World Cup Legacy
The tournament's biggest story may well be written some time after its conclusion. The significant growth of women's soccer and the current interest in the World Cup will mean little if there is no lasting impression. The 1994 men's World Cup in the United States was the catalyst for Major League Soccer, and the popularity of women's sports in the 1996 Olympics gave rise to the WNBA. The first two Women's World Cups were held in relative obscurity. The third will either start the surge toward an American professional league, or it will be remembered as the novelty showpiece of a niche sport.
Hamm in the Spotlight
The face of the World Cup belongs to U.S. goal-scoring machine Mia Hamm. Hamm, however, is known to shy away from the spotlight, and although she is considered the most dangerous player in the world, she has yet to dominate a World Cup. It is a feat she must attempt in the face of lofty expectations, an eager media and corporate pressure. Brazil's Ronaldo could not handle it in France and broke down before the final. Hamm's peformance in similar circumstances may be the difference between U.S. triumph and disappointment.
Norway Facing Adversity
With the hype surrounding the talented U.S. team, it may be difficult to remember that Norway is the world champion. The Norwegians were dominant in Sweden in 1995, winning their six matches by a combined score of 23-1. They are experienced and hungry, but will play without Gro Espeseth, the inspirational defender and team fixture who injured her knee in April. If Norway is to remain champion, it must do so without its leader.
Women's Game Goes Global
Like the men's version last summer, the Women's World Cup field is one-third larger to reflect the international popularity of the game. Women's soccer is still relatively new in many parts of the world, and the performance of those "extra" four teams may indicate whether the women's game, and to an extent the image of women as athletes, has taken hold. The global future of women's soccer may depend on countries such as Ghana and North Korea, which will make their first appearances, giving credible performances on the world stage.