2011 Women’s World Cup in Germany

2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup
Host: Germany
Dates: June 26 – July 17
Winners: Japan
Golden Ball (Best Player): Homare Sawa
Golden Boot (Highest Goal Scorer): Homare Sawa



Leading Up to the 2011 Women’s World Cup…

Possible Expansion?

During the early planning stages of the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup, the FIFA Executive Committee wrestled with the idea of expanding the tournament to 20 or 24 teams. They ruled, however, that having 20 teams would make scheduling impossible, while 24 teams would reduce the quality of play greatly. The statement issued by FIFA through Steffi Jones, the President of the Organizing Committee for the 2011 Women’s World Cup, stated, “We also believe that the decline in performance with 24 teams at a World Cup would be too great.”[1] A lopsided 11-0 decision that Germany handed a struggling Argentina squad in the first match of  the previous cup could have played into the decision to not add more teams. At that point in time, FIFA recognized that the amount of quality teams could only sustain a tournament with 16 teams.

Struggling Professional Leagues

In the United States, although the national team had found success leading up to the tournament, professional leagues were consistently struggling. In an interview with Stefan Fatsis by NPR leading up to the 2011 World Cup, Mr. Fatsis highlighted that “one league failed right before the 2003 Women’s World Cup” and that “there’s been a new league that started in 2009 called Women’s Professional Soccer.” That league, which had just six teams at the time of the tournament, has since folded and was replaced by the National Women’s Soccer League. In the above-mentioned interview, Mr. Fatsis recommended that a solution to creating a sustainable league “might be a relationship with the men’s league [MLS],”[2] an idea that has since gained significant momentum with established MLS squads like Toronto FC, Vancouver,[3] and New York Red Bulls[4] expressing serious interest in starting a women’s squad to compete in the league.

A Turning Point for Women’s Soccer?

Although the men’s World Cup has obviously seen great success throughout its history, the women’s edition had not been so fortunate. In response to such assertions, FIFA President Sepp Blatter set lofty goals for the 2011 tournament, calling it “a new milestone in the development of women’s football.”[5]

Blatter’s goals, although ambitious, were definitely achievable. Germany, one of Europe’s largest economies and football fan bases, was hosting and had developed a formidable squad. In an article on CNN’s website, Heike Ullrich, head of women’s football at the German Football Association, told  reporter Greg Duke, “We want this tournament to be a role model for all future World Cup competitions.” She mentioned that “all matches are being shown live on German TV, with a minimum of 15 HD cameras” and 700,000 tickets had been purchased at the time the article was published, with all of Germany’s matches already being sold out.[6]

Battle for Supremacy

In the five World Cups that had been contested before the 2011 tournament, Germany and the United States were victors of two each. Both were favorites coming into the competition, with the US as the reigning Olympic champion as well as the world’s #1 ranked squad and Germany as the host and reigning World Cup champion. The US’ draw put them in a tight spot, for they would have to win Group C to avoid a potential quarterfinal matchup with Brazil (Group D), whose squad is led by their striker Marta, arguably the best player in the world.

In terms of their squads, the United States and Germany relied heavily on both their strikers and goalkeepers. Germany’s roster boasted Birgit Prinz, the WWC’s all-time leading scorer at the time who had claimed three FIFA Player of the Year awards, and Nadine Angerer, a member of German squads that claimed World Cup titles and three Olympic bronze medals. The US countered with Abby Wambach, the fastest American to reach 100 goals for the national team who registered the game-winning goal in the final at the 2004 Olympics, and Hope Solo, the controversial backstop that helped lead the US to gold in Beijing in 2008.[7]

Group Stage:

Group A (Germany, France, Canada, Nigeria):

The hosts were the favorite to come out of this group, and they certainly did not disappoint throughout the group stage. In their opening match, the Germans silenced a then-ranked #6 Canada squad. Goals from Kerstin Garefrekes and Célia Okoyino da Mbabi helped Germany to run out to a two goal advantage in the first half and never look back. They shutout Nigeria in their next match, and, behind a goal a piece from Garefrekes and Okaying da Mbabi coupled with two from Inka Grings, knocked off group runner-up France to clinch their victory of Group A.

Initially a favorite to advance to the Round of 8, Canada severely underperformed in Germany. After falling to Germany in their opening match, Canada was embarrassed by France 0-4. Captain Christine Sinclair spoke with George Johnson of Postmedia News following the match and stated, “We have to go out against Nigeria and show that game against France isn’t us.’'[8] Her motivation did not seem to resonate well with the rest of the squad, and Canada dropped their final match 0-1.

Courtesy of FIFA

Courtesy of FIFA

Advanced: Germany, France

Group B (Japan, New Zealand, England, Mexico):

Although all four teams were ranked in the Top 25 of the FIFA Rankings, general consensus believed that Japan and England were clear favorites to advance to the quarterfinals. Japan was led by midfielder Homare Sawa, who had been a stalwart player on the team since the 1990s, while England’s equally-reliable striker Kelly Smith helped lead the Three Lionesses.[7]

Japan knocked off New Zealand and Mexico in consecutive matches, while England tied Mexico and defeated New Zealand. Because the two other squads tied, the victorious country in the Japan-England match would clinch the group and, more importantly, force the loser to take on Germany in the quarterfinals.

A 21-meter strike by Ellen White in the 15th minute gave England the first goal of the match,  and substitute Rachel Yankey contributed another score in the second half to all-but-seal England’s victory. Japan had a decent scoring chance at the beginning of the second half, but Yuki Nagasato could not convert off of a free kick, for her sliding try flew wide.[9]

Courtesy of FIFA

Courtesy of FIFA

Advanced: England, Japan

Group C (United States, Sweden, North Korea, Colombia):

With the memory of their semifinal embarrassment during the 2007 tournament at the hands of Brazil fresh in their minds, the United States squad, as the #1 ranked team in the world, was primed to make a deep run in this year’s edition of soccer’s biggest stage. By the means of five different goal scorers and terrific goalkeeping by Hope Solo, the US disposed of both North Korea and Colombia by scores of 2-0 and 3-0 respectively.

Sweden, the other favorite in the group, made easy work of Columbia and North Korea as well, defeating them in 1-0 contests. Jessica Landström contributed a goal in the Colombia match while Lisa Dahlkvist scored the lone goal in the contest against the North Koreans.

With both the US and Sweden at six points each, both teams had clinched a spot in the knockout round. Their matchup in the final contest of the group stage would decide its winner, and the victor would avoid playing Group D power Brazil in the quarterfinals. Dahlkvist contributed a goal by way of the penalty kick in the 16th minute, and Nilla Fischer scored later in the first half. The two goals in the first frame proved to be too much for the US squad, which got its lone goal from Abby Wambach in the 67th minute.[10]

Courtesy of FIFA

Courtesy of FIFA

Advanced: Sweden, United States

Group D (Norway, Equatorial Guinea, Brazil, Australia):

Brazil, although one of the premier teams in the world, had not been successful in the World Cup up until 2011, and the FIFA Organizing Committee seemed to recognize this. Placed in the consensus weakest group in the tournament with Norway, Equatorial Guinea, and Australia, Brazil had what was presumed to be an easy road to the knockout round. Brazil boasted Marta, arguably the best player in the world, and was prepared to power its way through the group.

Brazil breezed through this stage, going through their first three matches without yielding a goal and combining for seven of their own. Marta and Cristiane led the way with two goals apiece.[11][12] With Brazil taking care of business as they should have, the Norway -Australia match on the last day of group play would prove to be the most important one of the six played in Group D. A victory by each team would allow the winner to move through to the knockout stage, while a tie would benefit Australia, who held the goal differential advantage.

Norway struck first in the second half with a goal by Elise Thorsnes, but Australia answered back a minute later with a score of their own courtesy of Kyah Simon. Simon then went on to tack on the game winner in the 87th minute, sending Australia through to the quarterfinals.[13]

Courtesy of FIFA

Courtesy of FIFA

Advanced: Brazil, Australia

Knockout Stage:

In the quarterfinal round, the United States-Brazil match was one for the ages, as many called it one of the most riveting games in WWC history.[14][15][16] An early own goal by Brazil seemed to give the United States all of the momentum it would need until Marta converted a penalty try in the 68th minute to knot the match at 1. A controversial red card was handed out in conjunction with the shot, and US back Rachel Buehler was sent off, leaving the US with 10 players for the rest of the match.

The game would remained tied into the early stages of overtime until Marta knocked in her second goal of the match, all but handing the US its earliest exit ever in the WWC. Megan Rapinoe, in stoppage time of the second half of overtime, however, had alternate plans when she sent a cross into the box in the game’s waning moments. The ball found star Abby Wambach’s forehead, and she redirected it into the back of the net. Penalty kicks ensued, and the US converted all five of its attempts, while goalkeeper Hope Solo stopped Daiane’s try to help the US clinch a spot in the semifinals and avenge their 2007 loss.[17]

Japan, after upsetting host Germany in extra time, faced off against Sweden, who easily disposed of Australia in its quarterfinal matchup. Japan scored three unanswered goals, two of which were by Nahomi Kawasumi, after Sweden’s early strike from Josefine Öqvist.[18] This gave Japan their first ever appearance in the WWC FinalThe US competed with France for the other position in the final, and late goals by Abby Wambach (79’) and Alex Morgan (82’) gave them the advantage they would need to carry on to the final in search of their record third WWC win.[19]


The 2011 Women’s World Cup Final, although fairly equal in terms of skill on the pitch, did not share a similar World Cup history. The United States was a traditional power, with two championships already in 1991 and 1999, that seemed destined, especially after their effort against Brazil, to claim their third. Japan, on the other hand, was in its first WWC Final and only the second Asian team to ever make it to that point (China in 1999). In fact, it had never reached the final of any major international tournament.

The match kicked off at 8:45 PM local time on July 17, and it seemed that the US squad was the only one prepared to compete at that time. The Japanese seemed to be back on their heels from the very beginning of the championship, and the Americans took advantage. Although time of possession was essentially equal at the 25’ mark, the US has attempted nine shots to Japan’s one. By the halfway point, both teams were still square at 0-0, and still ten minutes into the second half, the US held the shots attempted advantage 15-5.[20]

The US called upon spark plug Alex Morgan, who converted on a scoring opportunity against France in the semifinal, as a substitute in the second half. After hitting the post with her first attempt of the match, Morgan gave the US its first lead of the match on a counter attack in the 69th minute by means of a feed from Megan Rapinoe.[20]

US began to stall as the game wound down, but the Japanese took advantage of an errant Rachel Buehler kick in front of the US goal, and Aya Miyama delivered Japan’s first ever WWC Final goal. The remainder of regular time remained scoreless, although the US had numerous chances in final minutes of the game’s first 90.[20]

In overtime, the US scored first just ahead of halftime at the 104’ mark of the extra period. Morgan crossed in a perfect ball to Abby Wambach, who was standing directly in front of the Japanese goal. She nodded in her fourth goal in as many matches and had the US on the verge of claiming its record third WWC.[20]

The rest of the match, however, was all Japan. A couple dangerous chances by the Japanese defense were thwarted by Heather O’Reilly and company, but Homare Sawa could not be denied in the 117th minute after she converted off of a corner kick to knot the game once again, this time at 2. When the game was sent to penalty kicks, the US missed its first there attempts while Japan made two out of the three. Wambach netted the US’ first goal in the shootout, but her effort proved to be too little, too late as Saki Kumagai made Japan’s fourth attempt, clinching Japan’s first ever WWC Final victory.[20]


Return to History of the Women’s World Cup Main Page.


[1] “FIFA Women’s World Cup Germany 2011.” FIFA.com. 14 Mar. 2008. Web. 22 Apr. 2015. <http://www.fifa.com/tournaments/archive/womensworldcup/germany2011/news/newsid=723580/index.html>.

[2] Siegel, Robert. “FIFA Faces Bribery Accusations.” NPR. NPR, 13 May 2011. Web. 22 Apr. 2015. <http://www.npr.org/2011/05/13/136285635/fifa-faces-bribery-accusations>.

[3] Wahl, Grant. “Hearing Vancouver and Toronto Are 2 MLS Ownership Groups Interested in Owning NWSL Teams next Year.” Twitter. Twitter, 14 Apr. 2013. Web. 23 Apr. 2015. <https://twitter.com/GrantWahl/status/323497930508075008>.

[4] Wahl, Grant. “Hearing More MLS Teams Are Interested in Getting Involved in NWSL, including NY Red Bulls.” Twitter. Twitter, 27 Apr. 2013. Web. 14 Apr. 2015. <https://twitter.com/GrantWahl/status/327961302779711489>.

[5] Duke, Greg. “Can World Cup Spark Women’s Soccer Surge?” CNN. Cable News Network, 30 June 2011. Web. 25 Apr. 2015. <http://edition.cnn.com/2011/SPORT/football/06/08/football.women.germany.fifa/>.

[6] Chappell, Bill. “Women’s World Cup 2011: A Quick Guide.” NPR. NPR, 30 June 2011. Web. 24 Apr. 2015. <http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2011/06/30/137477594/womens-world-cup-2011-a-quick-guide>.

[7] Johnson, George. “Ten Women to Watch at the World Cup.” National Post Ten Women to Watch at the WorldCup Comments. 23 June 2011. Web. 25 Apr. 2015. <http://news.nationalpost.com/sports/soccer/ten-women-to-watch-at-the-world-cup#__federated=1>.

[8] Johnson, George. “Captain Christine Sinclair Stands up for Disappointing World Cup Effort.” Canada.com. Postmedia News, 1 July 2011. Web. 27 Apr. 2015. <http://www.canada.com/Captain Christine Sinclair stands disappointing World effort/5035993/story.html#__federated=1>.

[9] “England Beats Japan 2-0 in Women’s World Cup.” USAToday.com. USA Today, 5 July 2011. Web. 28 Apr. 2015. <http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/sports/soccer/worldcup/2011-07-05-England-defeats-Japan-2-0-to-advance_n.htm>.

[10] “FIFA Women’s World Cup Germany 2011.” FIFA.com. 6 July 2011. Web. 28 Apr. 2015. <http://www.fifa.com/tournaments/archive/womensworldcup/germany2011/matches/round=255997/match=300144447/report.html>.

[11] “FIFA Women’s World Cup Germany 2011.” FIFA.com. 6 July 2011. Web. 28 Apr. 2015. <http://www.fifa.com/tournaments/archive/womensworldcup/germany2011/matches/round=255997/match=300144454/report.html>.

[12] “FIFA Women’s World Cup Germany 2011.” FIFA.com. 3 July 2011. Web. 28 Apr. 2015. <http://www.fifa.com/tournaments/archive/womensworldcup/germany2011/matches/round=255997/match=300144429/report.html>.

[13] “FIFA Women’s World Cup Germany 2011.” FIFA.com. 6 July 2011. Web. 28 Apr. 2015. <http://www.fifa.com/tournaments/archive/womensworldcup/germany2011/matches/round=255997/match=300144451/report.html>.

[14] Klopman, Michael. “U.S. Women Beat Brazil After Stunning Goal At Women’s World Cup.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 10 July 2011. Web. 28 Apr. 2015. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/07/10/us-women-brazil-shootout_n_894139.html>.

[15] “Solo Save Gives USA 5-3 Win Against Brazil in Penalty Shootout to Advance to Face France in FIFA Women’s World Cup Semifinal.” U.S. Soccer. US Soccer, 10 July 2011. Web. 30 Apr. 2015. <http://www.ussoccer.com/stories/2014/03/17/13/49/us-wnt-defeats-brazil-in-dramatic-penalty-shootout>.

[16] Birnbaum, Michael. “U.S. Stuns Brazil, Advances to Semifinal of Women’s World Cup.” The Washington Post. The Washington Post, 10 July 2011. Web. 30 Apr. 2015. <http://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/us-stuns-brazil-advances-to-semifinal-of-womens-world-cup/2011/07/10/gIQAvyGl7H_story.html>.

[17] “Women’s World Cup, USA Vs. Brazil: Abby Wambach Forces Penalty Kicks, USWNT Wins Shootout.” SBNation.com. 11 July 2011. Web. 29 Apr. 2015. <http://www.sbnation.com/soccer/2011/7/9/2268196/womens-world-cup-2011-quarterfinals-usa-vs-brazi-fifa-uswnt-us-women-soccer-marta>.

[18] “FIFA Women’s World Cup Germany 2011.” FIFA.com. 13 July 2011. Web. 28 Apr. 2015. <http://www.fifa.com/tournaments/archive/womensworldcup/germany2011/matches/round=255993/match=300144455/report.html>.

[19] “FIFA Women’s World Cup Germany 2011.” FIFA.com. 13 July 2011. Web. 28 Apr. 2015. <http://www.fifa.com/tournaments/archive/womensworldcup/germany2011/matches/round=255993/match=300144449/report.html>.

[20] Chappell, Bill. “U.S. Women Lose To Japan, In A Title Game Of Many Chances.” NPR. NPR, 17 July 2011. Web. 30 Apr. 2015. <http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2011/07/19/138342379/u-s-women-lose-to-japan-in-a-title-game-of-many-chances>.

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