If you’ve missed Part 1 of the series, you can view it here.
With the FIFA Women’s World Cup firmly established in the international football calendar going into the 21st century after three successful stagings in the 1990s, the women’s game was in a healthy state as the new millennium dawned. However, circumstances outside of the governing body’s control would disrupt the organisation of the next edition of the tournament.
2003: USA steps in after Chinese health scare
2003 was the year of the mass SARS disease outbreak in China and, just four months from the start of the Women’s World Cup, FIFA moved the tournament to USA for health reasons, with China instead given hosting rights for 2007. The US was chosen on short notice as the country had already proven itself capable of staging the competition, having hosted it four years’ previously. The short timeframe for organising the finals meant that only six venues were chosen and almost all matches were played as double headers.
When the football eventually got going, the hosts and holders enjoyed their customary waltz through the group stage, winning all three matches as Sweden joined them from Group A to progress to the quarter-finals. Brazil and Norway emerged from Group B, although the former were held to a draw by tournament first-timers France while Norway signed off the group stage with a 7-1 hammering of South Korea, another team debuting at the 2003 finals.
A highly-rated Germany team made light work of Group C, their results including a 6-1 hammering of an Argentina side who also shipped six goals against Japan. China got over their dismay at being stripped of hosting rights to top Group D, with Russia also advancing to the knockout stages.
Some emerging stars of the women’s game made their presence felt in the quarter-finals. For the host nation, young talent Abby Wambach got the only goal of their win over Norway, while exciting Brazilian prospect Marta found the net but was on the losing side against Sweden. Canada got the better of China but the standout performance of the last eight definitely came from Germany, who destroyed Russia 7-1 and looked imperious as the business end of the finals approached.
Sweden defeated Canada 2-1 in the semi-finals but all eyes were on the mouth-watering clash of USA and Germany, the two tournament favourites. The Americans’ hold on their title ended in emphatic fashion as the Germans ran out 3-0 winners, although two late goals put some gloss on the final score. The battle of the North American giants for third place went the way of the U.S., who defeated Canada 3-1.
In the all-European final, Hanna Ljungberg gave Sweden a surprise lead shortly before half-time, with Maren Meinert equalising a minute into the second half. Extra time would be needed to separate the sides and, with one of the last Golden Goals in football due to the impending abandonment of the ruling, Nia Künzer secured Germany’s first world title. The top scorer and tournament’s best player was her team-mate Birgit Prinz, scorer of seven goals in the finals.
2007: Germany do the double
If 1999 is referenced as the best tournament in the history of the FIFA Women’s World Cup, 2007 witnessed the team many would consider to be the best that has ever played in it. In China, Germany joined USA as multiple winners of the competition and became the first (and thus far only) team to successfully defend their title.
The holders made a fearsome statement of intent in the tournament’s opening match, walloping Argentina 11-0 in what remains the most lopsided result in Women’s World Cup history. Along with Prinz, Sandra Smisek helped herself to a hat-trick against an Argentina team who remained out of their depth at this level and went on to lose 6-1 to England, who progressed from Group A behind Germany. Brazil also stood out in the group stage, winning all three games and scoring 10 goals without conceding once. That included a 4-0 defeat of China, who still managed to get out of the group.
There were a couple of surprises in the other two groups. North Korea stunned the Americans with a 2-2 draw in their opening game and could even afford to lose their final match to Sweden and still edge the Scandinavians for second place on goal difference. In Group C, the rapidly improving Australia drew with group winners Norway and Canada to dump the latter out of the competition and advance to the last eight.
The Matildas would bow out in the quarter-finals, but not before giving Brazil an almighty scare, retrieving a two-goal deficit before a late strike from Cristiane won it for the South Americans. Meanwhile, China’s hopes of a home triumph were ended by Norway in a 1-0 defeat, while USA and Germany easily disposed of England and North Korea respectively. Like with Australia, the Koreans would depart with heads held high, limiting the Germans to just one goal until midway through the second half.
The all-European semi-final was a one-sided affair, with Germany putting three past Norway without reply as their juggernaut showed no signs of slowing. There was a sensational scoreline in the other game, though, with Brazil hammering two-time champions USA 4-0, Marta the standout player with two goals. The Brazilians were now a force in the women’s game as well as the men’s.
The final was undoubtedly contested between the two best teams in the competition. After a goalless first half, Prinz broke the deadlock in the 52nd minute and Simone Laudehr put the result beyond doubt with four minutes remaining. Germany had scored 21 goals in their six games, shipping none at the other end thanks to a superb defence marshalled by outstanding goalkeeper Nadine Angerer. Marta was voted Player of the Tournament, but Germany most certainly had the best team.