It's hard to believe that the first ever Women's World Cup was 24 years ago. It seems like only yesterday that the USA raised the inaugural trophy. Personally I was five years old and actually remember bits and pieces, but even for a huge soccer fan such as myself, it's easy to forget what happened after that inaugural tournament and who else in the world ended up challenging the USA in the years following.
Let's start with 1991 in China, the first time the tournament was held. The USA was lead by Michelle Akers, a player who many of the youngsters these days don't know a whole lot about, but one thing is for sure...Akers was a beast. That year she led the team with a whopping 39 goals (including non-World Cup play) and won Athlete of the Year honors. The USWNT would end up facing Norway in the World Cup Final and as mentioned before, they went on to win the inaugural Women's World Cup with a 2-1 final score. Sweden rounded out the top three that year after beating Germany 4-0 in the third place match.
Four years later the tournament was held in Sweden. Although Sweden had a decent outing in the previous World Cup, they would find themselves completely off the podium in their home country. Instead, their Scandinavian neighbors from Norway would get to the final once again where they would win their first championship in a 2-0 match against Germany. The USA finished third that year as they beat China 2-0 in their conciliation match.
The third Women's World Cup in 1999 was held in the USA and would be the first in back to back tournaments held in the USA. 1999 would be the year when the women of Brazil would finally make some waves in the World Cup, although they did fall just short of the final, settling for a third place finish over reigning champs, Norway. The USA made full use of their home field advantage and found themselves once again in the final, but this time against China. In an absolutely thrilling final that went to penalties, the USA would be triumphant thanks to goalkeeper, Brianna Scurry who managed to save a penalty from Liu Ying. Pretty sure most of you who follow soccer also remember a certain celebration that year from Brandi Chastain.
In 2003 the World Cup was once again held in the USA due to a SARS outbreak in China (who was originally picked to host again), but this time the Americans were unable to make the final, falling to Germany 3-0 in the semifinals. The USA were forced to once again play for third, but this time to a surging Canadian team. The USA would win that match 3-1 and make the podium for the fourth time in as many tournaments. Sweden returned to the championship match in 2003, but it would be the Germans who finally claimed the ultimate prize with a 2-1 win.
Four years later, China was able to get the SARS virus mostly under control and were finally able to hold the tournament once again. Despite their previous success though, the Chinese wouldn't even make the semifinals, instead making way for the Americans, Germans, Norwegians and Brazilians. The USA faced Brazil in the semis, while the Germans faced the Norwegians. The US would end up being decimated by the Brazilians, losing their semifinal match 4-0, while the Germans would have a similar result against the Norwegians beating them 3-0. For the fifth time in a row, the Americans still managed a podium finish with a 4-1 win over the Norwegians, but it would be the Germans who would become the first country in Women's World Cup history to win back to back World Cups.
And so that brings us to the most recent tournament in 2011 held in Germany. Call it a curse, but the back to back champs from Germany were kept from the semifinals in their homeland after losing to a Japanese squad in the quarterfinals who had their eyes firmly on the prize. Japan would end up going all the way to the finals to face...who else? The Americans. In what was one of the most exciting finals, not just in Women's World Cup, but in soccer history, the Americans and the Japanese would end up tied 2-2 after regulation and needed extra time to decide the champion. The score remained 2-2 at the end of extra time and would head to penalties. After a crazy seesaw battle, the Americans would eventually fall to the Japanese who would lift their first Women's World Cup.
Now here we are in 2015 and we get to see our neighbors to the north give hosting a try. After an exciting and controversial (to some) 2012 Olympic semifinal match between the Canadians and Americans, it would certainly be exciting to see a rematch. That said, there are plenty of other story lines that will make this tournament special, I am certain of that.
Here's to an amazing 2015 Women's World Cup! May the best team win.