The Women's World Cup begins this week! A tournament that has consistently provided us with breathtaking moments of skill, determination, and triumph on the global stage, we are sure the competition in Australia and New Zealand will continue to create stories and a legacy that will see the game continue to grow. From the tournament's inception in 1991 to the most recent edition in 2019, women's football has captured the hearts and minds of fans worldwide. From historic goals to thrilling comebacks, from record-breaking performances to ground-breaking achievements, in this piece we will take a closer look at the 10 greatest moments in Women's World Cup history.
10. Abby Wambach Equalises at the Death (2011)
USA 2-2 Brazil (USA won 5-3 on pens)
There are many elements to football that make it the beautiful game, but few can rival the drama and emotion of a last minute goal. Abby Wambach's 'header heard around the world' certainly gave football fans a moment that few will ever forget. Four years after the US had been destroyed 4-0 by Brazil, the two nations met again in Dresden, Germany. After a brace from Brazilian forward Marta put the South American nation 2-1 up in extra-time, time appeared to be running out for the US, who were seeking a first World Cup triumph in 12 years. With just seconds to play, the US broke forward and the ball was played out to Megan Rapinoe on the left wing. Swinging in an inch-perfect cross, Brazilian goalkeeper Andreia would miss the ball and see it land perfectly on the head of Wambach. Nestling in the bottom-right corner, the US bench was sent into a wave of euphoria as jubilant scenes followed. The resulting penalty shootout would see the US score all five spot-kicks and reach the semi-finals once again.
9. Norway win the World Cup (1995)
Norway 2-0 Germany
Four years after the success of the first Women's World Cup, the tournament was to be hosted by Sweden. Sweden had finished as runners-up to neighbours Norway in FIFA's invitational experiment in 1988 and it would be the Norwegians who once again emerged as champions seven years later. The nation had displayed a ruthless attacking edge, scoring 24 goals on their route to the final in Solna. Hege Riise's midfield performances had caught the eye and the goalscoring talents of Ann Aarones propelled the Gresshoppene to the edge of glory. Meeting Norway in the final was Germany, a side fresh from impressive victories over England and China. However, it would be Riise who stole the show in Solna, putting Norway 1-0 up before Marianne Pettersen finished the tie. Norway's win had proven their credentials as one of the world's finest women's teams and one that could rival the US' dominance of the sport.
8. Germany Win the World Cup Without Conceding a Goal (2007)
Germany 2-0 Brazil
Entering the 2007 Women's World Cup, Germany were aiming to become the first international side to win back-to-back World Cups since Brazil won the men's tournament in 1962. The side, managed by Silvia Neid, were in esteemed company at the finals and winning the title would be a tough ask. However, boasting superstars like goalkeeper Nadine Angerer, Kerstin Garefrekes and goalscoring maestro Birgit Prinz, anything was possible. Indeed, before the final against Brazil, Germany had progressed without conceding a single goal. Balancing their excellent defence with a ruthless attack (as shown in the 11-0 demolition of Argentina), Prinz and Simon Laudehr would secure a 2-0 historic victory and successfully defend their title. Germany's victory helped to showcase the ever-improving standards in women's football and demonstrate how a nation should build on success to create an even brighter future.
7. Nia Kunzer's Golden Goal (2003)
Germany 2-1 Sweden (a.e.t, gg)
Following China's withdrawal as hosts of the World Cup due to the outbreak of SARS, the USA would once again welcome to the best players in the world in 2003. A tournament that never quite reached the astronomical heights of 1999, the competition could still boast one of the game's most memorable moments. After the USWNT and China underperformed, the 2003 Final would see Germany face Sweden in Los Angeles. An excellent match would see both sides trade goals, ending all square at 1-1. During the extra-time period, it would be substitute defender, Nia Kunzer who rose highest to head Germany to victory. The goal was the to be the last use of 'golden goal' in a major international tournament and set in motion German dominance of the sport during the 2000s. Repeating their triumph in 2007, the side were well and truly one of the game's greatest ever.
6. Carli Lloyd's World Cup Final Hat-Trick (2015)
USA 5-2 Japan
The 2015 World Cup Final saw the USA and Japan face off for the ultimate prize in women's football. A repeat of the 2011 final, both sides were looking to make history. Most pundits predicted a close game, with many writing that US attacking midfielder Carli Lloyd could be the difference following her excellent performances throughout the tournament. Incredibly, within just 16 minutes, the US were 4-0 up - Lloyd scoring a fantastic hat-trick in the process. Lloyd's third goal was a class above the rest. Controlling the ball in her own half, the US Captain would shoot from just inside the Japanese half and lob 'keeper Ayumi Kaihori to send the American supporters wild. At the end of the game, Lloyd would lift the World Cup and take home the golden ball for best player in the competition. Furthermore, her hat-trick goal would receive a Puskas nomination.
5. The First Women's World Cup Final (1991)
USA 2-1 Norway
"Women's football is now well and truly established" were the words of FIFA president Joao Havelange after the 1991 World Cup Final as the USA defeated Norway in China. Indeed, after two weeks of intense competition, a US dream team featuring the mercurial talents of Mia Hamm, Michele Akers and Carin Jennings would defeat Scandinavian nation Norway in front of a raucous 65,000 in Guangzhou. Jennings and Akers were joined by captain April Heinrichs to form the famous 'triple-edged sword' in attack for the US. Amazingly, the trio managed to score 20 of the side's 25 goals in China. In the final, it would be Akers who opened the scoring in the 20th minute as she powerfully headed Shannon Higgins’ free-kick past Norwegian keeper Reidun Seth. Following a quick equaliser, Akers would win the game for the US late in the second half and create history. Lifting the cup in front of the capacity crowd, the side had achieved something the men’s side had not. Women’s football was here to stay.
4. Marta's Brazilian Brilliance Beats the USA (2007)
Brazil 4-0 USA
Football history has been filled with incredible individual performances but few can rival Marta's exceptional exhibition against USA at the 2007 World Cup. Both sides would meet in Hangzhou for the tournament's semi-final and entered the fixture in form. Brazil had been outstanding throughout the competition, scoring 13 goals whereas the US (who hadn't lost for 51 matches) had grown into the tournament after a shaky start which included a shock draw against North Korea. Taking a 1-0 lead following a Leslie Osborne own goal, Marta would cement her place as one of the sport's all-time greats seven minutes later. Winning the ball deep in the American half, the forward would mesmerise the US defence and fire a low shot beyond the dive of Brianna Scurry. Even after scoring an outstanding goal, Marta's match was not finished. 11 minutes before the full-time whistle, the Brazilian superstar would collect a bouncing ball on the left-wing and flick it around Tina Ellertson before weaving around Cat Whitehill and once again shooting low past Scurry. Brazil were in dreamland. A 4-0 victory over the world's best secured the Selecao's place in the final and Marta's place in football history.
3. Megan Rapinoe Stands Tall for Women (2019)
USA 2-0 France
Throughout their history, the USWNT have never been afraid to break down barriers and shatter people's preconceptions of women's football. Despite years of progress, negative opinions (often misogynistic and homophobic) have unfortunately, and unfairly, tarnished the game. In 2019, US co-captain Megan Rapinoe had created headlines worldwide for both her immense talent on the pitch and her activism off it. Prior to her sides' World Cup quarter-final with France, her outspoken views against the controversial opinions of President Donald Trump had seen her face ‘an onslaught of opinions, praise, criticism, love and hate’. Despite what had felt like a 'microscope focused on her', the pink-haired Rapinoe would score an excellent brace to see her nation progress. It would be her celebration, however, that saw one the game's most iconic images of defiance - running to the corner flag, and standing proudly with arms wide and aloft, Rapinoe would show the world that she wasn't going anywhere!
2. Homare Sawa's 117th Minute World Cup Final Equaliser for Japan (2011)
Japan 2-2 USA (Japan won 3-1 on pens)
After a breath-taking 90 minutes had ended all square, the women's World Cup Final went to extra-time again. Abby Wambach's 104th minute strike had seemingly put the USWNT on course for a 3rd title but with just three minutes to play, Japan earned a corner in the 117th minute. Swung into the near post by Miyama, the ball was met with an audacious flick from captain, Homare Sawa. Hitting the back of the net, the Japanese bench euphorically emerged from their seats to celebrate. Sawa, a symbol of the national team for the previous decade, had scored the greatest goal in her nation’s history. Heading into the shootout, the US were visibly deflated and following misses from Shannon Boxx, Tobin Heath and Carli Lloyd, the World Cup was heading to Japan. An ‘astonishing success’, the victory would prove pivotal to the women’s game. Japan had become the first Asian champions (men or women) of football’s greatest prize. Just four months after an earthquake and tsunami which had rocked the nation to its very core, the efforts of the Nadeshiko had galvanised the country into triumphant celebrations. Homare Sawa - captain of Japan’s history makers!
1. Brandi Chastain's penalty wins the World Cup (1999)
USA 0-0 China (USA won 5-4 on pens)
Before the 1999 Women’s World Cup Final, expectations were high. Host nation, the United States, expected the victory, but China would be a world-class opponent. Over 90,000 fans were crammed into the Pasadena Rose Bowl to witness the match and despite profiting from a tournament laden with goals (123 in total), the final would end goalless after extra-time. The raucous fans, including President Bill Clinton, had witnessed an encounter balanced on a knife-edge. A penalty shootout would follow and see both teams comfortably slotting away their respective spot-kicks. The turning point came following a Briana Scurry save from Liu Ying, offering the chance for defender Brandi Chastain to send 90,000 screaming fans into utter pandemonium. Thumping the ball into the top left-hand corner, a euphoric Chastain would remove her shirt and create one of the defining images of the decade. Numerous articles have been dedicated to this moment alone as the image of the US left-back on her knees became splashed on every newspaper and magazine in the States. The tournament in 1999 had set the standard and created a platform for the women's game around the world.
©The Football History Boys, 2023