The wait is over. A month after this summer’s football showpiece event kicked off in Paris, the FIFA Women’s World Champions will be crowned in Lyon on Sunday evening. The defending champions and clear favourites United States of America will face the European champions Netherlands in the finale.
It will be a battle between two nations with completely contrasting mentalities when it comes to women’s football. The US women’s national team have been the trailblazers when it comes to this sport, leading the way for other countries, not just in terms of improving the quality of football on offer, but also in developing the game at the grassroots level. As the United States are within touching distance of achieving a remarkable feat of winning two consecutive World Cups, there has been a lot of discussion surrounding the Title IX Legislation which was enacted in 1972.
However, it isn’t simply policies but also a relentless zeal to taste success which has set them apart.
Contrast that to the Dutch, where women’s football is the fastest growing national sport, but even a decade back, women footballers there met with ridicule and were dismissed as complete wannabes. Netherlands’ meteoric rise through the ranks since the establishment of Eredivisie Vrouwen in 2007 is barely a fluke.
“I think the potential has been in the Netherlands for a long period of time, but the facilities weren’t there,” Netherlands head coach Sarina Wiegman told reporters ahead of the game. “When the Eredivisie started, players got better facilities and could train more. They developed so much – they could suddenly improve. Then when you are at big tournaments – the Euros and the World Cup – you improve even more,” opined Wiegman and rightly so.
That women’s football has permeated the cloak of general consciousness this summer is a barely concealed fact, but it isn’t merely due to the idealistic concepts of gender equality and feminism.
The quality of football on display has been excellent – teams coming up with varied tactical approaches to one-up each other, all the while playing with unbridled enthusiasm, simply proving why the layman has been wrong to ignore women’s football for so long.
The final at Parc Olympique de Lyonnais will see two teams so far unbeaten in the tournament take on each other. The USWNT, with their abundance of riches when it comes to their soccer squad are expected to put on yet another solid display. Alex Morgan and Co have blown off opponents with their charismatic performances, their stylish celebrations which made the news often glossing over the fact that Jill Ellis has a team at her disposal which wins matches with ease even when they are not playing at their full efficiency.
Netherlands, on the other hand, will relish the ‘underdog’ label, for they admitted time and again that pressure and expectations from their home fans has been their primary adversary this past month. Gone are the days when Netherlands’ debut in the European Championships back in 2009 was itself a source of pride and their marginal defeat to Japan in the 2015 Women’s World Cup was accepted as norm. The Dutch may be years behind the transformation which the USWNT has gone through over the last two decades, but they will be no pushovers.
The humid climate of Lyon, combined with the fact that they had to play two hours of gruelling football against Sweden in the semi-finals with one lesser day to recover is surely a drawback. But if the attacking trio of Lieke Mertens, Vivianne Miadem and Shanice van de Sanden are on song, nothing is beyond them. After all, as Wiegman put it, “It is one match – anything could happen.”
Holland’s biggest obstacle on Sunday will be the team spirit possessed by the USWNT. As far as the United States are concerned, it is less of a football team, more of a family which has come together to scale a new summit. As Megan Rapinoe described it aptly, “The highlight for me, being one of the older players – one of the captains and a veteran – is seeing the younger players rise to this occasion.”
Considering the sheer volume of superstars in their side, it is refreshing to watch the footballers revel in each other’s glory, their cumulative goal taking precedence over individual feats. “For me, every game there is another moment that is so special about this team,” Rapinoe added. “Everyone always talks about with a team that you want that camaraderie, but we really do have a tight team. Whoever needs to be leaned on, the whole team is comfortable leaning on that person,” summarised the Reign FC skipper.
Whoever wins on Sunday, this edition of the FIFA Women’s World Cup has been a celebration of women’s football, the much-needed spectacle which would take the sport from the periphery of conversation into the dead epicentre. There have been plenty of flagbearers to enrich the game throughout this past month, and these two teams could only augment the tenet, all the while achieving their own dreams in the process.
Updated Date: Jul 07, 2019 11:34:28 IST