History of the FIFA Women's World Cup

August 17, 2007
By ESPNsoccernet

First conceived by the then-FIFA President Joao Havelange in 1989, the Women's World Cup has, in less than a decade, evolved from one man's ambition into the premier event in women's football across the globe.

GettyImagesGermany celebrate World Cup triumph in 2003

The dream came to life at the inaugural tournament in November 1991 hosted by China. It featured 12 teams from six continents battling it out in a series of games to be crowned the first-ever Women's World Champion.

The competition began with a group stage splitting the 12 competing nations into three groups of four who played one another in a round-robin format in order to decide the top two teams from each group which progressing to the knockout stage, plus the best third-placed side.

The competition progressed until the first ever Women's World Cup trophy was awarded to the USA who were the stars of the inaugural tournament with an unbeaten record and the tournament's overall top goal scoring team with their main striker, Michelle Akers, winning the Golden Boot award and Carin Jennings winning the Golden Ball.

The US played Norway in the final where the score was 1-1 and seemed destined to go into extra-time until Akers scored the winning goal for the US in front of a crowd of 65,000 at Guangzhou's Tianhe Stadium.

Norway were the disappointed runners-up while Sweden won the third-place play-off against Germany who finished fourth but took home the FIFA Fair Play award. With the titles awarded and the results official the first Women's World Cup tournament ended for another four years.

June 1995 took the World Cup to Sweden where the world's best dozen teams gathered for a second time to not only play for the world cup but also qualification for the first women's Olympic Football Tournament the following year in Atlanta, Georgia.

FIFA used the 1995 tournament as an opportunity to experiment with the time-out concept, a rule which enabled each team to call one two-minute break per half. But, with hardly any teams taking this opportunity, the rule was tightened restricting the breaks to a time when a break was imminent such as after a goal was scored, a throw-in about to be taken or a goal-kick.

So, with two prizes up for grabs, the tournament got underway with the group stages. The top qualifiers were Germany, Norway and USA; second-place qualifiers were Sweden, England and China PR whilst Japan and Denmark qualified as the top third place finishers to play in the quarter-finals.

The results left Germany, Norway, USA and China PR in the semi-finals from which Germany and Norway reached the final.

This was Norway's second consecutive final and, unlike their previous final, they came out victorious with a 2-0 win over Germany to capture the Women's World Cup title.

Alongside runners-up Germany the USA ran in third and China finished the tournament in fourth place. Other awards included the Golden Ball which went to Norway's Hege Riise, Norway's Kirstin-Ann Aarones took home the Golden Boot award while the FIFA Fair Play award was bestowed upon the host nation Sweden.

The final World Cup of the century proved to be the beginning of a new era of success for women's football and stamped itself as a milestone in the history of women's sport.

The host nation for the 1999 tournament was the USA and they staged a World Cup of unprecedented proportions. The games were played in huge stadiums, attracted new record attendances, media coverage and television audiences.

GettyImagesMia Hamm was just one of the US players to become a household name after 1999

For the 1999 event the number of teams competing for the title swelled to 16 contesting a groups stage divided into four groups of four teams. The top two sides progressed to the quarter-finals, and featured the true powerhouses of the women's game: China, Russia, Norway, Sweden, Germany, USA, Brazil and Nigeria.

Playing for the first time in the World Cup finals China made the most of their appearance in the semi-finals, thrashing the title holders Norway 5-0 to reach the final. They were to be joined by host nation the USA, who had beaten Brazil 2-0 in the other semi-final.

The final proved to be a seminal moment in the history of the women's game and, along with tournament as a whole, made household names of many of the US sides player, such as Mia Hamm, Brandi Chastain.

Played at the Rose Bowl in California a record 90,185 fans, including former president Bill Clinton, packed into the stadium to witness the final in which the home side won 5-4 on penalties crowning USA the World Champions for the second time.

China ended as runners-up, a terrific achievement on their tournament debut. Their striker Wen Sun was awarded the Golden Ball and Golden Shoe award which she shared with Brazil's Sissi. Brazil beat Norway in the third-place play-off, while the FIFA Fair Play award was given to China.

A devastating outbreak of the SARS disease forced FIFA to switch the venue the 2003 Women's World Cup from China to the USA in what was a desperate attempt to keep the event on schedule. Luckily, everything came off without a hitch and World Cup debutantes France, Korea Republic and Argentina were introduced into the finals.

The same format as the previous tournament was adopted with eight out of the 16 teams progressing through to the quarter-finals. The first semi-final surprised the watching world as Germany pulled off a 3-0 win against strong favourites and reigning champions the USA, they progressed to the finals were they met Sweden who had clinched a 2-1 win over Canada.

The scene was set for an all European final which turned out to be fast, skilful and dramatic affair with a German golden-goal finish separating the two teams in the end.

Germany were crowned World Champions for the first time and their captain Birgit Prinz was the star of the tournament winning both the Golden Shoe and Golden Ball awards. Finalist Sweden were the bitter runners-up, USA came a disappointing third while emerging side Canada came fourth. The FIFA Fair Play award again went to China.

The young stars of 2003 are set to take centre stage in 2007 as the World Cup goes back to China, where 2008 Olympic qualifying places are also up for grabs.

For the first time in the history of the FIFA Women's World Cup all teams will be awarded monetary bonuses; those exiting the tournament at the first round stage will be awarded $200,000 with prize money increasing through to $1million for the eventually champions.

Women's football is the fastest growing sport in the world with over 40 million ladies participating in the game across the globe. The 2007 tournament will seek to show the world what a huge sport it has become.