FIFA: Talent level at Women’s World Cup higher than it was four years ago

VANCOUVER — FIFA says talent is on the rise in women’s soccer.

The sport’s governing body expanded the field at the 2015 Women’s World Cup to 24 teams from the 16 that participated in Germany four years ago, and despite some lopsided scores in the group stage officials are confident the move was the right one.

“Of course there are some teams here, you can see from the quality, it’s not the same,” said Tatjana Haenni, FIFA’s deputy director of competitions and head of women’s football. “(There are) the top teams and then there’s a difference with some of the other teams.

“But I just think for the tournament itself, we’ve had entertaining games, we’ve had great games.”

Among the matches that weren’t close were Germany’s 10-0 demolition of Ivory Coast, and Ecuador’s two embarrassing defeats — 6-0 to Cameroon and 10-1 to Switzerland.

But those results aside, FIFA officials said at Monday’s media briefing that the calibre of play is up overall, including skills on the ball and goalkeeping, which made for an exciting group stage with four third-place teams advancing to the knockout round.

“We think the (talent) level is better than in 2011,” said Sylvie Beliveau, a member of FIFA’s technical study group. “I think there was one group where we knew the third and fourth teams a little bit in advance, but all the other groups were quite challenging.

“I think that tells us that it has improved.”

On the topic of quality, FIFA head of refereeing Massimo Busacca said he’s been pleased with the officiating at the tournament, while adding there needs to be growth in that aspect of the women’s game as well.

“We had 24 teams here. For sure, the 24 teams, they were not all at the same level,” said Busacca, who refereed at both the 2006 and 2010 men’s World Cups. “We have some (teams) that were better than others. The referees are the same.”

Haenni said expanding the field also gave countries without historically powerful women’s teams a more realistic opportunity of qualifying and an impetus to further invest in their programs.

“Teams had the chance to qualify and when you have a chance to qualify you do more,” she said. “You prepare better, the national team gets more support, they play more matches and that all trickles down … and that’s what we really need.”

With the Germany taking on the United States and England meeting Japan in the semifinals, Haenni added that FIFA cannot force countries to fund the women’s game.

“Top women’s football associations are doing a fantastic job, but it’s not enough,” she said. “It’s an association who’s in charge of their program. We can only try to support them.”

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Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press

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