The FIFA Women’s World Cup in Canada is off to a terrific start with encouraging attendance and television viewership for Canada and the U.S.—and some wonderful soccer to boot.
The host nation is fully behind its team while the powerful neighbours to the South have the best traveling support. Canada and the U.S. won their openers and aim to be in Vancouver on July 5 to play for the Winner’s Trophy. But there’s a long way to go before talking finals.
With every team having played their opening games, much still remains in the air, but the favored teams have all started with important wins. Germany, U.S., France, and defending champion Japan—the top four teams in the rankings all won.
Canada was inexplicably handed a get-out-of-jail card by China who had defended so well to frustrate the hosts for 90 minutes. Substitute Adriana Leon was elbowed and knocked to the ground leaving referee Kateyna Monzul of Ukraine no choice but to award a penalty kick.
With the pressure of a record attendance for a national team game of 53,058 watching, captain Christine Sinclair calmly slotted the ball off the goal post and into the net for the only goal of the game.
“Good start for Canada, three points in the bag, exactly where we want to be,” said Canada head coach John Herdman after the match. And that’s all that matters after the first game.
According to official broadcaster TSN, viewership peaked at 2.6 million viewers as Sinclair took the penalty. The average viewership was 1.8 million, making it the most-watched women’s World Cup match ever in Canada.
The road gets more difficult for Canada to finish off the group stage with games against New Zealand on Thursday in Edmonton and Monday in Montreal against Netherlands.
But the motivation cannot be greater as finishing first in the group means a far easier road to the semifinal.
Group of Death
As expected, Group D, featuring USA, Nigeria, Sweden, and Australia, produced the two best games of any group. Fifth-ranked Sweden was expected to get past 33rd-ranked Nigeria, but the Swedes were pegged back from 2–0 and 3–2 leads in the second half.
Nigeria and Sweden put on a fantastic thrill ride in Winnipeg on Monday. Nigeria’s strength in attack, mainly from Asisat Oshoala, exposed Sweden’s normally sound defense and stands as only “upset” thus far—a 3–3 draw. A game with two teams that can attack, but don’t always defend well is a recipe for excitement, though the respective coaches may not see things that way.
The U.S. team’s support led to a crowd of over 31,000 in Winnipeg and it was rewarded by a dominant second half performance in a 3–1 win against a quality Australia team, ranked No. 10. Outstanding individual efforts are immediately appreciated by fans, and goalkeeper Hope Solo’s saves and Megan Rapinoe’s two goals are among the best performances put forth by any player in the tournament so far.
Support behind the U.S. team topped Game 3 of the Stanley Cup final in 38 of 56 metred markets, according to the Washington Post. The U.S. opener had 208 percent more television viewership than its opener in Germany 2011, according to SportsTVRatings.com. Women’s soccer is definitely on the rise in North America.
The tournament has grown this year to 24 teams, up from 16 in 2011. And after the first set of matches, the gap between the established powers and some of the newcomers seem quite large.
Eight teams are making their first appearance in this tournament. A couple of those teams—Netherlands and Cameroon—came away with victories, while Ivory Coast, Thailand, and Ecuador were shut out and surrendered 10, 4, and 6 goals respectively—an abrupt welcome to the difficulty of this tournament.
The tournament is also being played in six cities and across five time zones. That is a first for a Women’s World Cup.
Moncton is the smallest Canadian city to be hosting games. It got a peach of a first game—a quarterfinal-worthy matchup in France defeating England 1–0. Good for Moncton, since it won’t host a game after the Round of 16—another new wrinkle to the knock-out stages of this World Cup.
Ottawa, unfortunately, has yet to see some competitive soccer. The nation’s capital witnessed top-ranked Germany destroying Ivory Coast and Norway, one of seven teams to have participated in every World Cup, outclassing Thailand on Sunday.
There are going to be some mismatches in the early stages, but longer term, the added teams is a boon for growing the women’s game around the world.
The action only gets better from here.
Follow Rahul on Twitter @RV_ETSports