FIFA Women's World Cup 2011: 5 Myths About Women's Soccer
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Every four years, the FIFA Women's World Cup rolls around and brings in its wake predictable public reaction.
On the positive side, the tournament is heralded as the long-awaited breakthrough for women's soccer. On the less positive side, there's a familiar assortment of dismissal, innuendo and criticism.
Here are five myths about women's soccer, and the truth behind them.
1. "This Is the One!"
Germany 2011: Could This Be the One?
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Every single Women's World Cup is touted as the one that will finally see the world sit up and take serious notice of the sport. It never is.
It's easy to understand why the media and supporters of the women's game want some definitive epiphany that will launch women's soccer into stratospheric stardom, but we will have to settle for slow and steady progress.
The women's game really is progressing: in quality, in development, in popularity. It's never going to take the world by storm overnight, but it's building a stronger foundation all the time; and while that may not make a sensational story, it is the way forward.
2. Women Can't Chest the Ball
Mexico Captain Maribel Dominguez Chests the Ball Down
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This one is right up there with "Do they swap shirts at the end of the match?"
It's a slightly more ingenuous, but still thinly veiled, attempt from certain men to focus attention on the only thing they can imagine finding interesting about women playing soccer. Yep, the same thing(s) FIFA president Sepp Blatter recommended be emphasized by the players wearing tighter uniforms.
Women can and do chest the ball. Let's all move on.
3. Women's Soccer Started in 1999 When Brandi Chastain Took Off Her Shirt
Brandi Chastain Celebrates Victory in 1999
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There's no doubt World Cup 1999 did give the women's game an enormous boost in public profile; it probably really was closest to "the one" in terms of the sport's breakthrough.
The final was played in front of a sold-out Rose Bowl crowd of over 90,000, and the tournament's popularity inspired the first fully professional women's soccer league in the world, the WUSA.
But in fact, women's soccer has been around about as long as the game itself: the first recorded Association Football match between two women's teams took place in Scotland in 1888. It has since endured derision and even official bans, but women's soccer has maintained a rich and fascinating history.
4. Team USA Always Dominate
Team USA: Still Number 1?
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Due partly to that epic penalty shoot-out win in 1999, partly to early domination of the sport, and partly to high-profile stars like Mia Hamm, USA are generally regarded as the elite team in women's soccer.
They are currently ranked No. 1 in the FIFA world rankings, which would seem to bear that out—but let's not forget, that standing is brought to you by the same people who rank the England men's team above Italy and Brazil.
The truth is, the Americans have struggled to replace the golden generation of Hamm, Chastain, Kristine Lilly, Michelle Akers et al, who truly did dominate the game. At the same time, other countries like Germany, England, Japan and Brazil have made strides in development that mean Team USA can no longer waltz into any international game as undisputed favorites.
5. Women's Soccer Is Ruined by Terrible Goalkeeping
Hope Solo Tips One Over the Bar
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Comparisons to the men's game are as unavoidable as they are unhelpful. Yes, the women's game is slower and the shots and challenges less powerful. Most who level those criticisms at least see the flipside: the game allows more space and time on the ball, resulting in some fantastic refinements of technique, as best exemplified by Brazil's Marta.
But the comparison most people find most damaging to the reputation of women's football is in goalkeeping. There is a persistent belief that the standard of women's goalkeeping is simply dire, and it's a blight on the game.
In reality, there are some outstanding keepers in the women's game. Germany's No. 1, Nadine Angerer, went through the entire World Cup 2007 tournament without conceding a goal. USA keeper Hope Solo has strung together over a thousand minutes of clean sheets.
There are two factors that perpetuate the myth of terrible goalkeeping. One is the quality gap between the top and bottom teams in women's soccer. This is narrowing, but still noticeable, and obviously the top teams know how to exploit inexperience in goal in ways bound to look like spectacular gaffes. Second is the size factor. Women are, after all, proportionally smaller than men, and will therefore get proportionally less coverage of goal.
The irony is that this coverage is much more in line with how the game was designed to be played, with average player size significantly smaller in the 1880s. So stop worrying about the state of goalkeeping, and enjoy the goals!