As of the end of play on Sunday, July 3rd, we have reached the halfway mark of games played (16) at the FIFA Women’s World Cup in Germany. Judging by various factors – stadium attendance; TV ratings; host country hospitality; player reactions and enthusiasm; quality of football played; and media interest – the 2011 Women’s World Cup will undoubtedly leave a lasting impression, even before the world cup championship trophy is hoisted in Frankfurt on July 17th.
While there are too many highlights to mention, here are our top 5 winners & losers 8 days in:
Winners (Starting 11)
Japanese Women’s Team: The Nippon warriors have not only captured the hearts of football fans around the globe, but also brought their ‘A’ game to the tournament. They currently sit atop Group B with the most goals scored, including a hat-trick by captain Homare Sawa vs. Mexico.
Genoveva Anonman: The 22-year old Equatorial Guinea midfielder wasted no time making headlines in Germany with 10 shots on goal vs. Norway and 2 goals scored in the last match against Australia. While her gender may have been questioned pre-WWC, her heart and commitment to her team are unshakable. While many have been put-off by her arrogant, in your face style, I have found her outlook refreshing.
TV Ratings: More than 90% of all WWC tickets have been sold, public opinion of women’s soccer in Germany and worldwide are at an all time high, and TV ratings in the host country are unprecedented. While 18 million Germans tuned in for Germany’s opener against Canada, more than 16.6 watched the Nigeria match, accounting for 50+% of all TV viewers last Thursday. More stats can be viewed here.
Cecilia Okoyino Da Mbabi: Cecilia is quickly becoming a household name in Germany although pronouncing her name is no easy feat. The German midfielder scored the 2nd goal in her country’s victory against Canada, securing her slot as one of the starting 11. In addition to her obvious footballing skills, she is another sport poster child of the German ‘multikulti’, multi-cultural generation with foreign parents but a German passport. Nonetheless, her French mother will root for her daughter and teammates when Germany faces France next.
HERoics: As part of its 2011 Women’s World Cup coverage, ESPN aired a series of six soccer documentaries made by women, about women. The 10 minute short films profile WWC players Marta (Brazil), Kelly Smith (England), and Lisa De Vanna (Australia); and highlight unique stories about a group of grandmothers and senior citizens on a football team in Jerez, Spain; a woman referee in the Republic of Congo who earned accolades from FIFA while working through the stress of abuse from fans; and a probation officer who uses soccer to steer troubled teens away from gangs in a Central California town.
Losers (On the bench)
Birgit Prinz: Here’s another case of an aging German soccer star unwilling to see (or acknowledge) the writing on the wall. In what could turn into ‘Ballack, part two’, the German’s captain has been playing very poorly and acting worse off-the field (in reaction to her early substitutions). Time will tell how this turns out, but since the ego/psyche damage has obviously been done, I say bench the star and give U-20 World Champion Alexandra Popp her shot.
Gaal Gyoengyi: She is the Hungarian referee that missed the obvious handball (non-call) during the Australia-Equatorial Guinea match. Want more musings on this ultimate bad call and day 8 WWC action? Check out The All White kit blog women’s soccer blog.
Sepp Blatter: Not only did German WWC organizing committee members have to plead with fans to not boo the man at the Opening Ceremonies, the press was also instructed to not ask questions about the ongoing FIFA bribery allegations. In fact, FIFA was so worried about the boo birds coming out to greet Blatter, that the decision was made to not have him officially ‘open’ the tournament from the field. He was seen ‘hiding’ in the stands.
Nigerian WWC Team: Their on-field performance this world cup has been nothing short of dismal and their sportsmanship and aggressive tackling has raised eyebrows (for the wrong reasons). Just like the men’s team at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, the women are ‘3 and out’ and will be flying home undoubtedly disappointed. We are somewhat surprised by the team’s poor performance since the Nigerian U-20 team had a phenomenal showing at last year’s U-20 world cup and only lost to Germany in the final.
Anheuser-Busch: The beer giant proves once again that selling a lot of beer to a lot of people has nothing to do with making good beer. Case in point, A-B’s continued sponsorship (as the sole beer vendor) of the FIFA World Cup including this year’s WWC. I first began rioting about this when I was subjected to lukewarm Budweiser peddled at the 2006 World Cup in Germany and consequently forced to stand in very long German beer lines (1 beer stand per venue) at the stadiums. More rants and perspective on this can be read here.