Women’s World Cup: Inspiring the next generation

Football Thursday August 17, 2023 By: Duncan Hughes

With the final of the Women’s World Cup fast approaching, we can look back on a tournament that has inspired women, men and children alike across the world. It has been a tournament that has touched the hearts of many with inspirational moments throughout.

In a tournament that has provided us with some scintillating football, emphatic results and shock upsets, it has been the biggest yet. It is the first Women’s World Cup to be held across multiple nations with Australia and New Zealand both hosting games. It has been branded the most successful ‘Women’s World Cup in history’ with record breaking viewing figures across the last five weeks. An astonishing 7.2 million people tuned in to ITV to watch England’s 2-1 victory over Colombia.

And it’s not just England who are breaking viewing records. An incredible 7 million people (a quarter of the population) viewed Australia’s penalty shootout win over France on Australia’s Channel 7, the highest viewed sports programme in over a decade.

Not only on the screens have viewing figures skyrocketed but in the stands, there has rarely been an empty seat with Football Australia announcing at the conclusion of the group stage ticket sales had surpassed 1.7 million ticket sales smashing the record set by Canada in 2015 of 1.35 million making it the most popular Women’s tournament yet. Has hosting the competition in a sport obsessed country helped to drive interest levels or is the sport simply becoming more popular on the whole?

Womens Football, England

According to the FA, ‘since October 2021, there’s been a 17% increase in female affiliated players across all levels of the game, a 30% increase in female registered football teams, and a 15% increase in female youth teams’. You can’t help but think after the World Cup, as more and more people watch the game, this will only increase.

The growth of the women’s game is inspiring women across the world to get involved in football and other sports around the world. And it’s not just the impressive standard of football that has got people talking. The 2023 Women’s World Cup has not been without its touching moments. In Morocco’s 1-0 win over South Korea we Nouhalia Benzina made history by becoming the first player to wear a hijab inspiring Muslim women all over the world that they too can be involved in this sport.

People have also been struck by the sportsmanship specifically from Lionesses’ star Chloe Kelly when she scored the winning penalty to send England through against Nigeria. Before Kelly celebrated properly with teammates she consoled, clearly distraught, Nigeria goalkeeper Chiamaka Nnadozie, blocking the television cameras from zooming in on the goalkeeper’s face.

Like in any World Cup we’ve seen great goals, milestone achievements and shock upsets from some of the countries involved. A shock result saw Sweden knockout holders USA on penalties as the Americans saw their hopes of a third consecutive trophy stripped away. It was made all the more painful for the US as the final Swedish penalty was decided by a millimetre to have crossed the line. There was agony as well for Megan Rapinoe as the two time World Cup winner blazed her spot kick over the bar in what will likely be her final competitive game after announcing her retirement.

With the US out, there is going to be a new name on the trophy and this week four teams battled it out for a place in the final of the most prestigious competition. First up, Spain faced Sweden. After an extra time winner in the quarter finals, the Spaniards once again left it late to open the scoring as Salma Paralluelo broke the deadlock in the 81st minute with her second goal of the tournament. Sweden, runners-up, in 2003 hit back late on in the 88th minute as Rebecka Blomqvist continued her impressive goal-scoring form but only moments later Spain were back in front late on courtesy of an Olga Carmona stunner that hit the underside of the cross-bar on the way in.

So Sweden will have to wait for that desired title, one which they have come close to all too many times. Spain, on the other hand, find themselves in new territory with their previous best finish being the round of 16 in 2019. Now it’s no doubt how successful the men’s team have been in major championships in the last 20 years; can they replicate it in the women’s game?

With Spain through, all eyes were on the home nation as Australia faced England. Fresh from being crowned European Champions in 2022 as well as beating Brazil in the Women’s Finalissima in 2023, the Lionesses went into the tournament with their heads held high. With that said, up against an Australian team with the home crowd behind them not to mention England being less than convincing in previous rounds, it was going to be all to play for.

The game certainly lived up to the expectation as 75,000 fans inside the stadium, and millions on television witnessed the Lionesses march to their first ever World Cup final. It was Ella Toone who opened the scoring inside 36 minutes with a brilliant finish inside the box. Just after the hour, Australia’s golden girl Sam Kerr equalised with a screamer into the top left hand corner. However, goals from Lauren Hemp and Alessia Russo sealed the win for England and will see them play in yet another major final.

So all eyes of the footballing world will be on Sunday as England’s women will play Spain’s women with both countries making their debut in a World Cup final. England remain unbeaten in the tournament unlike Spain who in their opening group game saw themselves thumped 4-0 by 2011 champions Japan. It has to be said, the Lionesses go into the final as favourites especially considering their experience of major finals in the last couple of years.

What an incredible achievement it would be for England if they can win it. Not only would it be an achievement for women’s football but also women’s sport in England as a whole. It would inspire women young and old to get involved with sport, showing that anything is possible.

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