Germany can be game's launching pad
For months we heard about how great the 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup could be. We were told it would be the best one yet, and although confirming that statement after just two games would be premature, the opening day lived up to the hype.
From broken noses to splendid free kicks and inexplicably blown sitters, an electric host nation produced goose bumps for women's soccer fans everywhere Sunday, giving the world two high-quality, entertaining games in front of full houses of soccer-savvy supporters.
WOMEN'S WORLD CUP
GROUP A, STANDINGS
GROUP A, STANDINGS
June 26 - France 1, Nigeria 0
June 26 - Germany 2, Canada 1
June 30 - France 4, Canada 0
June 30 - Germany 1, Nigeria 0
July 5 - France 2, Germany 4
July 5 - Canada 0, Nigeria 1
France opened the tournament by getting three needed points, posting a 1-0 win over Nigeria. And despite blowing several chances to seal the game early, Germany began its title defense with a 2-1 win over Canada in front of more than 70,000 fans in Berlin.
These opening matches offered an array of up-and-coming stars who'll warrant attention throughout the tournament. France's Louisa Necib proved a crafty player who could boost her international pedigree should she help Les Bleues to a knockout stage run, while teammateMarie-Laure Delie continued the blistering goal-scoring form she'd exhibited throughout World Cup qualifying.
And just as she did in last year's Women's U-20 World Cup, Germany's Alexandra Popp proved dangerous — this time in a substitute's role — while Canada's Christine Sinclair overcame a broken nose to bury a free kick from 20 yards out that not only ended Germany's long shutout streak (not having been scored on in World Cup play since 2003), but also gave the Canadians a needed boost to their goal differential.
But more important for the future of women's soccer, the buzz surrounding day one met expectations. Two entertaining matches certainly helped, but a fired-up German nation showed that it is ready to reproduce the qualities that made the 2006 men's tournament a resounding success. Spirit and passion were there in abundance on opening day.
Large crowds are expected, and not just for Germany's matches, but for all of the Cup's games. More than 80 percent of tickets are sold and, just as important, the media is taking notice.
Coverage of the tournament has been spectacular. For the first time since 1999, the Women's World Cup is relevant. This time, though, it's not just the United States leading the charge. Beyond American media and German attendees, we see excitement from places like Australia and England, where fans are getting behind what might be their countries' strongest teams ever.
Those are all symptoms of the progress the women's game is making around the world. Now it's time for the coverage to take similar steps. Again, it's only day one, but early indications are television and Internet outlets are ready to step it up.
Now we wait for the answer to the underlying question: Can this momentum continue throughout this tournament and beyond? Can this tournament defy the feeling that progress is inextricably linked to the success of the United States, with its run toward a title needed to build enough interest to carry into Canada 2015?
Sunday provided a taste of exactly how far the women's game has moved beyond that dependence. True, the depth of Group A (the tournament's "Group of Death") makes it perfect to show off on opening day, but Sunday's matches were entertaining to even the casual fan. They provided a level of quality people can get behind, no matter where their national allegiances lie.
And for that reason, Germany 2011's opening day will be a one to remember — a step toward increased interest in (and coverage of) women's soccer. It's the first of what should be many strides made for the women's game over the next 20 days. While the attendance and television ratings aren't going to rival last summer's men's World Cup, the buzz around Germany 2011 is just as exciting.
If FIFA viewed the South African World Cup as a way to grow the sport on that continent, it should look at Germany 2011 as a similar launching pad. This tournament is a coming-out party for the women's game, one that kicked off with a huge bang.
Jeff Kassouf is a freelance writer and proprietor of Equalizer Soccer who will be contributing to FOX Soccer's coverage of the 2011 Women's World Cup. He is the co-author of The Complete Guide to the 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup.