The curtain came down on the Women’s World Cup on Sunday as USA became just the second nation to defend the trophy with a 2-0 victory over the Netherlands in Lyon.
From USA’s dominance to Megan Rapinoe’s starring role and the controversy created by VAR, it was a tournament to remember on the field in France, but there are lessons to be learned off the field as the women’s game continues to grow around the world.
What’s next for England? Can Phil Neville take the Lionesses to the next level as the countdown begins to Euro 2021, which will be held in England.
Here Sky Sports News reporter Jess Creighton, who has been covering the tournament, gives her reflections on the 2019 tournament…
Fine margins for England
The big teams always produce when it’s needed the most and unfortunately that didn’t happen for Phil Neville’s side.
It was a case of fine margins for the Lionesses in France but they have to learn to deal with the big occasion if they are to get past a team like the USA. And that’s the goal for everyone involved in the England set-up.
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What’s next for the Lionesses?
England believed more than ever that they could lift the World Cup but they still need to take it up another notch. They need to not just believe it but know it.
I’m not sure they are at that point yet. They have made great strides from the World Cup in 2015 and are better as players, but they need to continue to improve and in four years’ time they can be even closer to USA.
Winning at Euro 2021 on home soil would help. It would be a massive feather in their cap if they can win that tournament. The confidence that would give them would be crucial in their bid to win the World Cup in 2023, which is the target set by the FA.
Investment is key
There are three pieces to this jigsaw. They are investment, the media and participation and if they are put in place and we continue to build on the success of this World Cup, it should bring about an improved talent pool for the England team. It will also improve performances and quality as we target victory in 2023.
Investment is key. USA invest heavily and it is paying off for them. We need to keep investing in the Women’s Super League in this country but also the grassroots.
Do young girls and boys in this country have the facilities they need to play football when they want and where they want? Or is it still a bit of a postcode lottery?
We also need to give girls the option to play in school because I know that when I was at school it wasn’t an option. Luckily, I did have a club nearby that gave me that opportunity but that’s not everyone’s experience. I know the FA are working hard to get football available to girls in every single school in the country. That’s going to take some time of course but it’s a step in the right direction.
The media also has a huge role to play in promoting women’s sport and women’s football. We need to promote it not in a patronising way but in a way that’s genuine.
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Away from England… USA lead the way again
It feels inevitable that the USA always win. They’ve won four World Cups – more than any other nation. They’ve featured in three consecutive finals and are back-to-back champions. In every match they have this innate self-belief that means that every time they cross the white line they know they are going to win.
Once they get a lead they know how to see a game out. They are the world leaders in game management. They are so organised and disciplined. Every player knows their role within the team.
Sometimes it may not be the most exciting football, but they are winners and that’s all that matters. They will do whatever it takes it come out on top and what you are watching is supreme dominance.
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The rest are getting closer though
Despite another USA victory, the gap is closing between the Americans and the rest. I don’t envisage USA dominating the game for another 30 years.
By the time we get around to the next World Cup in 2023 I see France, England and Germany making more of a challenge for the title. The Netherlands will also continue to improve so USA will face a bigger challenge from the European nations.
Rapinoe an icon of the game
The pictures of Megan Rapinoe’s celebration are iconic. She provides magic moments and when she eventually retires she will long be remembered as a great of the game.
You start to run out of superlatives for someone like Megan Rapinoe. It was her third World Cup and her second win. She’s 34 so in football terms she’s nearing the twilight of her career but she’s not really showing any signs of slowing down. She seems as hungry as ever and she was still one of the most excited players when USA’s victory was concerned. It was as though she’d never won a World Cup before and it was fantastic to see.
It’s not just what she does on the pitch, it’s what she does off it as well. She always highlights issues that are important to her. Things like the LGBT community, social justice and she’s even been brave enough to disagree publicly with her president. That’s massive and it takes a lot of courage to do that.
The way the players use their platform to discuss political issues is a real positive of the women’s game. We’ve seen the movement of athlete protests in the NFL in America and in basketball in America and it’s perhaps something we are not use to in the UK, particularly in men’s football.
You rarely get a Premier League player sticking their head above the parapet to talk about politics. However, in the women’s game it is able to happen a bit more. They have the space to be able to get their views across and it’s very important that they do because they are using their platform to speak about something they believe in.
The big characters in the women’s game are known for their prowess on the pitch but also their beliefs off the pitch. It tells you a bit more about their personality and what they stand for. Whether you believe in what she’s saying or not it’s important to see our athletes use their status and their platform in that way, and Rapinoe does that.
More visibility needed
It was billed as the biggest Women’s World Cup that there’s ever been in terms of the media coverage, fans through the turnstiles and the visibility of this tournament. I’m not convinced it has managed that. I know the number of media outlets that covered this World Cup has doubled from the last tournament but in terms of fans watching the games in the stadiums, I feel it could’ve been better.
In many of the host cities I went to it didn’t really feel like a host city. There wasn’t much branding about and there wasn’t much visibility for the tournament. The locals I spoke to didn’t necessarily know there was even a Women’s World Cup happening in their city.
Lessons to be learned
FIFA needs to work on its promotion of the event. They need to improve the visibility of the tournament in the host cities so that the locals can get involved and inspired. They can even get school children involved. Did FIFA invite any schools to attend the matches? Were local businesses involved in the promotion of the event? They are opportunities which I don’t feel were taken this time around.
England, who host Euro 2021, can learn a great deal from this. It’s so important to get the public on board. The UK did a great job of that for London 2012. People got involved in the Olympics and it was open, accessible and attractive to people. They wanted to be a part of it and Londoners were proud that their city was hosting an Olympic Games.
You’ve got to bring people on that journey and for the FA, that journey starts now. They need to start making people away that the Euros are coming to England in two years’ time and get them on board, involved and a part of it.
Pros and cons to expansion
There are pros and cons to expansion. I think the football at this tournament has been the highest quality women’s football I have ever seen. Every match had something and there was quality all the way through the tournament. It’s been so exciting to watch.
If you look at the physical form of a female player these days, they look more like athletes than they ever have. They are fitter, stronger and they have better access to physios, so their recovery is much better, and I think that has improved the standard of the game.
The quality of the football has certainly got better but saying that you have to be careful with the expansion of the tournament. An expanded tournament would bring in smaller nations, who have limited resources. They wouldn’t have the same access to equipment and facilities and they don’t have the same knowledge of the game.
You run the risk of watering down the high-quality football that fans want to watch. It would be great to get smaller nations involved to give them that big tournament experience, but it cannot be at the expense of the football. You cannot water down the quality of the product.
For example, there were some smaller teams in the tournament in France like Thailand. They are just on the beginning of their journey as a football team and they got thrashed 13-0 by USA in their opening match. If you bring in more smaller nations and they are getting thrashed 13, 14 and 15-0 then what does that do to their confidence? How does it help their development? There’s got to be a balancing act.
And finally, VAR still needs work
This tournament has shown more than ever that VAR still needs a lot of work.