2011 World Cup and 2012 Olympic Showings: Rise to Superstardom

By Christina Malliris

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 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup

[1]On October 30, 2007 FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter announced that Germany would play host to the 2011 Women’s World Cup.  Germany received the bid after beating out rival Canada.  [2]After hosting the men’s World Cup in 2006, Germany felt extremely prepared and offered a motto of “Welcome Back” in their final presentation to the FIFA selection committee.

Headquarters for the 2011 Women’s World Cup in Germany

Advertising Poster for the 2011 Women’s World Cup

Upon receiving the host bid, the German Football Association President, Theo Zwanziger had this to say, “A lot of progress has already been made in women’s football and we promise not of course to imitate the 2006 World Cup but to organize a World Cup characterized by respect and fair play.”  There were two notable highlights of the event.  The first being that by Germany hosting the tournament, it marked the first time since ’95 when Sweden hosted that the World Cup returns to European soil.  Secondly, the Germans are reigning champions from the 2007 World Cup, and acting as hosts, were expected to be be an expected finalist, if not expected Champion.

Germany Receives Bid to Host in 2011

The 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup marked the sixth straight qualification for the US Women’s team. They were one of four seeded teams, with the others being Germany, Japan, and Brazil. As in previous years, the number of teams was locked at 16, although officials did consider increasing the field to 24 to reflect growing popularity.

Growing popularity, however, did not necessarily mean growing viewership. Several blogs commented on the lack of coverage or advertising for the Women’s World Cup, especially in comparison to the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa only the year before that featured heavy advertising, massive hype, and the ever present vuvuzela. However, encouraging signs were to be had: the opening  game sold out all 74,000 seats in Berlin. And while many of these players came from leagues with meager attendance and little sponsorship, they were beginning to prove that women’s soccer could be a force worldwide.

A force is also how one could describe the US’s opening matches. With the team debuting mighty forward Alex Morgan,  the US showed their signature fast and physical play against both North Korea and Colombia,, wearing their opponents down and securing themselves a quarterfinal match even before playing Sweden. The Swedes, however, were unprepared to let the US nab the top spot in their group; they stunned the US in a 2-1 win, sending our ladies to play against the also-ranked Brazilians and the dreaded Marta Vieira de Silva, five time FIFA World Player of the Year.

If this reads like a soap opera, it somewhat was: for this Brazil-US game would be one of the most hotly contested games in World Cup history, featuring, of course, The Goal (also the Goal of the Tournament, according to FIFA.com readers).

The game had poorly for Brazil initially, with an own goal in the first two minutes, but Brazil went on to score twice in an epic recovery. The game was rife with drama, including narrowly missed headers by Abby Wambach and shots off the crossbar by the Brazilians. Regular time ended with a tie at 1-1, but that was quickly remedied by Marta’s penalty just 2 minutes into extra time. The US, now down to ten players, watched the clock count closer and closer to their dismissal from the Cup. With the game in stoppage time (and after 120+ minutes of soccer to boot), many thought the game was over. And then, The Goal.

If you didn’t watch the video, then sit down, sip your coffee, and do it. Nothing can compare to hearing the announcer say ‘this WILL go down as the US’s worst performance at the World Cup” only to, five sesconds later, be screaming “CAN YOU BELIEVE IT?” Megan Rapinoe’s glorious header to Abby Wambach would send the US and Brazil to penalty kicks, where Hope Solo pulled off the only save to send the US on to the semifinals against France. It also set off a virtual firestorm of media in the US, with the women’s victory being picked up by the New York Times, USA Today, the Washington Post, and various other news organizations. Suddenly, the Women’s World Cup was a sensation. There’s little the world as a collective loves more than a great feat of football, and the US women delivered in style.

The US would beat the French in the semis to force a showdown with Japan: yet another game full of drama that was pushed into extra time. The US were dominant during regulation play, taking close shots and shutting the Japanese down at midfield, but their inability to put away more than one goal sent them to PKs, where they fell 3-1 to the Japanese. It was a stunning loss for the team that many believed could win no matter what was thrown their way.[3]

Yet though the US Women had lost the Cup, they had gained recognition in the US. The oversized personalities, scrappy play, and dramatic moments caught the eyes of sports enthusiasts in the United States.  Alex Morgan was the “it girl” of the moment, Megan Rapinoe and Abby Wambach were also superstars, and Hope Solo was using her bold personality to promote what was suddenly America’s team . While women’s soccer games were not necessarily more popular, the women’s soccer team certainly was. And they would carry that momentum into the 2012 summer Olympics in London.

 2012 London Olympic Games

While different than the World Cup due to the focus on all sports, the women had no small role in the thrills of the US accomplishments. Cruising through the group stages and a dominant game against New Zealand, the US Women played yet another extra-time game against the archrivals from the north, Canada, which, despite Christine Sinclair’s hat trick, they won 4-3..in stoppage time of overtime. Above all else, these ladies know how to put on a show.

 

Facing Japan yet again in the final, the US were not about to let another opportunity slip through their cleats. In front of a record breaking crowd of 80,203, Carly Lloyd scored two goals for the dominant US side to give the US a 2-1 victory and their fourth Olympic gold medal, certifying their superstar status in the world of women’s soccer. [4]

While the excitement the US felt for the women’s soccer team after the World Cup and Olympics may be somewhat cyclical, as soccer tends to be in the United States, it has risen to a level that has rarely been seen in the United States since the 1999 World Cup stunners. In 2013, every home game for the USWNT has garnered over 10,000 fans. The team was called “possibly the most universally embraced group of Americans playing team sports” by the New York Times. The women have also used their strong personalities to promote the game–posing for ESPN’s body issue, starring in commercials, and making fan videos for social media. They have inspired and created a culture that fans want to be a part of through their exciting international play and never-give-up attitude. Will this be enough to support the third attempt at a women’s league? It remains to be seen. But people are certainly paying attention.

 


[1] Germany to State 2011 Piece (2007).

[2] Germany to host 2011 Women’s World Cup (2007).

[3] FIFA Women’s World Cup, available from http://www.fifa.com/tournaments/archive/womensworldcup/germany2011/

[4] Women’s Olympic Football Tournament London 2012, available from http://www.fifa.com/womensolympic/

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