Global gathering

Georgina Turner went to Germany to watch the 2011 Women’s World Cup, which had underdog winners, individual skill and a welcoming atmosphere

I don’t make a habit of arm-wrestling strangers for the bar bill, but we’ve been in Wolfsburg for hours, and Robert and Tilo haven’t let anyone else buy a round yet. People are in town for the Women’s World Cup and in FIFA’s fan mile – essentially an oversized wedding marquee, with widescreen TVs and a Beatles tribute act (“All you need is luff, la la lalalah”) – the mood is wunderbar.

Later, some of us will go and be slightly underwhelmed by England’s 1-1 draw with Mexico, but for now we’re enjoying a playful face-off between ladies in traditional Mexican dress and a few flag-waving England supporters. There’s also a hardcore Norwegian fan, apparently welded to his Viking hat, vigorously ballroom dancing with a tiny old lady. She’s leading.

Robert has begun a rail odyssey, trying to see as many games as he can. He’s a dedicated follower of 2009 UEFA Women’s Cup winners FCR Duisburg and wears a shirt bearing the slogan “Frauen fußball: besser als man(n) denkt“. Translating the message into English does a certain violence to the wordplay, but essentially it says “Women’s football: better than people (men) think”. To be honest, Tilo looks as though he wouldn’t be caught dead in that kind of get-up. Outfitted much like Dan from 1990s sitcom Roseanne, he stares at his beer when Mark and Lucy, England fans who have bussed here from Birmingham, start talking about the FA Women’s Super League. But he still thinks it would be weird to miss the game.

He’s not the only one. Less than a week after the final, the organising committee announced that profits, most of which will be put back into the women’s game, look like hitting £6.7 million. Ticket sales exceeded even the hosts’ rampant expectations and costs came in under budget. As well as laying on a fantastic event (football plus currywurst is surely up there with the world’s most important scientific formulae), Germany hosted what turned out to be easily the most competitive and exciting Women’s World Cup yet. FIFA hasn’t put its name to a tournament that good since… ooh, at least 1998.

Take the stunning nature of Japan’s victory. Though the Nadeshiko had climbed from 11th to fourth in the rankings since 2007, they had previously won only three World Cup games and never beaten European opposition. Here, they came from behind – twice! – in the final, before beating the US (usually bet-your-bottom-dollar reliable in shootouts) on penalties. They embarrassed Sweden in the semi-final and before that had put out Germany, who were going for a third straight trophy, in the quarters thanks to a thrilling extra-time counterattack.

In the other side of the draw, France also announced themselves as serious competitors, prompting Le Monde to thank the team for reviving the colour that summer 2010 had drained from le Tricolore. The individual skill of Louisa Necib was a treat to watch, and between her, fellow Lyon midfielder Camille Abily and Juvisy forward Gaëtane Thiney, the ball ricocheted through opposition defences like a bullet. Their run to the semi-final – where they outshot the US by 25 to 11 but succumbed to two late goals to lose 3-1 – means they’ll compete at their first ever Olympic Games at London 2012.

There were a couple of instant classics – not least Brazil v US, the third of four quarter-finals to go to extra time, and the second to go to penalties thanks to Abby Wambach’s 122nd-minute header. These two enjoy a bristling rivalry and it showed. There was only time for the latest goal in World Cup history because the Brazilians wasted time and the look on US goalkeeper Hope Solo’s face when she saved Brazil’s third penalty was pure Jerry Springer guest. There were also moments of individual brilliance: Canada’s Christine Sinclair scored with a peach of a free-kick, despite having just had her nose broken by Babett Peter of Germany, and Mónica Ocampo’s 35-yard screamer utterly winded England

Ah, England, and the familiar agony of hope – though this was real hope, without the methadone tang of tabloid jingoism. After reaching the final of Euro 2009, the team had gone from strength to strength, defeating the US (world No 1) and Sweden (No 5) in the build-up. They even beat Japan in the Group B decider. But it all started to unravel against the French, who would have been given the fight on points long before the 120 minutes were up. Instead, England, carrying several injured players, somehow survived the pummelling only to knock themselves out with two missed penalties. Live on BBC2, as well.

From WSC 295 September 2011