A milestone World Cup

The Japanese Women's National Team celebrates their win at the FIFA Women's World Cup Germany 2011 with the World Cup Trophy. © Imago
© Imago

Ten years ago Japan became the first Asian country to win a senior World Cup title at the FIFA Women's World Cup Germany 2011™. We look back on a tournament that was an important milestone in the development of women's football.

In October 2007, when FIFA chose Germany to host the FIFA Women's World Cup in 2011, the decision seemed only logical. Not only is Germany known for its pioneering role in women's football, the country had also impressively demonstrated its hosting qualities just one year earlier. The summer of 2006 was dominated by the FIFA World Cup in Germany and the rest of the world was impressed by the Germans' hospitality and joie de vivre during that tournament.

Exactly one month before the Women's World Cup 2011 hosting rights were awarded, the German women's team won their second consecutive World Cup title at the 2007 tournament. Four years later, they would have the historically unique opportunity to turn that back-to-back win into a hat-trick on home soil.

A year before the Women’s World Cup began, the successful hosting of the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup dispelled any last doubts.

Accreditation of LOC-President Steffi Jones. A World Cup winner as a player in 2003, Jones was in charge of organising the finals in 2011. | FIFA Museum Collection
Accreditation of LOC-President Steffi Jones. A World Cup winner as a player in 2003, Jones was in charge of organising the finals in 2011. | FIFA Museum Collection

Nine venues for the World Cup
The local organising committee was led by former German international Steffi Jones. Eight years before the World Cup, Jones herself had won the title with the German team. As LOC President, she was one of the people responsible for the fact that the World Cup was played at a total of nine different venues. In addition, when scheduling the matches, it was planned that each of the six group matches would be played in a different city. This, combined with affordable ticket prices, was intended to give the tournament the widest possible exposure.

The plan succeeded and the matches were well attended. The audience created a fantastic atmosphere at every match, not only those played by the German team. The opening match in Berlin, which Germany won 2-1 against Canada, even set a new European record for spectators at women's football, with 73,680 people in the sold-out Berlin Olympic Stadium. This was then surpassed a year later at the final of the women's football tournament of the Olympic Games at London's Wembley Stadium between the USA and Japan (2-1) with over 80,000 spectators.

The favourites survive the group stage
The 2012 Olympic match for gold was, incidentally, a rematch of the 2011 World Cup Final, but more on that later. First, we look at the group stage. As hosts and reigning world champions, Germany started the tournament in Group A with three wins, including a 4-2 victory against the eventual semi-finalists from France.

Armband worn by Japan’s World Cup winning captain Homare Sawa. At the tournament Sawa won the Golden Ball and Golden Boot – the fourth consecutive player to win both awards. | FIFA Museum Collection
Armband worn by Japan’s World Cup winning captain Homare Sawa. At the tournament Sawa won the Golden Ball and Golden Boot – the fourth consecutive player to win both awards. | FIFA Museum Collection

Group B was also dominated by favourites England, runners-up in the 2009 European Championships. England and Japan won the group, but Mexico and New Zealand also performed well. New Zealand, in their third appearance, earned their first World Cup point with a last-minute equaliser against Mexico. For group runners-up Japan, captain Homare Sawa laid the foundations for winning the goalscoring crown with a hat-trick in the second group game. It was not to be the last time she made headlines during the tournament.

In Groups C and D, favourites - Sweden, USA, Brazil and Australia - also prevailed. Colombia and Equatorial Guinea, both making their World Cup debuts, finished bottom of their respective groups, but enjoyed their first World Cup point (Colombia) and first two World Cup goals (Equatorial Guinea).

Surprise in the quarter-finals
The quarter-finals were a tight affair. Sweden's 3-1 win over Australia was the only match that was decided after 90 minutes. France’s victory over England and the USA’s over Brazil were both decided in a penalty shootout. The Brazil - USA match was particularly spectacular because the USA was almost eliminated before Abby Wambach rescued her team with an equaliser just seconds before the final whistle.

The big surprise in the quarter-finals, however, was the unexpected elimination of the German hosts. The only goal of the match was scored by Japan's Karina Maruyama after a dream pass from Homare Sawa in the 108th minute. It was the first World Cup defeat for the Germans since the 1999 World Cup and was the end of their dream of a record third consecutive title.

Japan shocks the USA
After defeating the last remaining teams from Europe 3-1 in each of their two semi-finals, it came to a duel between the USA and Japan. For the USA it was their third appearance in the Final, while it was Japan’s first time facing off for the world title. It was to be a great moment in women's football.

In the thrilling match, which was highly exciting from the start, the slightly favoured Americans took the lead in both the first half of regulation time and the first half of extra time, but Japan always managed to equalise shortly before the end. Homare Sawa's 117th-minute goal earned her the adidas Golden Boot as the tournament's top scorer and gave her team a chance to win the title on penalties. The Nadeshiko proved to have the better nerves and won 3-1.

The outstanding player in Japan's strong collective was top-scorer captain Homare Sawa, who was awarded the Golden Boot as well as the Golden Ball as the best player of the tournament. She was instrumental in Japan becoming the first Asian country to win a FIFA World Cup (men's or women's!).

 

 

World Cup proves high-level performance
The Women's World Cup 2011 in Germany was not only a success for the Japanese. Women's football was also able to impressively demonstrate its improved quality throughout the tournament. The fact that only five of the 32 matches ended with a three-or-more goal difference and that three out of four quarter-finals were decided only in extra time or in a penalty shoot-out, proves the narrowing of the skills gap between teams.

In its analysis, FIFA's technical report on the tournament particularly emphasises the clear development in both technical and tactical areas. What was particularly noteworthy was the improved defensive work and the cultivated build-up of play, especially among the more-experienced teams. Switching from defense to attack was also much quicker compared to earlier tournaments. In general, individual ability was no longer sufficient for great success. Instead teamwork and team unity prevailed.

Panini album for the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2011. This was the first Women’s World Cup for which Panini produced an album. | FIFA Museum Collection
Panini album for the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2011. This was the first Women’s World Cup for which Panini produced an album. | FIFA Museum Collection

Women's football is further established
In addition to the sporting development, the Women's World Cup 2011 also ensured that women's football became more and more established in society. Apart from high ticket sales, this can be observed in media coverage, which set new standards both in terms of production quality and viewer numbers.

Another example of the increasing popularity is the launch of a collectible and tradable sticker album. For the Women's World Cup 2011, Panini launched its first-ever sticker album for a women's football World Cup. Although this was only available in the host country Germany, it was extremely successful. Surprised by the success, Panini even had to reprint the coveted stickers as they were sold out. At the next tournament four years later, the Panini sticker album or the 2015 Women’s World Cup was distributed worldwide.

 

 

All about the FIFA Women0s World Cup Germany 2011™ on fifa.com.