by Jerry Keys
"You can't make a great play unless you do it first in practice." - Chuck Noll
Most soccer fans are already thinking, "wait, wasn't that just last year?" Yes and no; yes it was last year and Spain won the Cup and no, there is another World Cup in 2011. This year will be the 6th Women's World Cup. Cup play began on June 26th and will conclude on July 17th.
Cup competition began in 1991 (host country: China) and similar to men's Cup action, there were not as many teams in its inception. Twelve teams were selected and were placed in three groups of four teams. Each winner and runner-up of the three groups advance to the knockout round and two of the three third place finishers also progressed. Only four teams were eliminated and three of those in the '91 tournament failed to win or draw a single game. The U.S Women's team won all three opening round games, against Sweden, Brazil and Japan.
In the round of 8, they defeated Taipei, future powerhouse Germany in the semi-finals and Norway in the finals. Michelle Akers led all scorers with ten goals and Carin Jennings was named Best player of the tourney. Sweden hosted the 1995 Cup and the field remained at twelve. The U.S. were heavy favorites and advanced to the knockout round with wins over Denmark and Australia, but 'suffered' their first draw against China. The U.S. shut out Japan to earn a spot in the semi-finals; where Norway exacted revenge for their finals loss in '91 by handing the Americans their first defeat. The U.S. bested China in the third place consolation game.
The 1999 Cup was held in the U.S. and the field was expanded to sixteen teams; four teams in four groups and the winner and runner-up advancing. The U.S. returned to their old form with convincing wins over Denmark, Nigeria and North Korea. They ousted Germany and Brazil to return to the finals. China upset Norway in the other semi-final, denying a much-anticipated re-match with the Cup's first two winners. The U.S defeated China in the finals on penalty kicks. This was the U.S. women's second Cup win in three tourneys, but is mostly known for Brandi Chastain's reaction to scoring the game winning kick. She pulled off her jersey and fell to her knees in only a sports bra with fists clenched. She later was quoted, "Momentary insanity, nothing more, nothing less. I wasn't thinking about anything. I thought, 'This is the greatest moment of my life on the soccer field." The action landed her on the cover of numerous publications; namely Sports Illustrated, Newsweek and Time.
The 2003 Cup was scheduled to be hosted by China but was forced to be relocated due to the 2002-03 SARS outbreak. It was again hosted by the U.S. and with convincing victories over Sweden, Nigeria and North Korea; they again headed for the knockout round. The U.S vs. Norway rematch came in the quarter-finals and America advanced with a 1-0 triumph. They were defeated in the semi-finals by eventual champion Germany. They were victorious in the consolation game by beating Canada. The 2007 Cup was hosted by China. There was moderate speculation about expanding the tourney to 24 teams starting in 2011 but many feared a further dilution of quality match-ups after a opening round trouncing of Argentina by Germany, 11-0. For the third tourney in a row, the U.S was grouped with Nigeria and North Korea, and for the second, Sweden. The U.S defeated Sweden and Nigeria and earned a draw with North Korea. In the knockout round, the U.S. would not be pitted against their two nemesis', Norway and Germany, unless either of the two and the U.S. reached the finals. The U.S. women blanked England 3-0 and only had to best Brazil to earn a spot in the final. Germany held their end of the growing rivalry by shutting out Norway 3-0 but the Americans were upset by Brazil 4-0. They did face Norway in the consolation game and prevailed 4-1.
The current Cup action is being held in Germany (who is tied with the U.S. for the most Cup championships, with two). The U.S. were forced to participate in a play-off game against Italy just to qualify for Cup action. The four groups are as follows: