken seriously maybe it when it comes to the final game, or when soccer stars are sexualized or objectified. As Marta put it in a 2009 interview with the Daily Mail:
Clearly, those of us women who play football wish that there was more coverage, but it's one of those things that happens. Every year the level is getting higher and I think we surprise a lot of people when the world focuses its attention on the World Cup or the Olympics final. But the reason that women's football is still unknown is because it's not on television and not widely publicised for a wide majority of the leagues in the world. In these leagues, even if they are very competitive, they don't really show the games live on TV.
Especially coming from the United States, where our women's team kah-LEERLY outperforms our men's team, it's disappointing that women's professional soccer hasn't blown up the way it was expected to. As Ryan Brown said in a recent Broadsheet post about the 1999 USA winning game, "We saw more than a great soccer tournament. We saw what women's sports in this country could look like -- and we still haven't forgotten." I hope women who can speak about Women's National Soccer teams from a non-USA perspective will share their thoughts in the comments section.
Next summer will continue to be history in the making...and there are still tickets left!
Thanks to my cleat-sporting friends for their help and input: Erin, Ethan, Clem, and Maya.