This Saturday, the largest and longest Women’s World Cup in history kicks off in Edmonton, Canada.
With 24 teams and 52 games, this year’s tournament — which will be played in six cities, from Vancouver in the west, to tiny Moncton in the Maritime Provinces — will be the biggest as well as the most competitive in Women’s World Cup history.
And in another break from tradition, for the first time, the U.S. does not go into the tournament as the No. 1 team in FIFA world rankings.
This year, that honour goes to Germany.
However, it’s a crown the Germans are wearing lightly, because as many as half a dozen other teams can be considered serious contenders.
In addition to Germany and USA; France, Brazil, host Canada, Sweden and defending champion Japan all have a realistic shot at winning the title.
Then just behind them, are England, Norway and Switzerland, who is playing in their first Women’s World Cup, could surprise.
Former sweeper Doris Fitschen, and now manager of the two-time champion Germans.
International women’s football has developed enormously. The group of favourites used to be small at World Cups. Now eight teams are in the running.
The overall level of performance has improved, and the differences in quality between teams have continuously gotten smaller.”
And that growth has led many federations to increase the amount of money and resources they are devoting to women’s football.
Brazil, for example, has established a residency program that allows its players to train year-round, and Germany has 18 full-time employees — more than the U.S. — as well as an excellent youth-development program.
Mia Hamm, who played in four World Cups for the U.S. said
They’ve set up an environment where they’re able to continue even their young players training with their staff coaches. Japan has put an investment on that. And we have too. But we’ve probably done it about four or five years later.”
So whoever wins this summer in Canada will have certainly earned it.