The History and Evolution of FIFA Women’s World Cup

The biggest stage in football is three months away, as Australia and New Zealand prepare to host the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup from July 20 to August 20. As we prepare for the ninth edition of the Women’s World Cup, let’s take a look back into the tournament’s past in order to get ready for its future.


The first-ever women’s World Cup was held in China in 1991. This laid the foundation for what was about to come for women’s football. 12 teams participated with USA beating Norway in the finals 2–1 to win the World Cup. 63,000 fans watched the final in the stadium and millions watched from television screens, with the tournament’s jaw-dropping success paving the way for the next three decades of the competition.


The second Women’s World Cup was held in Sweden in 1995 with 12 teams from Nigeria to Japan competing in the tournament. Having lost the previous World Cup Final, Norway would reach another final after beating Denmark and the U.S. 18,000 spectators turned up for a rain-soaked match that would see Norway defeat Germany 2-0 to secure the title in Solna.


The World Cup phenomenon continued to grow, women’s football was climbing the ladder very quickly, and in order to match that increasing popularity, FIFA had to increase the number of teams for the next edition. The 1999 edition would see 16 teams compete, with the inaugural winners hosting the tournament in the United States. The USA would beat Germany and Brazil before drawing 0-0 in the final to China.


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Penalties were needed to decide the fixture, with the U.S. prevailing 5-4 in front of a crowd of 91,000 people at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. The U.S. would host the following tournament and were heavily favored to repeat, but they failed to recognize the threat of a rising Germany side that had been baying for blood following their agonizing defeat in 1995, and this time, they didn’t come up empty-handed.


Germany thrashed Russia 7-1 before breezing past the U.S. 3-0 in Portland. 26 million people tuned into the final, the most-watched most watched women’s football match in history at the time. Germany faced off against Sweden in a match that would go to extra time, with Nia Künzer scoring a golden goal to secure a 2-1 victory in Carson, California.


Now, Germany had the chance to do what the USA had squandered” win back-to-back World Cups. The 2007 tournament was held in China, with Germany opening the tournament with a record 11-0 thrashing of Argentina in Shanghai. Marta won the Golden Ball and Golden Shoe with 7 goals and 5 assists to lead Brazil to the final, where they would lose 2-0 to Germany. They did not conceded a single goal all tournament and became the first women’s team to win back-to-back World Cups, something that Germany’s men’s team has never been able to do.


The 2011 World Cup was held in Germany, with the hosts winning all of their group stage matches to face off against Japan. The match headed to extra time with neither side managing to find the back of the net, but in the 108th minute, Karina Maruyama scored to lead Japan to a 1-0 victory in Wolfsburg and one of the greatest upsets in the competition’s history.


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Japan would follow that up by beating Sweden 3-1 and drawing 2-2 with the United States, with Aya Miyama equalizing just 12 minutes after Alex Morgan’s opener to force extra time, whilst Homare Sawa equalized in the 117th minute following Abby Wambach’s goal. Japan prevailed 3-1 on penalties to break the hearts of the American players and supporters, ending Germany’s dominance on the world stage and announcing themselves as the new queens of the women’s game.


For the first time, the 2015 Women’s World Cup would see 24 teams compete in Canada. Desperate for revenge, the United States defeated Colombia, China and Germany to reach the final in Vancouver, whilst Japan defeated the Netherlands, Australia and England. This time, the U.S. left nothing to chance, taking a 4-0 lead within 16 minutes via a Carli Lloyd hat-trick and a goal from Lauren Holiday and securing a 5-2 victory to claim their first World Cup in 16 years.


The 2019 edition was held in France, a country that was riding on the highs of their success in the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Eager to replicate the success of the men’s team the previous year, France won each of their three group stage matches and beat Brazil in extra time before taking on the United States in the quarterfinals. Despite an inspired performance from Les Bleues, the U.S. were too much to handle and won 2-1 in Paris via a brace from Megan Rapinoe.


They would defeat England 2-1 to return to the final, where they would face off against a Netherlands side that had beaten Japan, Italy, and Sweden. Rapinoe broke the deadlock from the penalty spot at the hour-mark, whilst Rose Lavelle added another shortly after to secure a 2-0 win. USWNT manager Jill Ellis became the first manager to win back-to-back World Cups since Vittorio Pozzo guided Italy to the title in 1934 and 1938, before stepping down from her role after the tournament and being replaced by Vlatko Andonovski.


The 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup will be the first of its kind to have more than one host nation, and it will be the first to feature 32 teams. It remains to be seen whether or not the U.S. claim a third straight title or not, but one thing’s for sure: women’s football is growing at a rapid rate, and it’s set to take center stage this summer in what promises to be an epic tournament.


By: @Sportscasmm

Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Naomi Baker / Getty Images