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When the FIFA Women’s World Ranking was introduced in 2003, the 367b matches that took place that year seemed an almost unattainable record. However, the year 2006 once again confirmed the FIFA Women’s World Cup qualifiers are the driving force in women’s football at international level, making many teams play who would take to the pitch seldom if at all, without the incentive of a prized place in the finals to challenge for. The total of 448 matches – a 20% increase on the previous record – and the fact that 134 teams played at least one fixture during the year are the two most notable statistics that emerge from last year’s list of women’s internationals. It was the first time ever that more than 100 women’s national teams had contested matches in a calendar year.
Of this record number of games, 158 (or 35%) were all-Europeans affairs. Adding all of the intercontinental games in which representatives of the continent were involved shows that European teams played in 192 or 43% of all the matches played in 2006. In terms of match category, the women’s internationals during 2006 were made up mainly of FIFA Women’s World Cup qualifiers 949%, 219 matches) and friendlies (44%, 196 matches).
In the shadow of the ongoing battle between FIFA Women’s World Cup holders Germany and reigning Olympic champions the USA, the match statistics for 2006 throw up some interesting facts. Brazil, for example, returned to the international stage a whole 27 months after losing the final of the Olympic Football Tournament and sailed through the South American qualifying tournament for the FIFA Women’s World Cup – until the final. Argentina sprung a huge surprise in that climatic game with an unprecedented victory over favorites Brazil. The women’s national teams that contest the most internationals each year are invariably among the best in the world. Last year was no different in this regard as China PR once again played more times than any other side. As part of the build-up to their hosting of this year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup and Olympic Football Tournament in 2008, the Chinese traveled all around the globe in 2006 as their 29 matches took them to North America, Australia, Europe and the Middle East. After playing just nine times in 2005, the USA contested 22 internationals last year and were the only leading team to remain unbeaten throughout. Nevertheless, despite only playing 13 times, Germany retained their place at the head of the FIFA Women’s World Ranking.