When ESPN first began airing commercials a few months ago to promote its big summer project, the FIFA Women’s World Cup, I scoffed. I’m a soccer enthusiast, but I’d only ever watched a handful of women’s games before.
I decided then that I would watch no more than six games of the whole tournament, which just happens to be the number of games the U.S. would play if it made a run to the tournament final.
As the tournament’s opening day approached, ESPN’s magic started to work. Nonstop promotion on TV and online had done its job. I made plans to watch an additional game, Germany vs. Canada, to see the heavily favored and two-time defending German national side begin its title defense.
Simply put, I got hooked.
I’ve watched as many games as possible in this tournament, which is now finished with the round robin group stage and entering the more exciting knockout stage.
When the World Cup started, I had never heard of Genoveva Aonma, the energetic winger from Equatorial Guinea, but now I could give you her full player profile, including her tendency to take wild shots and that she dyes her dreadlocks to match whichever jersey Equatorial Guinea happens to be wearing.
I’ve seen goals I honestly didn’t think existed in the women’s game. Mexico’s Monica Ocampo, the U.S.’s Heather O’Reilly and England’s Ellie White are just three of the players who have scored on unstoppable precision shots from outside the 18-yard box, a feat that’s uncommon even in the men’s game.
I spoke Monday night to a New Zealander who played for the Kiwis at the men’s World Cup last summer in South Africa. I asked if he had watched the New Zealand women’s team play and he laughed off the question, admitting that he had watched a few minutes of a game only because his attention had been caught when he heard the New Zealand national anthem playing on American television.
If he wasn’t watching Tuesday, he missed a great show put on by the New Zealand women’s team. It scored a game-tying goal in the dying seconds of a match against Mexico to record its first-ever point at the Women’s World Cup. The Football Ferns had lost all eight previous games in their World Cup history, but fought for the draw, despite being mathematically eliminated days earlier.
Only eight teams – one of which is the U.S. – remain in the World Cup. It’s like the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament if you’re a basketball fan, or if you’re a soccer fan, it’s like the last eight at the men’s World Cup. If you watch, you’ll learn the women’s game isn’t so different after all.