Soccer, or ‘football’ as it’s called around the world, is a team sport that involves getting a ball across the goal posts of the opposing team by only using your feet. Since its invention in during 12th century England, it developed from a favorite pastime on meadows to the most popular sport in the world, with over 4 billion fans today.
It was only in the 19th century when the sport rules were standardized to prohibit violence and brutality in the game which led to more women getting involved with the sport. In 1920 one of the first women’s soccer associations, the Dick, Kerr Ladies, were crowned champions of what is considered to be the first ever international women’s association soccer match.
At present, women’s soccer is steadily gaining more popularity, with several major international competitions spotlighting incredible female athleticism on the pitch. Let’s learn more about these major women’s soccer tournaments and teams to watch out for.
FIFA Women’s World Cup
Organized by the official sport’s international governing body Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), the FIFA Women’s World Cup is a competition held every four years among the member-countries. This is comprised of the senior women’s national teams of the participating nations.
The first-ever FIFA Women’s World Cup happened in Guangdong, China in 1991. The inaugural tournament lasted for two weeks where 12 nations participated. The USA claimed the first-ever championship title.
At present, there is a three-year qualifying phase for the tournament held across six FIFA continental zones held by their respective confederations. They include the following:
- Asian Football Confederation (AFC)
- Confederation of African Football (CAF)
- Union of European Football Associations (UEFA)
- Confederation of North, Central America, Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF)
- South American Football Confederation (CONMEBOL),
- Oceania Football Confederation (OFC)
Only 23 teams can qualify to advance to the finals, the World Cup, held in the fourth year of the tournament. The host nation will automatically advance to the finals rounding out a total of 24 participating teams in the month-long World Cup finals tournament.
Teams and Hosts
Since its inauguration 30 years ago, there have been a total of eight Women’s World Cups already. The best female soccer players set foot across the continents and countries to compete for a chance to hoist the Cup. Prior host countries have been: China (1991, 2007), Sweden (1995), USA (1999, 2003), Germany (2011), Canada (2015), and France (2019). Australia and New Zealand are set to host the next Cup in 2023.
The United States of America Women’s National Soccer Team is the most successful among the nations, having won four championships together with one runner-up finish and three third-place finishes. Meanwhile, Germany has bagged the championship trophy twice, and Japan and Norway once each.
The 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup recorded a whopping 23 million American viewers, and is the all-time most-watched football match ever in the USA. In total, 750 million viewers worldwide watched the tournament.
FIFA Continental Zones Qualifiers
Before reaching the biggest stage for the FIFA Women’s World Cup, the teams undergo the grueling qualification phase for three years. This is why fans support their respective countries’ teams as they see their struggles, progress, and development through time in battling with the neighboring countries.
There are a total of six FIFA continental zone confederations that organize the qualifiers for the World Cup. This is to choose the best national team to represent the continent in the finals.
In the history of the World Cup, the UEFA Women’s Champions League has the most number of finals appearances with seven appearances and further rounds reached 48 times. CONCACAF, led by the USA Team, has five total final appearances and 20 times they have reached the quarterfinals. Even though having been in the finals three times, AFC had 29 rounds reached in total.
The following holds the record with the most wins for the respective continental zone confederation qualifiers.
- AFC – Japan (30 wins)
- CAF – Nigeria (46 wins)
- EUFA – Norway and Germany (56 wins)
- CONCACAF – USA (32)
- CONMEBOL – Brazil (41)
- OFC – New Zealand (28)
FIFA created international tournaments to give way for young girls to share the spotlight with their senior counterparts. These tournaments are held during the even-numbered years. The qualification still follows the rule with the continental zone, however, the qualifiers are shorter in comparison to the seniors’ group.
The FIFA U-20 Women’s World Championships started in 2002, hosted by Canada. Originally, it was named U-19 because the age limit is 19 years old, but in 2006 it was raised to 20. Since then the USA has brought home three gold medals. Currently the championship title is held by Japan.
They opened further opportunities to younger girls as they inaugurated FIFA U-17 Women’s World Championships in 2008, where the current champs are Spain, and with North Korea winning the most titles of the tournament so far.
The Olympics is one of the most anticipated sports events on earth, uniting nations together in the love of sport. Even though it is not exclusive to soccer or football competitions, fans are excited to see their favorite team in this quadrennial event.
Men’s soccer has been included in the official Summer Olympics since 1900, but the women’s tournament wasn’t added until 96 years later, for the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. So far, there are only six editions of this tournament.
Unlike in the FIFA World Cup, the women’s soccer tournament for the Summer Olympics has no age restrictions. The participating nations can send in a mix of players from different age groups. This is why fans love to watch the Summer Olympics edition so they can see their favorites across age groups playing together or against each other.
Only 12 teams can qualify for the finals in the Summer Olympics. One slot is reserved for the host nation and the remaining are held by their respective continental zone confederations over another three-year qualification stage.
Teams and Hosts
The women’s soccer tournament for the Summer Olympics has been played across countries in its past six tournaments namely in Atlanta (1996), Sydney (2000), Athens (2004), Beijing (2008), London (2016), and Rio (2016). Tokyo, Japan is set to host the 2020 edition of the Olympics but was delayed until 2021.
The US Women’s National Soccer Team still dominates the medal tally with four golds and a silver. Germany and Norway have one gold medal-finish each. Brazil has two silver trophies in its collection.
Cristiane Rozeira de Souza Silva, from Brazil, is the top goal scorer with 14 goals in her four appearances in the Summer Games. Canadian Christine Sinclair, the highest scoring soccer player in the world (including men’s soccer) has recorded a total of 11 goals at the Olympics throughout her career.
International Women’s Football Tournament
The Torneio Internacional de Futebol Feminino, or the International Women’s Football Tournament, is an invitational competition among the national teams in women’s football, held in Brazil.
Even though the number of participating teams is less compared to the World Cup or the Olympics, the tournament attracts fans from all over the world, but especially from throughout South America. Football fans flock to Brazil for the tournament to support teams such as China, Trinidad &Tobago, Canada, Chile, Russia, Denmark, Mexico, and more.
From 2009-2016, the event was held annually, but starting in 2017, the organizers held the tournament on a biannual basis instead. São Paulo hosted the latest biannual competition last 2019.
Aside from being the host country, Brazil also holds the most number of championships with seven, while Canada and Chile have one championship each. Denmark has two second place finishes. Meanwhile, Italy, Mexico, and the USA have each been second place at one time.
Women’s Association Football
There are still numerous competitions and tournaments held domestically and internationally for women’s soccer, sometimes referred to as “woso”. If you are just beginning to follow women’s soccer, it is a good idea to start locally. For sure, there are prestigious tournaments held domestically that serve as qualifiers for the continental zone qualification phase for the World Cup or the Olympics.
Since it was established in England, there are several tournaments that a fan can follow such as the Women’s FA Cup which started in the 1970s and has been active all the way up to present day. It is an annual cup competition for the club teams in the country. 20 teams battled for the championship in its latest edition in 2019.
With the rise of club teams for women’s football, FIFA has proposed that they will be organizing a Women’s Club World Cup set in 2021 to be participated in by the top clubs in each continental zone or by the previous winners of the now-defunct International Women’s Club Championship. Further details will be announced soon.
There is a steady rise in the popularity of women’s soccer, gaining more and more fans across the globe because of the efforts of the international governing and organizing body to showcase female sports on the international stage. There are also efforts locally to introduce the sports to aspiring athletes and novice fans. Check-out the World Cup, the Olympics, and the International Women’s Football Tournament.