2003 Women’s World Cup
Dates: September 20th-October 12th
Golden Ball (Best Player): Birgit Prinz
Golden Boot (Highest Goal Scorer): Birgit Prinz
Despite starting off with a rushed change of venue and a reshuffling on the schedule, the 2003 Women’s World Cup ended up being an iconic tournament. It marked the start of the prolific careers of Abby Wambach and Marta, players who are now at the forefront of the women’s game. It also was the end of an era for the U.S Women’s team, and the beginning of a dominant period for the Germans, who were led by star striker Birgit Prinz to a World Cup title. Below is a video of highlights from the 2003 World Cup, along with summaries of each group, each quarterfinal, both semifinals, and the final. Also, included in this section are commentaries on the issues and stories surrounding this World Cup cycle.
Stories of the 2003 Women’s World Cup
SARS Epidemic: The Women’s World Cup in 2003 was moved from the original host, China, to the U.S after the SARS virus breakout in China. Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome hit China, and the risk of outbreak was too great to host the World Cup. Since the U.S had hosted the tournament the previous cycle, they already had the infrastructure and fan base ready to host again. With a rushed process and the switching of all the scheduling, this World Cup still managed to become a huge success for women’s soccer.
Before the World Cup started, Chinese coach Ma Lianxing was quoted saying that, “the gap between teams is narrowing all the time as traditionally weaker teams catch up with the stronger teams. This World Cup should see plenty of surprises.” Despite his team being eliminated by an underdog, this is an example of the growth that Asian soccer has had since the era of Women’s World Cups began.
Furthermore, the Chinese Soccer Federation released a very interesting ad campaign (as seen in the video below) which depicts the Chinese women’s national team practicing juggling a soccer ball in a traditional tai-chi setting. It then shows the American team watching as the graceful Chinese women show off their technique and skill with the soccer ball. The commercial ends with Sun Wen passing the ball off to the Americans, as a challenge. This shows the confidence that China had going into this World Cup, and why it was a real disaster that the SARS virus kept them from hosting the tournament. Also, this shows how far women’s soccer has come in Asia, evidenced also by the Japanese winning the past World Cup in 2011.
Birgit Prinz and Maren Meinert: The story of the tournament was Birgit Prinz, a German forward who scored 7 goals and won all the honors as well. With 128 goals in 248 appearances for the German National team, Prinz was an absolute talisman, and her breakout performances came in this World Cup. Maren Meinert, who was 35 during the 2003 World Cup, was called out of retirement to join the German team. She ended up being pivotal in the team’s success, adding a bit of experience, and scoring the equalizer in the final.
Competition with other sports for coverage:
Once the World Cup in 2003 was moved to the United States, the country began preparing itself to host again. The advantage of having the U.S as a substitute host was that the venues were already compatible and the sport had been popularized after the 1999 World Cup success. However, the U.S Soccer Federation ran into problems in 2003 that they hadn’t encountered before. According to a New York Times article published prior to the tournament, “while the 1999 Women’s World Cup, held in June and July, faced little competition from other sports, this year’s scaled-down tournament will take place during the baseball playoffs, college and professional football seasons, and the youth soccer seasons of many potential World Cup fans. The conflict with football will determine, in part, the television scheduling and could put the final on a Sunday in direct competition with the National Football League.”
A Changing of the Guard for the U.S.A: In hindsight, this World Cup was the end of an era for the U.S, and a changing of the guard to a new batch of talent and leaders for the American women. As highlighted in the New York Times article not the change of venue, “still, holding the tournament in the United States does give pioneering stars like Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy, Kristine Lilly and Brandi Chastain an unexpected chance to play their final World Cup before home fans, and it gives the Americans a chance to showcase the next generation of stars, like Aly Wagner and Heather O’Reilly” (NY Times). As mentioned in previous sections, this World Cup is known for being the breakout games of Abby Wambach’s career. Wambach is now potentially the greatest American player to play the game, up there in the discussion with Mia Hamm. Those two playing together on the same field was certainly a spectacle to behold for this tournament.
The 2003 Women’s World Cup Broken Down:
Group A: (United States, Sweden, North Korea, Nigeria)
While Korea DPR was the Asian Champion this World Cup Cycle, and Nigeria coming into the group as a prominent African team, hopes were that the USA and Sweden would be challenged in this group, as they went in the clear favorites. However, the group was dominated by the U.S and marked the emergence of Abby Wambach as a star on the international stage. The American women let in just one goal (against Sweden) in their three games played, while recording a 5-0 victory against Nigeria, a 3-0 against North Korea, and a 3-1 win against Sweden. Advancing second in the group was Sweden, winning convincingly against Korea and Nigeria, who were ultimately eliminated.
Group B: (Brazil, Norway, France, South Korea)
France and South Korea were making their debut in the World Cup in this group, and so from the start it was between world powerhouse Norway and rising stars Brazil. Brazil beat Norway 4-1 in the head-to-head matchup, with Marta scoring in her first World Cup at 17 years old. Brazil would have had a perfect group stage if it weren’t for a last minute equalizer from France, who couldn’t quite pass Norway for the second qualification spot.
Group C: (Germany, Canada, Japan, Argentina)
The eventual champions, Germany, were always expected to win their group, and they did with a remarkable 13 goals for and only 2 goals against. Argentina lost each game, and so the second advancing spot was between a Japanese team that had had success on the global stage, and a young Canadian team. Despite beating Argentina 6-0 in their opening game, Japan failed to advance, losing 3-1 to a lively Canadian team who weren’t expected to make it out of the group stage. Bergit Prinz, the prolific striker for Germany, scored 4 of her 7 goals during group play, and put together some amazing performances.
Group D: (China, Russia, Ghana, Australia)
China, who were originally going to be hosting the World Cup, came into this group the strong favorites. Captain Sun Wen, the women’s player of the century, would inevitably lead them to the top of their group, but this group was full of lackluster performances. With only 13 goals scored in the group stage in total, Russia advanced along with China to add another European team and complete the quarterfinalists.
Quarterfinal 1: (U.S vs. Norway)
The U.S women were on a tear as they entered the knockout round, with young stars like Abby Wambach and veterans like Mia Hamm playing very well together. They faced tough opposition from Norway who are also past world champions. After 24 minutes of play, Abby Wambach scored a headed goal off a long looping free kick, using her physical presence in the box to beat her marker to the ball. Despite Mia Hamm having a penalty saved and Cindy Parlow missing a close-range header, the U.S hung on to win the game 1-0 and advance to the semifinals where they would have to face Germany.
Quarterfinal 2: (Canada vs. China)
The Chinese women, with star Sun Wen who had been named women’s player of the century, were looking to perform well despite losing their host nation status. Although they were favorites to advance past the Canadian women, whose average age was just 22, the game was a lot closer than expected. Canadian veteran Charmaine Hooper, the 35 year old veteran captain, scored a magnificent headed goal after just 7 minutes of play. Despite the Chinese team’s best efforts, they couldn’t pull back level, and so the Canadians advanced to a semifinal, which was their best achievement in a major soccer tournament in their country’s history.
Quarterfinal 3: (Germany vs. Russia)
The German team absolutely smashed the Russians in this quarterfinal game, where the potent German offensive put on a show. Opening the scoring in the 25th minute of play, the Germans would go on to win 7-1 with a brace from Kirstin Garafrekes and golden boot winner Birgit Prinz. The impressive showing that Germany had in this game against a competent Russian women’s side boded well for their next game, which would be against the U.S.
Quarterfinal 4: (Sweden vs. Brazil)
This quarterfinal game was probably the most contended, with no clear favorite going in. The Swedish team hadn’t had the best group stage after losing to the U.S 3-1 in their opening game. The Brazilians, led by rising star Marta, were on fire and looking to advance to the semifinals. After going into halftime 1-1 in a hard fought first half, Swedish midfielder Malin Andersson came out and hit a free kick into the top corner in the 53rd minute to give the Swedes the advantage. They would hold on to win the game 2-1, and Andersson’s goal was one of the best of the tournament.
Semifinal 1 (U.S vs. Germany)
For many people, this game was basically to decide who would go on to win the tournament. Both the U.S and Germany had perfect runs leading up to this game, and the potent U.S attack of Wambach and Hamm would be going up against a machine-like German team which had just demolished Russia 7-1 in their quarterfinal. The game was held in PGE Park in Portland, and the stadium was filled for what U.S fans hoped would be another step towards winning their second World Cup in as many cycles. With just a quarter of an hour gone in the first half, German forward Kristin Garefrekes scored off of a corner to the near post. After conceding the first goal, the U.S had a series of scoring chances, capped off by a massive penalty appeal that referee Sonia Denoncourt did not call. Tiffany Milbret received the ball and collided with German goalkeeper Silke Rottenberg, but no foul was called. Both Rottenberg in the German goal and Briana Scurry for the U.S had some amazing saves, and the game went into injury time 1-0. With the U.S sending number upfield, veteran German midfielder Maren Meinert scored with a cool finish on the counterattack 1 minute into extra time. Birgit Prinz followed up with a goal just 2 minutes later to seal the victory for the Germans.
Semifinal 2 (Sweden vs. Canada)
For this semifinal, many fans were eager to see if the young Canadian team could keep up their unexpected success. After an eventful and goalless first half, 16 year old Kara Lang struck on a knuckling free kick to give the Canadian women a one goal lead. Just eleven minutes away from heading to a World Cup Final, the Canadians were trying to hold off a relentless Swedish attack, but conceded on a bit of trickery. The Swedish team took a quick free kick, passing the ball through to Malin Molström who finished adeptly into the side netting. Then, with just four minutes left in regular time, substitute Josefine Öqvist volleyed from six yards and her shot hit the post and went in, giving the Swedish team a lead that they would hold and sending them to the final. Although the Canadians were disappointed to have lost a chance at playing for a World Cup, they were more than happy with getting fourth place, as it was the best finish in their federation’s history.
The Final (Germany vs. Sweden)
This final fixture was a rematch of the European cup, and a testament to the prowess that European women’s soccer had at the time. The game was played in the Home Depot center in California, with a crowd of around 25,000 fans. The game itself was played at a very high pace, and very direct. Hanna Ljunberg scored the first goal in the 41st minute on a run through the center backs followed by a cool far post finish. So Sweden went into halftime 1-0 up on the Germans, but that lead would be short lived, as Maren Meinert finished off a chance right after half, in the 46th minute, to put the game back on level terms. The rest of the half ended in a deadlock, and so the game went into a golden goal extra time period. Then, in the 98th minute, German defender Nia Künzer went upfield for a free kick, and headed in the game-winner to give Germany the World Cup Championship that they thoroughly deserved.
The 2003 Women’s World Cup furthered the growth of women’s soccer, but not to the extent that it should have. The SARS virus taking the tournament from China to the U.S wasn’t ideal because Asian soccer would have benefited extensively from hosting. Furthermore, the coverage in the U.S was limited and the fanbase wasn’t quite as large as it was in 1999. However, the actual games were enticing, with outstanding performances from champions Germany, culminating in a pivotal game versus the United States. Furthermore, the success of Canada proved Chinese coach Ma Lianxing right: that the gap between the top teams and the rest of the field was getting smaller each year. The women’s game has been evolving since the start of the Women’s World cups, and that is the reason it’s important to know the history of the women’s tournament. The 2003 World Cup was another step on the path of popularizing the women’s game worldwide.
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Thaisgms. “Adidas Commercial-FIFA Women’s World Cup 2003” 15 March 2007. Web. 24 April, 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HpuvTKaiZOY