And the list continues.
It will be hard to forget Genoveva Anonma’s electrifying performances this summer. Equatorial Guinea may have been well out of its depth, but Anonma singlehandedly kept her side afloat in its three group games. The explosive striker’s brace against Australia helped her crack into the tournament’s All-Star team. She was also a one-woman team with USV Jena in the Frauen-Bundesliga, who have become relegation fodder since her departure this summer. Anonma made the jump to Turbine Potsdam, and has needed no time to adjust. She scored in her each of her first eight games with the club, and currently sits atop the league’s scoring table on fifteen goals. Her goal production in 2011 has been utterly prolific, and there’s no end in sight.
Who says there’s no place for inanimate objects on this list? ESPN’s coverage of the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup brought an additional sense of spectacle to the tournament. Time for Big Blue to get the recognition it so richly deserves. An engineering marvel, ESPN’s mobile unit was a state-of-the-art television studio and accompanying control room on wheels. It traveled to six different host cities as an 18-wheeler and could expand and contract to steer through Germany’s many narrow streets. Big Blue was specifically designed and produced for the Women’s World Cup. ESPN made all the right moves in its assemblage of on-air talent, marketing, and tournament coverage on sites like espnW. Big Blue was perhaps the network’s most outstanding feat.
It’s been said that Bruno Bini doesn’t merely want to be a coach, he strives to be an educator. The head coach of the France Women’s National Team clearly taught his pupils well. Japan’s brand of attacking soccer was deservedly praised for its technical precision and team cohesion. With all due respect to the world champions, Les Bleues played the sexiest football of the tournament. Although France’s lack of cutting edge upfront betrayed the team in the latter stages, it’s expressive, one-touch style of play was often visually arresting. It harkened back to the acclaimed French men’s teams of the ‘80s and ‘90s. Raymond Domenech’s squad infamously disgraced itself at the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Hopefully Bini’s side restored some faith in the nation’s footballing ethos.
Despite appearing in the WPS Championship game and winning the Golden Boot for the third time running, Marta had a fairly strange year. She was, of course, Brazil’s guiding light at the World Cup. With a little help from friends Cristiane and Rosana, Brazil almost broke free of the shackles head coach Kleiton Lima used to restrain the team in a tactical sense. Brazil looked like a team full of strangers, but Marta’s brilliance shone through. In Brazil’s second group game against Norway, Marta exploded into form and lived up to her reputation as the world’s most well-regarded female player. In a playing sense, at least. Brazil’s diving and gamesmanship throughout the tournament soured some viewers. ‘Will Marta be booed upon her return to the States?’ was a legitimate question. She hushed the critics with a bevy of goals in the final interval of the 2011 WPS season (seven in her last six regular season games). With her contract with the league now up, it’s unclear whether the 25-year-old will return to WPS. If this indeed the end of the line, it’s been a privilege watching her excel at her craft.
Germany’s regrettable performance in the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup was certainly not how Birgit Prinz had envisioned her finale. In the words of her former teammate Viola Odebrecht following Germany’s shock loss to Japan, Prinz played the role of the fallen hero. Prinz appeared for a paltry 109 minutes in what was her fifth World Cup. The 33-year-old was sluggish and ineffectual throughout. It was an unfitting end to the career of a legend. And make no mistake, Prinz is just that. With 128 international goals, a record 214 caps, five European championships, eight Bundesliga titles, three FIFA World Player of the Year awards, and (phew) two world titles to her name, Prinz belongs in the pantheon of women’s soccer greats. Her career may have lacked a fairytale ending, but she’ll always remain one of the sport’s most compelling characters.
Christie Rampone had something of an Indian summer in 2011. The 36-year-old mother of two bridged two generations of the USWNT. ‘Pearcie’ was the only member of the 2011 squad who could deliver firsthand accounts of winning the World Cup in 1999. Her dominant performances at center-back suggest she has hardly lost a step in the intermediate twelve years. The American captain had a splendid game versus Brazil, and continued to impress in the semifinal against France. Just how much of a mark did Rampone leave? Quite a large one, judging by the amount of comments decrying her absence in this People article (page two). To their credit, the editors eventually corrected the omission.
Norio Sasaki cut a calm, composed, calculated figure on the sidelines. It must have been a reassuring sight to a Nadeshiko side eager to bring hope and joy to a nation still emerging from tragedy. Sasaki was first introduced to the national team as an assistant coach in 2006. He also took charge of the U-20 side and instilled a coaching philosophy that would bear fruit five years later. Japan methodically wore down hosts Germany in the quarterfinals and remained resolute against the U.S. in the final. It was also a resounding surprise for a side that arguably reached the pinnacle a cycle early. Despite failing to ever dominate the U.S. in the run of play, the Nadeshiko’s World Cup victory is a triumph for the ages. Sasaki recently commented on the final saying, “We won the World Cup, but we didn’t manage to take the initiative in the game.” Hopefully there’s a deep sense of pride through all that pragmatism.
If Homare Sawa was considered a superstar in her home country before the World Cup, imagine how she’s regarded now. A Golden Boot, Golden Ball, and World Cup trophy surely must do wonders for one’s popularity. AWK reader and Japan resident Hal was generous enough to provide some insight.
Heck, I live in a very rural backwater (think the Japanese equivalent of North Dakota), and the annual festival’s float was hastily redesigned to be a 10-foot-tall representation of a dragon wearing Sawa’s uniform. One thing that’s been interesting about the coverage is how the seniority-based heuristics kick in big time. People know the team, but Sawa is deliberately presented as the face of the team. In Kobe, where I traveled about three weeks after the tournament, Sawa’s face was everywhere, and banners congratulating her and the team lined the main streets. Posters with Sawa talking about the importance of everything from a balanced diet to studying hard now grace all the elementary schools at which I teach. [Aya] Miyama and Sawa have been doing the 10 Second “You’re watching NHK” spots on TV for a couple weeks now, and Sawa herself was the guest commentator for the Club World Cup final between Barca and Santos [two weeks ago].
With Sawa’s sights set on the FIFA World Player of the Year award in January, the hero worship should continue on into the new year.
Christine Sinclair was the sympathetic hero of Canadian soccer’s annus horribilis. Canada’s soft-spoken 28-year-old captain captured hearts after her gritty performance in the World Cup opener against Germany. Her faultless free kick served as the first harbinger of the hosts’ eventual collapse. Canada’s capitulation would prove to be far more imminent, however. That would be Canada’s first and last goal in the program’s most disastrous World Cup showing in history. Sinclair would fight on, despite being hampered by a broken nose sustained in that match. Fortunately, she would find more success when she returned to her club team. Sinclair narrowly missed out on capturing the Golden Boot, but she managed to guide the WNY Flash to a WPS Championship – her second WPS title in as many years. She’ll have another chance at World Cup glory in four years, and this time it will be before friends and family.
Ah, Pia Sundhage; ever the jolly, happy-go-lucky, air-guitar-strumming, Kumbuya-humming optimist. Such characteristics probably helped lay the groundwork for the USWNT’s triumphant inspiring run this summer. It made for an interesting contrast against the thoroughly joyless figures of Silvia Neid and Carolina Morace. Some of Sundhage’s personnel decisions are open to debate and her tactical nous remains questionable, but it’s the results that matter. Sundhage got the job done this summer. Almost, at least.
Philadelphia Independence head coach Paul Riley once proclaimed Vero’s vision was so good she could see a dog’s claw wriggle on the side line. It was that extraordinary vision that helped make Vero the MVP of WPS in 2011. The Spanish native livened up the Chicago Red Stars’ attack in her appearances with the team at the tail-end of the 2010 season. Brighter things were to come in 2011. Vero spearheaded Philadelphia’s offense and proved to be the league’s most fearsome playmaker. She was also clutch. She contributed the game-winner in three of four games over the month of July – all three of which ended 1-0. The 24-year-old is set to make her return to the Independence in 2012. One of the league’s hottest commodities will be back.