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On This Date in Sports November 30, 1991: The First Women's World Cup

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

Team USA wins the inaugural Women’s World Cup beat Norway 2-1 in the final in front of 65,000 fans in Guangzhou, China. Michelle Akers-Stahl led the Americans, who scored two goals, one in the 20th minute and the other in the 78th. The 12-team tournament began two weeks earlier and was considered a big success, leading to new opportunities for women’s sports.

The idea of a Women’s soccer tournament on the same level as the Men’s World Cup was first experimented in 1988, with the FIFA Women’s Innovational Tournament held in Guangzhou, China. The tournament was considered a success and opened the door for an official championship for soccer. While it would later retroactively become known as the Women’s World Cup, FIFA had trepidation at labeling the World Cup at first. The name of the first tournament was the FIFA World Championship for Women’s Football for the M&M Cup. Unlike the Men’s Tournament, the Women’s Game was 80 minutes in that first tournament.

Much like the 1988 test run, the first Women’s World Cup was held in Guangzhou, China, featuring a dozen teams. The first tournament was played with little fanfare, with China beating Norway in the first match on November 16th. Host China would win Group A, as they later tied Denmark 2-2 and beat New Zealand 4-1. Norway recovered from their opening loss by beating New Zealand 4-0 and Denmark 2-1. Denmark reached the knockout stage thanks to a 3-0 win over the Kiwis.

The USWNT, coached by Anson Dorrance, played their first match on November 17th, beating Sweden 3-2. Carin Jennings scored two goals, including the first goal in minute 40, with Mia Hamm scoring the other tally. The Americans would easily win, blanking Brazil 5-0 and Japan 3-0 as Mary Harvey recorded clean sheets in the next two games. Sweden also reached the knockout stage, beating Japan 8-0 and Brazil 2-0 after their loss to Team USA.

Germany won Group C by winning all three pool matches, starting with a 4-0 win over Nigeria. The pre-tournament favorite later beat Taiwan 3-0 and Italy 2-0 in group play. Italy’s only blemish was their loss to Germany as they previously beat Taiwan 5-0 and Nigeria 1-0. Taiwan also made it to the eight-team knockout round with a 2-0 win over Nigeria.

In the quarterfinals, Team USA slammed Taiwan 7-0 as Michelle Akers-Stahl had five goals. Meanwhile, Germany beat Denmark 2-1 in extra rune, Sweden beat China 1-0, and Norway beat Italy 3-2 n extra time. Norway reached the finals by beating Sweden 4-1. The Americans, meanwhile, had a surprisingly easy time with Germany, winning 5-2. Carrin Leslie-Jennings led the way with three first-half goals, while April Heinrichs scored twice in the second half. Sweden would go on to beat Germany 4-0 in the third-place game.

In the finals, Michelle Akers-Stahl scored the game’s first goal in the 20th minute. Nine minutes later, Norway got a goal from Linda Medalen to even the score. From there, the game got tight, as neither side was willing to give; Akers-Stahl was called for a yellow card in the 54th minute, bringing the tension to boil before 65,000 fans at Tianhe Stadium. As regulation was winding down, Michelle Aker-Stahl gave Team USA a 2-1 lead in the 78th minute, which proved to be the game-winner.

While the tournament garnered little attention, its success paved the way for the growth of Women’s Soccer. Norway won the second World Cup in 1995; by then, FIFA was fully embracing the tournament. The success of the “M&M Cup” in 1991 led to Women’s Soccer being added to the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta. In 1999, the Women’s World Cup came to the United States. This time, everyone’s eyes were watching as Brandi Chastain beat China on a penalty kick for the American's second championship.