The Women’s World Cup: Europe’s rise to the top of women’s football
The Women’s World Cup 2019 will conclude on Sunday with the United States and the Netherlands playing in Lyon in the final. The Yanks will aim to win their fourth World Cup trophy while the Dutch are competing in their first final.
Two facts have been confirmed at this year’s edition of the Women’s World Cup. The first is that the US are in the midst of another golden generation. Alex Morgan, Tobin Heath, and Megan Rapinoe have been standout stars once more for the US. However, it has been the rise of 24-year-old midfield engine Rose Lavelle that has been the true revelation.
With two goals and an assist in five matches, Lavelle has shown the US have a host of young players coming through the college and NWSL ranks.
The other extremely noticeable facet of this year’s Women’s World Cup has been the rise of European teams. The Netherlands are the first European team to reach the final since Germany did it in 2007.
The Rise of Europe’s best
European football teams had hit a Women’s World Cup final drought following Germany’s back to back wins in the noughties. Although the last two editions of the Women’s World Cup saw European teams play in the third-place playoff games, teams from the continent struggled in the tournament.
Half of the teams that qualified for this year’s round of 16 were European nations. One round later, the US were the only non-European team left in the Women’s World Cup.
The reason for Europe’s recent rise in women’s football is the quality of the leagues. Sweden, Germany, Spain, and France all have top-class professional leagues. France’s Division 1 Feminine is arguably the best women’s league in the world with Lyon as its premier team.
England’s WSL, however, is the only women’s full-time professional women’s league in the world. The Premier League is interested in taking over the WSL post-World Cup and aims to improve the league further. The move could take women’s football in Europe to an unprecedented level.
Developing the best players in Europe
The combination of two such leagues attracts the best players from around Europe thus helping to produce and develop top-class women’s players. As the old cliché goes, to be the best, you have to beat the best. Women’s European football players compete against the best outside of the US and are developing rapidly. Unlike the NWSL, the leagues in Europe are less insular.
Add in the fact that European teams play in the Champions League, something not available to NWSL teams, and more women are playing against the best club players around the continent.
Looking at the Asian and South American representatives at the Women’ World Cup it is easy to see the lack of club competition taking place in those regions. Argentina, a team that secured just two points in the group stage, spent part of their Women’s World Cup build-up playing American college teams. Even then, Argentina posted a mere 2W-1D-1L record against those university squads.
Their performances against American universities show either the quality of the women’s game in South America is low or the colleges in the US are producing comparable players.
Women’s football is in a precarious situation. It could be set for an unbelievable increase in popularity, finances, and exposure. FIFA have already stated they want to double the prize money and expand future Women’s World Cup tournaments. With FIFA backing the women’s game more than ever, Europe’s teams may challenge the US on a regular basis from now on.