China PR 1991
The first FIFA Women's World Cup
The creation is approved
At a meeting on 30 June, the day before the 1988 FIFA Congress in Zürich, the Executive Committee of FIFA officially approved the creation of a Women’s World Cup. It was given the official title of the FIFA World Championship for Women’s Football.
At the meeting, China was chosen as the first host nation. With the tournament scheduled for 1991 and run on a four-yearly cycle, the FIFA Executive Committee were taking no chances with the hosting. They decided to return not only to the same nation that had just hosted the International Women’s Football Tournament, but the same region of Guangdong, which had hosted all of the matches.
Twelve teams would be represented at the finals with five from Europe, three from Asia, including the hosts and one each from Africa, South America, Oceania and North America.
The story of the qualifiers
The draw and trophy debut
Three months after the last of the qualifiers had been played, the names of the 12 teams went into the draw at a ceremony in the Tianhe Stadium in Guangzhou.
As with the 1988 International Women’s Football Tournament, the teams were drawn into three groups of four teams, with the top two from each group progressing to the quarter-finals, along with the two third-placed teams with the best record.
The new trophy that would be presented to the winning captain had been made in Switzerland by Angelo Brogioli. Like the first trophy for the men’s World Cup, it would have a short and troubled history. Presented to Norway after they won the second Women’s World Cup in 1995 it was later stolen from the offices of the Norwegian FA while refurbishment was taking place at the Ullevaal Stadion in Oslo.
The Chinese hosts chose the phoenix as the central motif of the opening ceremony, symbolising the rebirth of women's football after 70 long years of neglect. Tianhe Stadium in Guangzhou was full to its 65,000 capacity to watch the ceremony followed by the opening match.
The group stage
Only a special game of football could match the spectacle of the elegant opening ceremony, but China's clash with Norway duly delivered. With a fourth-minute penalty save by Zhong Honglian, a mesmerising run and pinpoint 25-yard strike from Liu Ailing, and a shock 4-0 win, the hosts were on top.
Bank clerk Helle Jensen's two goals in a 3-0 win over a spirited New Zealand team put Denmark into the mix, but Norway were too, bouncing back with a 4-0 win over the haka-dancing Kiwis, whose midfielder Julia Campbell agonisingly netted the first-ever Women's World Cup own goal. Later, 27,000 spectators roared as China twice came back against Denmark in a 2-2 thriller described by Danish coach Keld Gantzhorn as their "best-ever match". China finished top with a 4-1 win over New Zealand, who joyously celebrated when postwoman and bus driver Kim Nye bagged their only goal.
Meanwhile Norway, who had beaten Denmark in the semi-finals of the European Championship earlier that year, skipped around Yingdong Stadium in their stockinged feet having beaten them again to reach the quarters, although the Danes would still go through as one of the two best third-placed teams.
Standing & Matches
Reformed six months earlier after a three-year hiatus and missing playmaker Sissi, who was not released by her club, Brazil got off to a flyer with a victory over Japan. Having missed chance after chance, Japan ultimately lost to a fourth-minute goal that the Asian Championship runners-up struggled to accept had crossed the line. Despite their individual flair, it would be Brazil's only highlight and Japan's most effective display as Sweden, led by Gunilla Paijkull, the only female head coach in the competition, and the USA, with their own chef in tow, sizzled.
Against one another, they served up what Anson Dorrance called "a credit to women's football" – a sumptuous five-goal classic that the 1991 Concacaf champions almost let slip when Sweden hit two goals, one a 30-yard thunderbolt from Ingrid Johansson, in a whirlwind final 14 minutes. The USA's 'Triple-Edged Sword' of Carin Jennings, Michelle Akers-Stahl and April Heinrichs went on to scythe through both Brazil and Japan to finish unbeaten.
In Foshan, Lena Videkull bagged what is still the fastest goal in Women's World Cup history as Sweden battered Japan 8-0, the tournament's most emphatic victory, before a 2-0 win over Brazil saw the former European champions into the quarters.
Standing & Matches
With their own supply of pasta and seemingly limitless energy, Italy kicked off with a bang, putting five goals past Chinese Taipei, with captain Carolina Morace bagging the first Women's World Cup hat-trick in a blistering 30-minute spell. Germany's skipper and most-capped player Silvia Neid also made a scoring start in a 4-0 rout of African champions Nigeria, although her delight turned to despair when the recurrence of an old injury ended her World Cup 36 minutes in.
The European champions regrouped to beat Chinese Taipei 3-0 as Bettina Wiegmann converted the first Women's World Cup penalty and the skilful Heidi Mohr hit her second brace in two games. Italy, in contrast, were reliant on Morace, and they needed her late goal to beat a defensively efficient Nigeria, who were not only the youngest but one of the newest sides in the tournament having been formed in January 1991. 'La Tigre' Morace could not prevent a subsequent 2-0 loss to Germany, but both the European sides were through.
As were Chinese Taipei, whose own star skipper Chou Tai Ying helped secure victory over Nigeria despite the loss of 18-year-old keeper Lin Hui Fang after six minutes to the first Women's World Cup red card.
Players and referees enter the pitch prior to the quarter-final between USA and Chinese Taipei.
Hosts fall to early Sundhage goal
A Liu Ailing bullet ricocheted off the post, Chinese keeper Zhong Honglian saved a Pia Sundhage penalty and her opposite number Elisabeth Leidinge steadfastly repelled a constant bombardment. In the end, though, this third-ever meeting between the two sides was settled by a pinpoint third-minute header from Sweden skipper Sundhage, her third goal of the tournament.
Thriller in Jiangmen
With a last-minute equaliser, a penalty decider and 100 minutes of action, Norway's battle for superiority over Italy was a thriller. Twice Norway took the lead, but twice Italy replied, the first time when Raffaella Salmaso's lucky bounce on the wet pitch deceived keeper Reidun Seth and cancelled out Birthe Hegstad's 22nd-minute opener.
Mohr to the rescue
Denmark's official World Cup song, "Going for Goals", may have been penned by midfielder Lotte Bagge, but it was Germany's prolific striker Heidi Mohr who popped up with a 98th-minute winner in Zhongshan to keep her side on track and into the semi-finals. It was the 24-year-old's sixth goal of the tournament and perhaps her most important for the two-time European champions in China.
The Akers-Stahl show
Before the USA ran out against underdogs Chinese Taipei in Foshan, no player had ever hit five goals in a single match in any FIFA World Cup. By the time the Americans left the pitch having crushed their opponents 7-0, their striker Michelle Akers-Stahl had. "It was like wow, wow, wow, good, oh my gosh," she would later recall. "It was sort of mind-blowing."
As half-time approached, Sweden were ahead, but then Hege Riise was felled in the penalty area, spot-kick specialist Tina Svensson stepped up, slotted home and the game was wide open. By full time, Norway had four goals to Sweden's one.
Bagging two of them, one a mere 30 seconds into the second half, was policewoman and Norwegian club football's top scorer Linda Medalen. Used as a central defender in the European Championship in July, she made her mark as a striker in China. Sweden would go on to battle Germany for third place, but Norway were set for the first-ever Women's World Cup Final.
The answer was, of course, a resounding yes, and the 15,000 spectators, who included the legendary Pelé, were treated not just to a Jennings hat-trick, but a back-flicked Mohr goal and a Heinrichs double. Only Akers-Stahl missed out, although the 5'10" forward certainly played her part and hit a 17th-minute rocket from 25 yards out that rattled not only the post but the two-time European champions too.
Without their injured captain Silvia Neid at the helm and with less than three days' grace since their extra-time exertions against Denmark, Germany were unable to match the athleticism and firepower of the USA.
The inspirational Mohr and rising talent Bettina Wiegmann got on the scoresheet, beating keeper Mary Harvey, an FSV Frankfurt player at the time, with two fine goals. By then though, "Crazy Legs" Jennings had done the damage and USA skipper Heinrichs coolly finished the job off.
"I was like, of course we're going to win. It wasn't even a question."
When it came down to it, Norway and the USA were the two best teams in the tournament. Both operated with three strikers, both boasted an array of technically brilliant players, and both had seen off some of the newest and oldest teams in the women's game to reach the Final. With so much riding on the result, neither would play with the panache that had brought them to this moment, but both were confident they could win.
Saturday 30 November 1991
Norway 1 - 2 USA
With a full complement of stars at his disposal, USA manager Anson Dorrance knew they had a chance. As did Norway forward Hege Riise, who gave a cheeky smile when the television cameras passed her in the line-up. "When we stood there ready for the Final, thinking about everything we had accomplished, we felt confident that we could perform against the USA as well," she said.
With goalkeeper Reidun Seth passing a late fitness test, coach Even Pellerud was able to send his best XI out for what was also Norway's 100th international match. Having featured in every Norway game since their debut in 1978, defender Gunn Nyborg was a centurion too and was later handed the match ball by three-time FIFA World Cup winner Pelé.
There was no time for sentiment out on the pitch though, as Akers-Stahl showed when she stormed into the penalty area to power home a header with deadly accuracy against the run of play for 1-0. Anything Akers-Stahl could do, Norway's Linda Medalen could too and with keeper Mary Harvey struggling to reach a looping free kick in the box, the 26-year-old rose to head backwards into the net for her sixth goal of the tournament.
With extra time looming, USA coach Dorrance could feel the pressure building. "I felt like I was creating diamonds in my lower intestines from the pressure," he would later admit. Then up popped cool-as-a-cucumber Akers-Stahl, who pounced on Tina Svensson's rushed backpass, dinked the ball beyond the outstretched hand of Seth with her left foot and slotted it home with her right.
It was the USA's 25th goal of the tournament, the 99th of one of the highest-scoring FIFA competitions ever, and it confirmed the Americans as worthy winners of the inaugural Women's World Cup.
Scenes from the Final
Title IX leads to titles one, two, three, and four!
Of the four world titles won so far by the Americans, the triumph in 1991 may have received the least coverage of them all, but it was a hugely significant achievement and recognition did come when the team was invited to the White House to meet President George Bush. And the government could congratulate itself in having played an important role in creating the environment that had enabled women’s football to flourish in the country.
19 years earlier, in 1972, the federal government had enacted a ground-breaking piece of legislation that dramatically changed the prospects for women in the country and for women’s sport in particular. Title IX stated that there could be no discrimination based on gender in the funding of education. Given the huge amounts invested by colleges and universities in men’s sport, women’s sport consequently received a massive boost in funding with women’s soccer one of the major beneficiaries of this change.
Title IX had turbo charged the US Women’s National Team, or the USWNT as it is often referred to, and the 1991 squad were the pioneers in leading the charge to the world and Olympic titles that followed in their wake. Other nations have been forced to play catch up ever since.