By Manik Sharma Jun. 24, 2019
France 2019 has been a revelation. This edition might go down in history as the tournament that raised up women’s football to where it belongs, alongside men’s.
Lionel Messi, the centre of the footballing universe, laboured to an underwhelming draw against Paraguay, alongside his team of gifted yet brooding Argentine misfits. Despite their status as one of the best sides in the world and sentimental favourites across the globe, Argentina displayed neither possibility nor passion in their display. But only a few days earlier, another Argentinian side played an absolute cracker of a match against Scotland. Down by three goals with 20 minutes to go, Argentina clawed their way back into the game and dumped Scotland out of the World Cup with a last-minute penalty. It was delirious, it was nail-biting. It was the Women’s World Cup.
My knowledge of women’s football is not expansive, but I do know that the US, largely football-agnostic, are really good at it. England are pretty much an encore of what they are like on the biggest of stages. And Germany are well, Germany — a relentlessly running machine of quasi-geniuses without a singular overlord. It doesn’t help that women’s football is rarely telecast with the same enthusiasm and investment as the men’s game. Things are so bad that even a World Cup might embarrassingly languish behind the numbers of some of the poorer leagues in Europe. But that is possibly about to change. France 2019 has been a revelation. This edition might go down in history as the tournament that raised up women’s football to where it belongs, alongside men’s.
Women’s football is faster, thrilling, dramatic, and as breathtaking as anything out there. Image credits: Getty Images
Women’s football is faster, thrilling, dramatic, and as breathtaking as anything out there.
Image credits: Getty Images
The group game between Netherlands and Cameroon saw unprecedented support for the Oranje, with a sea of orange surrounding the pitch. France, Australia, Germany, Sweden, Italy, and the USA have drawn large crowds. But none of this is tokenism, because the standards have irrefutably risen as well. Women’s football is faster, thrilling, dramatic, and as breathtaking as anything out there. The standard of goalkeeping, once considered the athletic black hole in women’s football, has decisively levelled itself with doubters. There has been sumptuous individual talent on show — the jinks, nutmegs, body-drops, 360 turns, it’s all happening. Brazil’s Marta has broken Miroslav Klose’s record of most goals scored at World Cup tournaments with a 17th strike. Her teammate Formiga, at the age of 41, has set the record for playing in most World Cups ever at seven. The most any man has played is five. Not because women’s football doesn’t care but because Formiga has proven she is still that good.
There is some genuinely world-class talent on show in the likes of the USA’s Alex Morgan, France’s towering striker Wendie Renard, and Australia’s ever-reliable Sam Kerr. Both Kerr and Morgan have already scored five goals each. Some games have been absolute crackers. Germany and Spain was a generously free-flowing game. Australia against Italy was an absolute belter, with Italy beating Australia at the last. There has been a fair share of controversy and drama (mostly VAR-induced) as well, none more so than the USA’s 13-0 humbling of a sorry-looking Thailand side that made more news than the tournament itself. Doubters and cynics notwithstanding, the controversy has only raised the stakes as the reigning champions and the favourites to win this tournament must now power through a social backlash. It’s tasteful, red-cheeked, tense, compelling, and competitive.
Women are lunging, tackling, and elbowing if you need hazardous proof of commitment.
There are lessons in women’s football that go beyond footballing paradigms, projects, and missions. On the footballing side, the domination of USA and the impressive performances of both Australia and Canada prove the importance of platforming the women’s game just as much as we do with the men’s. The troika perpetually struggle in the men’s edition — USA’s men’s team couldn’t even qualify for the last World Cup; Canada does not even exist on the men’s footballing map. It is a lesson, India could perhaps learn. A lesson that says the road to the World Cup, of sporting greatness, isn’t just through the monopolised landscape of cricket, or the unapproachable summits of men’s football. It can be gotten to, cried and cheered for through our women as well. But it will, as is clear, take some doing as well.
Regardless, the Women’s World Cup this year is a glowing, screeching endorsement of the standards of the game. Women are lunging, tackling, and elbowing if you need hazardous proof of commitment. For me, though, they are playing some extraordinarily good football, dashing back and forth in the dying seconds of games, untamed, untutored by a life that would otherwise tell them, “Don’t.” They still don’t get paid as much as men, but the crown, the title of world champions is the same. One ceiling at a time, I guess.
It is likely you’d still come across internet trash that categorises women players according to their “hotness”. But beyond that hidebound, limited, gendered view of sport, one that forsakes the game for identity, the footballing sphere has been turned by the dogged determination and flair on display at the Women’s World Cup. A tournament I intend to see through to the end because it is judiciously as good as anything I have ever witnessed in football.