History of the FIFA Women's World Cup

Written by

First conceived by the then-FIFA President Joao Havelange in 1989, the Women's World Cup has, in less than a decade, evolved from one man's ambition into the premier event in women's football across the globe.

The dream came to life at the inaugural tournament in November 1991 hosted by China. It featured 12 teams from six continents battling it out in a series of games to be crowned the first-ever Women's World Champion.

The competition began with a group stage splitting the 12 competing nations into three groups of four who played one another in a round-robin format in order to decide the top two teams from each group which progressing to the knockout stage, plus the best third-placed side.

The competition progressed until the first ever Women's World Cup trophy was awarded to the USA who were the stars of the inaugural tournament with an unbeaten record and the tournament's overall top goal scoring team with their main striker, Michelle Akers, winning the Golden Boot award and Carin Jennings winning the Golden Ball.

The U.S. played Norway in the final where the score was 1-1 and seemed destined to go into extra-time until Akers scored the winning goal for the U.S. in front of a crowd of 65,000 at Guangzhou's Tianhe Stadium.

Norway were the disappointed runners-up while Sweden won the third-place play-off against Germany who finished fourth but took home the FIFA Fair Play award. With the titles awarded and the results official the first Women's World Cup tournament ended for another four years.

June 1995 took the World Cup to Sweden where the world's best dozen teams gathered for a second time to not only play for the world cup but also qualification for the first women's Olympic Football Tournament the following year in Atlanta, Georgia.

FIFA used the 1995 tournament as an opportunity to experiment with the time-out concept, a rule which enabled each team to call one two-minute break per half. But, with hardly any teams taking this opportunity, the rule was tightened restricting the breaks to a time when a break was imminent such as after a goal was scored, a throw-in about to be taken or a goal-kick.

So, with two prizes up for grabs, the tournament got underway with the group stages. The top qualifiers were Germany, Norway and USA; second-place qualifiers were Sweden, England and China PR whilst Japan and Denmark qualified as the top third place finishers to play in the quarter-finals.

The results left Germany, Norway, USA and China PR in the semi-finals from which Germany and Norway reached the final.

This was Norway's second consecutive final and, unlike their previous final, they came out victorious with a 2-0 win over Germany to capture the Women's World Cup title.

Alongside runners-up Germany the USA ran in third and China finished the tournament in fourth place. Other awards included the Golden Ball which went to Norway's Hege Riise, Norway's Kirstin-Ann Aarones took home the Golden Boot award while the FIFA Fair Play award was bestowed upon the host nation Sweden.

The final World Cup of the century proved to be the beginning of a new era of success for women's football and stamped itself as a milestone in the history of women's sport.

The host nation for the 1999 tournament was the USA and they staged a World Cup of unprecedented proportions. The games were played in huge stadiums, attracted new record attendances, media coverage and television audiences.