Tomorrow is the finals for the Women’s World Cup 2011 in Germany. The US — defending Olympic champion and the no. 1-tanked team coming into the tournament — is playing against Japan, exactly 12 years after the US beat China to win the title in 1999. TV viewership of the 2011 Women’s World Cup is up by 200 percent over the 2007 tournament held in China, according to Nielsen.
Interviewing a group of 11-year-old girl soccer players in West Los Angeles, NPR found that their favorite female soccer player is Mia Hamm, one of women’s soccer greatest players– “but the U.S. women’s star forward retired back when these girls were toddlers.”
In fact, more than a few of the players on the US’s current team were just around 11 years old when the US beat China. Strikers Lauren Cheney and Alex Morgan were 11 and 10, respectively. The fact that girls their age when the US last won aren’t naming them, or striker Abby Wambach, or goalie Hope Solo, could be seen as a sign of how far women’s soccer and women’s sports have to go in catching the public eye.
I’m more hopeful (absolutely no pun intended with goalie Solo’s name!). In the parks and fields of our mid-sized New Jersey town, we see as many girls as boys playing soccer and, more recently, lacrosse. Tons of girls are on school and town swim teams, or play volleyball or softball, or run track and cross country. It’s all a real contrast to when I was growing up and only a few girls — and very few Asian American girls — played soccer or any sports, hurrying off in their moms’ station wagons to practices after school. Now it’s commonplace for girls to play sports (my cousins’ daughters have done swimming, gymnastics and kung fu) and, while I ran some cross-country in high school, I often wish I had been part of a team when I was younger.
The US and Japan play at 2:45pm on Sunday. Japan is the sentimental favorite, as NPR describes:
Sunday’s title match will be Japan’s first. But the Japanese players have shown few signs of nerves at this World Cup — in interviews, they say they want to win, to inspire and console the victims of the earthquake and tsunami that their country is still coping with.
“Even little things, like a win, can give people courage and hope,” Japanese coach Norio Sasaki told the AP. “And when we play the final, we are not going to think about the end result. We are just going to do what we can.”
Also impressive is this comment from goalie Solo:
Discussing Japan, Hope Solo told the AP, “They are playing for something bigger and better than the game. And when you’re playing with so much emotion, and so much heart — that’s hard to play against. So I think it’s going to be an incredible final that people didn’t expect to see.”
It sounds like a final in which they’ll be no loser and one that makes me look forward to fall, when my son and I pass many a field of girls, under- and over- 11, practicing and playing hard on the field.
Some highlights of the US team in World Cup 2011:
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