Football: 10 talking points of the 2015 Women's World Cup

The 2015 Women's World Cup final will be a repeat of the previous edition four years ago, with defending champions Japan facing two-time winners the United States.

Before the tournament reaches its climax this Sunday (Monday morning in Singapore) in what promises to be an exciting sequel, we look back at some of the major talking points and highlights of the month-long tournament held for the first time in Canada.

1. Hosts Canada get off to a flying start on opening day with a dramatic late winner to beat 1999 finalists China 1-0


Christine Sinclair #12 of Canada celebrates scoring the go-ahead goal on a penalty kick against China.  PHOTO: AFP

A week after a corruption scandal erupted Fifa, matters on the pitch captured the imagination of the footballing world.

Both teams were greeted by a sea of red on a perfect late spring day inside the 56,000-seater Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton.

Chinese forward Wang Lisi almost ruined the script for the hosts when her free kick beat Canadian goalkeeper Erin McLeod but unbelievably, it hit the near post and far post before bouncing clear.

Just as it seemed a draw was on the cards, defender Rong Zhao fouled substitute Adriana Leon inside the box.

Up stepped captain Christine Sinclair to score her 154th goal for her country to complete a remarkable opening day and get Canada's campaign off to the perfect start.

2. Controversial choice of artificial surface


Sweden defender Jessica Samuelsson #18 knocks up turf debris after falling during their game against the United States. PHOTO: USA TODAY SPORTS


Canada forward Christine Sinclair looks over the artificial grass prior to their round of 16 football match against Switzerland. PHOTO: AFP
 

Even before the World Cup kicked off last month, it was under a high level of scrutiny. After all, this would be the world's first senior global football tournament played on artificial grass.

The issue had even led to a group of players filing a lawsuit against world football body Fifa, citing risk of injury and gender discrimination. The claim was eventually dropped.

During the month-long tournament, the playing surface repeatedly came under heavy criticism from many players who cited the plastic pitch as the main cause of severe blisters and body scrapes.

Whether football's governing body will continue with its unpopular experiment remains anyone's guess.

3. Nigeria stage a stunning comeback against 2011 bronze medallists Sweden

Two well-executed set pieces saw Sweden take a two-goal cushion into the break in this gripping Group D encounter but the Africans refused to surrender.

Nigeria scored within five minutes of the restart before forward Asisat Oshoala, the Golden Shoe winner at last year's Fifa Under-20 Women's World Cup, grabbed the equaliser in the 53rd minute.

The topsy-turvy clash then saw the Europeans regain the lead in bizarre fashion as substitute Linda Sembrant scored via a deflection off her thigh to make it 3-2 but the Super Falcons had one last trick up their sleeves.

With the clock winding down, striker Nigerian Francisca Ordega's shot in the 87th minute slipped through the legs of goalkeeper Hedvig Lindahl to complete the six-goal thriller.

4. Swiss enigma Ramona Bachmann


Switzerland forward Ramona Bachmann #10 celebrates after scoring a goal during the second half against Ecuador. PHOTO: USA TODAY SPORTS
 

World Cup debutantes Switzerland certainly left an impression on the tournament with their entertaining attacking play and no one captured that verve more than their talented playmaker Ramona Bachmann.

The FC Rosengard midfielder scored a hat-trick, including two goals inside 60 seconds, and was unstoppable in her team's 10-1 mauling of Ecuador.

Yet, for all her mazy dribbling which thrilled the crowd, the 24-year-old failed to step up when it mattered most.

Her ability to excite and frustrate was best summed up in the Swiss' 1-0 loss to Japan in the group stages as she took on and beat five Japanese players but fell over just when she was about to score.

The diminutive forward was unable to inspire her nation in the knock-out round where they were eliminated by Canada but Bachmann's stock is clearly on the rise.

5. Thailand are the first South-east Asian country to compete at the Women's World Cup


Thailand players celebrate their second goal from the sidelines during the Group B match between Cote d'Ivoire and Thailand. PHOTO: AFP  

Despite being paired with two former champions German and Norway, the Thais never looked overawed and gave a good account of themselves in both 4-0 defeats.

They also showed that they were not in Canada simply to make up the numbers and finished third in their group, courtesy of a historic 3-2 victory over fellow debutantes Ivory Coast.

The Africans had taken an early lead and hit the woodwork three times during the match but were ultimately pegged back by Thailand as midfielder Orathai Srimanee stole the show with her two goals, including a bullet header that rattled off the underside of the crossbar, which goal-line technology confirmed was indeed a goal.

6. The expansion of the group stage from 16 to 24 teams


Goalkeeper Shirley Berruz #1 and Ambar Torres #10 of Ecuador fail to stop the shot by Madeleine Ngono #9 of Cameroon (not pictured). PHOTO: AFP

While the new 24-nation format meant more opportunities for the likes of Spain, Ecuador, Costa Rica and Thailand, none of whom had qualified for the showpiece event before, it also produced a series of one-sided results.

Germany's 10-0 trouncing of Ivory Coast and Switzerland's 10-1 hammering of Ecuador were two occasions that stood out, exemplifying the gulf in quality as the more established teams ran riot.

Nevertheless, the experiment was mostly well-received with many commentators praising the intention to grow the women's game and using the World Cup, the biggest platform for the sport, appears a step in the right direction.

7. Minnows Colombia upset pre-tournament favourites France

A youthful French team in the ascendancy were expected to realise their championship potential in Canada.

They had finished fourth in 2011 and arrived on the back of a perfect qualifying campaign, winning all 10 of their matches and racking up 54 goals in the process.

Colombia were not expected to offer stiff resistance to the world No. 3 but the South Americans had ideas of their own.

Forward Lady Andrade scored in the 19th minute to give them the early lead and despite a bombardment of 21 shots on goal - compared to just three by Colombia - they held the French at bay.

A quick counter-attack in injury time culminated in midfielder Catalina Usme adding a second goal to seal a famous win for 28th-ranked Colombia, who earned their first-ever World Cup victory.

8. Brazil's wait for a Women's World Cup title continues


Brazil forward Cristiane #11 and midfielder Andressa #5 react following the 1-0 loss against Australia in the round of 16. PHOTO: USA TODAY SPORTS

Unlike their male counterparts, who have five World Cups to their name, the Brazilians have not had the same success in the women's game.

Despite a stellar record as regional queens winning the Copa America Femenina a record six times, they have never made the breakthrough on the international stage, a runner-up finish in 2007 their best result.

Even the presence of five-time Fifa Women's World Player of the Year and World Cup record goal-scorer Marta failed to lift the team, who laboured through the group stages and were eliminated at the next hurdle by Australia.

While Australia celebrated the 1-0 triumph - the first-ever win in the knock-out round in their history - the South Americans were left to dwell on yet another disappointing World Cup campaign.

9. English hearts are broken by one of their own


Laura Bassett (right) of England is consoled by teammate Jo Potter following their loss to Japan in the semi-final match between Japan and England. PHOTO: EPA

A reminder of how cruel sport can be was delivered in dramatic fashion in England's semi-final loss to reigning champions Japan.

Both sides had scored a penalty in a tense encounter and the game seemed destined for extra time. That was before centre-back Laura Basset's lunging right leg deflected a hopeful-looking cross over stranded goalkeeper Karen Bardsley and off the underside of the bar in the second minute of injury time.

Instead of dreaming of a first appearance in a World Cup final, all that was left for the England players - Basset was inconsolable and had to be comforted by coach Mark Sampson - at the final whistle were tears and misery.

10. Second chance for record-chasing United States to make history


The United States celebrates the 2-0 victory against Germany. PHOTO: AFP

It has been 16 years - and a lifetime - since the last American triumph in the Women's World Cup.

The two-time champions, tied with Germany whom they beat 2-0 in the semi-finals, are looking to take the outright lead as the most successful nation in the competition.

Goalkeeper Hope Solo and Co. let slip a golden opportunity four years ago when they lost to Japan in a penalty shootout and the Asian team are standing in their way once again.

With captain Carli Lloyd having scored in all three knock-out rounds so far and expected to lead the line and Solo yet to concede a goal since the first game against Australia, the Americans have an excellent chance to make amends for that heartbreaking defeat and etch their names into the history books.

jslow@sph.com.sg