Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Big Guns Open 5th Women's World Cup

Big Guns Open 5th Women's World Cup.
The 5th go-round for FIFA's Women's World Cup is just underway in China and some things are different while others seem true to past form.

To this point only the USA (China 1991, USA 1999), Norway (Sweden 1995) and Germany (USA 2003) have won the title and, truth to tell, each competition has pretty much boiled down to a battle between those same three big powers to sort out a winner. To this point the rest of the world has lagged pretty far behind in developing the women's game and the national teams of "the rest of the world" have served as little more than cannon-fodder for the three big guns when it has come time to crown a World Cup champ

Witness Germany's goal-a-thon just two nights ago as they opened their defense of the title against Argentina in group play, 11:0.

It is true that China and Sweden have had the odd upset and seem to form something of a second-tier--also true that Brazil appears to be making slow and steady progress--but the big three have pretty much had things their way up to now.

In fact, in many ways, the history of the Women's World Cup thus far is beginning to take on a shape not unlike that of the much-older men's competition.

The fifth men's World Cup was contested in Switzerland in 1954 with West Germany emerging as surprise winners in the final match over seemingly undefeatable Hungary. The day before the final, Uruguay lost the third place match to Austria, 1:3.

Four years earlier Uruguay had won the World Cup with a surprise defeat of home side Brazil. It was only the fourth time for the competition, but the second win for the Blues who had won the very first World Cup on home soil twenty years previous. (Uruguay chose not to participate in the 1934 and '38 competitions which were won by Italy in Italy and then again in France).

Over a half century since taking fourth, Uruguay's World Cup total remains unchanged. It's early glories having been nearly completely obscured by the behemoth, yellow-shirted neighbor to its north. Indeed, Uruguay's place among the elite of even South American football seems to grow more tenuous with each single-named artist that springs from the streets of Rio or Sao Paulo to be the world's best for two-, three-, or even four World Cups.

As the women of the US, Germany and Norway take to the fields of the 2007 WWC they may do well to note history and take measures to avoid repeating it.

The first step will be for those three to disabuse themselves as quickly as possible of any illusion that their's will forever be a three horse race. (Witness USA's hard-fought opening match draw with North Korea earlier today, 2:2.)

It is a bit of a different world into which the Women's World Cup rather than the men's has been born. It is unlikely that any national federation will be caught off-guard by the developing level of competition, nor will any of those federations fail to recognize the value in taking home the Cup.

This fifth WWC will no doubt see some surprises and, with luck, perhaps even the emergence of a charismatic superstar, one capable of bicycle-kicking the women's game to much greater prominence.

That, in itself, would best the history of the men by four years.

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