Nov
27
2007
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Women’s Football – Full of favourites and stars

Four years after the final whistle of the 2003 FIFA Women’s World Cup in the USA, the flagship event in the “more beautiful game” is returning to China PR seeking to skyrocket the sport to another level. The 16-team tournament between 10 and 30 September promises attractive football, good crowds and a great atmosphere in the five stadiums.

Five buzzing cities across mainland China (Tianjin, Hangzhou, Wuhan, Shanghai, and Chengdu) are busily preparing for an influx of teams and fans to the site of the first ever FIFA Women’s World Cup. After successfully hosting the inaugural tournament in 1991, from 10 to 30 September 2007 China will once again host the blue-riband tournament for the cream of women’s footballing talent. Average crowds of over 30,000 and television viewers in over 150 countries are expected to revel in the players’ skilful and athletic displays in state-of-the-art stadiums. And if the standard of competition at last year’s FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup is an indication of what is coming, fans are likely to be delighted by epic battles across the board – and not just between the traditional stalwarts of elite women’s football like the USA, Germany, Norway, Sweden and China.
So which of the 16 teams can we expect to demonstrate just how far the women’s game has come in such a short time frame? Who will be the star player? And what can we expect from this year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup overall? Five key personalities from within the women’s game (England coach Hope Powell, Germany’s head of women’s football Heike Ulrich, Australia coach Tom Sermani, former USA stalwart Brandi Chastain and New Zealand coach John Herdman) give their views on what this year’s celebration of football will bring.

Question:
What are you expecting from this year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup?

Hope Powell
One word describes what I expect of this year’s tournament: massive. The sheer size of China means that teams will be traveling long distances between games and this of course presents coaches with new challenges. The population of China means that crowds could also match the peaks of the FIFA Women’s World Cup in 1999. On the field, I think that the identity of the winners is no foregone conclusion. I think that will be the beauty of China 2007 – that there are a number of teams who could lift the trophy on 30 September.

Heike Ulrich
For us there are expectations in terms of results. As our coach Silvia Neid has said, we are not going there to defend something, we are going there to win something. There is a difference between being titleholders and being challengers. In the first case, the expectations of the media and spectators are a lot higher than for the other 15 teams who are participating. However our team will still just try to go out and play, and to enjoy the games and the tournament without feeling too much pressure.

Tom Sermani
With the women’s game progressing technically, tactically and physically at a rapid rate, I predict that matches at this Women’s World Cup will be of the highest standard. I also believe the gap between the top 20 teams is closing, which means there are no longer any easy games. It is quiet difficult to predict which two teams will emerge from the group stages to reach the quarter-finals. I think there may be some surprises. I’m expecting large crowds at most of the matches. The games are being held in terrific stadiums and there appears to be a great deal of interest in host cities. With the Olympics coming to China next year, people will be more inclined to come and watch the matches.

Brandi Chastain
At this year’s World Cup, we will get crowds that that are genuinely excited and interested in women’s football. After what I saw in 1991, I can only but imagine what it will be like. Since then, China has participated in every FIFA Women’s World Cup and playing in front of a home crowd will really be something special for them. This will also be the World Cup with the most parity so far. Every day, we see teams that are capable of winning – and that is good for the game.

John Herdman
I believe generally the teams will be better prepared tactically, technically and physically, and that the increased investment in women’s football globally (for example, China and Canada now operate as full-time professional teams) will be reflected in the quality of play.

Question:
How will this year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup be different from previous ones?

Hope Powell
This year’s tournament will be different because the game has moved on so much, especially since England last qualified in 1995. The technical and tactical awareness and physical prowess of teams has moved on a long way and therefore this year will see a more level playing field than ever before. I think spectators and viewers around the world will be very surprised by the quality of football they’ll see.

Heike Ulrich
The Chinese market will be crazy on the media side and that is sure to break through a lot of barriers in terms of the TV market and attendances.

Tom Sermani
With the teams being prepared very professionally, the standard of football will be better than before and the games a lot closer. China will put on an outstanding event and I anticipate the crowd numbers will be similar to, if not better than, the 1999 Women’s World Cup in USA.

Brandi Chastain
The 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup showed that it could be done on a large scale – from playing on the pitch to attracting TV coverage to generating enthusiasm among the fans. That will again be the major difference with this year’s World Cup. It will be accessible to and enjoyed by more people than ever before. TV will be a major force in this regard.

John Herdman
This year’s Women’s World Cup has the potential to provide the worldwide audience with a spectacle like no other. The Chinese will be one to be remembered, and with the caliber of teams attending, even the group games will throw some colossal tussles.

Question:
Who will be the teams to watch?

Hope Powell
Picking teams to watch is always difficult and in this tournament, every team is capable of beating any other. As always, certain factors need to be in your favour over 90 minutes, but there is no reason any more why people should expect this to be a two-horse race.

Tom Sermani
Teams to watch apart from the usual suspects will be North Koprea, Japan and Canada.

Brandi Chastain
Germany as the reigning champions and China as the home team will be the dependent on how they deal with the pressure. The USA because they have been contenders before and you always have to watch out for them. We don’t know a lot about new teams like Nigeria and New Zealand, and they may provide some real surprises.

John Herdman
The USA looked formidable in the recent Algarve Cup with their high-pressure game. They reminded me of the South Korean men’s team at the 2002 FIFA World Cup, placing intolerable pressure on opponents and pushing players to their technical limits. This – combined with the Lilly factor – will make them pretty unstoppable. The dark horses for me could be Tom Sermani’s Australia. Winning the Asian qualifiers was a huge victory for the Aussies and his team is certainly hungry for more success. It is difficult to predict the style of play that will bring success but I imagine that the teams who are organized and clinical upon gaining possession will be the ones who make it to the later stages of the competition.

Question:
Which players do you think will make their mark?

Hope Powell
I was honoured to be asked to co-manage the FIFA All Stars team in April this year, and watching players from Argentina, Nigeria and Brazil, for example, train at close quarters, you can see that some of women’s football are not going to have it all their own way in September.

Heike Ulrich
Marta will be the player to watch because she is the best in the world. The Brazilian is a great footballer and still young. Birgit Prinz is our star in Germany but we also have some very talented young players like Anya Mittag and Celia Okoyino da Mbabi who have come through from the 2004 U-19 World Cup team.

Tom Sermani
Players who can make an impact include Aby Wambach (USA), Birgit Prinz (Germany), Marta (Brazil), and Ri Kum-suk (North Korea).

Brandi Chastain
I would not be surprised to see new players emerge from this tournament. Players like Birgit Prinz and Abby Wambach will obviously feature prominently but there will be new world-class stars coming through like the USA’s Carly Lloyd, who was player of the tournament at the 2007 Algarve Cup.

John Herdman
A player to watch outside of usual suspects Marta and Prinz will be Kristine Lilly. She is just so vibrant at the moment. Her wealth of experience and sublime passion for her sport has culminated in some outstanding performances in recent games. In this sort of form, she will provide spectators with an uplifting experience.

Question:
What impact do you think this FIFA Women’s World Cup will have?

Hope Powell
I am sure that the global dimension of this World Cup and the improvement in playing standards will see the women’s game having a much bigger profile by the end of the tournament. That quality is a powerful tool to pull women and girls into the game around the world. In England, the team and players have begun to enjoy a higher profile in the last three or four years. With the games being broadcast on terrestrial TV, I am sure the players will earn wider support and respect, as well as a new generation of fans.

Heike Ulrich
There is much greater interest in this World Cup in Germany than there was for previous tournaments. To give just one example, we now offer fan travel packages to follow our team. We only had 7 fans in 1991!

Tom Srmani
This World Cup will highlight how football is the most significant and popular women’s sport. I will raise the profile of the game and the individual players and help growth, particularly among young girls in Australia. The better we do, the greater the impact it will have.

Brandi Chastain
The impact of this tournament will be that the women’s game is clearly becoming more global. Germany, Norway, USA, Sweden, China and Brazil were previously the standard bearers in the women’s game. The world will see that there are other teams who can make the competition together. Certainly the game is becoming more technical as a whole and it will be interesting to see whether the USA are improving in that regard. It has not been our strength and we have been exposed a few times because of it in the past.

John Herdman
The 2007 FIFA Women’s World Cup will be another energy bolt for women’s football globally and for New Zealand it will help raise the awareness of this global phenomenon. It is going to be great for us and we have a lot of people working hard to promote our game. Hopefully we will be able to open the window to the world and show New Zealand just how big and spectacular women’s football is. Our appearance in arguably the biggest the biggest and best sporting event in the world for women will capture the hearts and minds of our future stars.