1991 FIFA Women's World Cup (partially found footage of international football matches; 1991)

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Programme for the tournament under its original name.

Status: Partially Found

The 1991 FIFA Women's World Cup was the inaugural FIFA-sanctioned global women's football tournament. Occurring in China from 16th-30th November 1991, the Final saw the United States defeat Norway 3-1 to claim its first World Cup.


A common misconception is that the 1991 FIFA Women's World Cup was the first ever global women's football tournament.[1][2] In actuality, the Federation of Independent European Female Football had organised the 1970 and 1971 Women's World Cups, albeit without FIFA's involvement or recognition.[3][1] Women's football grew as countries across the world began to lift bans on the sport, with continental tournaments such as the AFC Women's Championship also being launched.[1] Following this, several non-FIFA-sanctioned women's tournaments called the Mundialito were held between 1982 and 1988.[4][5][1] After growing pressure for a global tournament emerged, particularly from Norwegian Football Federation member Ellen Wille during a speech at the 45th FIFA Congress in 1986, FIFA reluctantly began experimenting on producing its own Women's World Cup.[6][7][8][1] Following a successful experimental tournament called the 1988 FIFA Women's Invitation Tournament, which saw Norway defeat Sweden 1-0 in China to win the cup, FIFA announced the creation of an international women's championship for 1991.[1][7][8]

Still, FIFA was concerned that the tournament could become a possible commercial failure and potentially damage the World Cup brand.[7][1][8] Thus, it originally coined the tournament the "1st FIFA World Championship for Women's Football for the M&M's Cup", reflecting its Mars sponsorship.[7][1][8] It insisted on only having matches be 80 minutes long, as the organisation was concerned most teams could not complete a full-90 minute game.[1][7][8] Equipment and other facilities were also not exactly up to the standards the men's World Cup enjoyed.[7][1][8] Despite FIFA's concerns, the competition, which occurred in the region of Guangdong, China, proved to be a success, 63,000 having attended the Final at the Tianhe Stadium.[1][8][7] The tournament is now retroactively called the 1991 FIFA Women's World Cup and is thus the inaugural edition of a now-long running international football competition.[9][7][1][8]

Qualification saw twelve nations book their place into the Finals, all of which were based on performances in respective confederation championships.[10] Nigeria became the sole African representative, defeating Cameroon 6-0 to also claim the first African Women's Championship.[11] China beat Japan 5-0 in the 1991 AFC Women's Championship; the two nations qualified for the World Cup alongside Taiwan (represented as Chinese Taipei), who defeated North Korea 5-4 on penalties in the Third Place Playoff.[12] The UEFA Women's Euro 1991 qualification also determined World Cup qualification; Norway beat Hungary 4-1; Denmark overcame the Netherlands 1-0 after extra time; Germany dominated England 6-1; while Italy beat Sweden on the away goals rule after drawing 1-1 on aggregate.[13] However, Sweden also qualified as the strongest performing loser.[13] Germany were considered a favourite alongside China by beating Norway 3-1 in the Euro Final.[13]

The United States were also considered likely winners, the nation having beaten Canada 5-0 to win the first CONCACAF Women's Championship, consequently becoming the sole North American representative too.[14][15] New Zealand and Australia both won 1-0 at home against each other, while demolishing Papua New Guinea.[16] New Zealand won the OFC Women's Championship and World Cup qualification by virtue of a better goal difference.[16] Finally, Brazil's dominance of Chile and Venezuela saw it be crowned the inaugural Sudamericano Femenino champions, and inherit the only South American spot.[17]

The Tournament

The 1991 FIFA Women's World Cup began on 16th November, with Group A's China facing Euro runners-up Norway.[18][19][10] Despite the success of both teams heading in, the hosts dominated proceedings.[18][10][19] Ma Li scored the first ever FIFA Women's World Cup goal after 22 minutes after successfully exploiting a gap in the Norwegian defence, while two goals from Liu Alling tripled China's lead.[18][10][19] Sun Qingmel's 75th strike ensured a strong 4-0 win for the hosts.[10][18][19] Also in Group A, Denmark and a humbled Norway overcame New Zealand 4-0 and 3-0 respectively, while China had to come from behind twice to draw 2-2 with Denmark.[10][18][19] China topped the group unbeaten with a 4-1 victory against New Zealand, while Norway placed themselves second via 2-1 win over Denmark, a 56th minute goal from Linda Medalen quickly cancelling out the Danes' equaliser.[10][18][19] In Group B, Brazil narrowly beat Japan 1-0, while the United States almost blew away a three-goal lead in the second-half, ultimately edging out Sweden 3-2.[10][19] They and Sweden then thrashed Brazil and Japan 5-0 and 8-0 respectively, the US topping their group with a 3-0 victory over Japan.[10][19] Meanwhile, Sweden beat Brazil 2-0 to claim second.[10][19]

Germany meanwhile controlled Group C, beating Nigeria 4-0, Chinese Taipei 3-0, and Italy 2-0.[10][19] Italy thrashed Chinese Taipei 5-0, but only just beat Nigeria 1-0 thanks to a 68th-minute goal from Carolina Morace.[10][19] Chinese Taipei recovered from their huge losses by defeating Nigeria 2-0, despite losing their goalkeeper early into the game.[10][19] Alongside the six teams that were in the top two of their respective groups, the top two highest-ranking third-placed teams also reached the Quarter-Finals.[10][19] Denmark and Chinese Taipei, therefore, joined the Last 8, the latter edging out Brazil on goals scored.[10][19]

In the Quarter-Finals, a 17th-minute penalty from Germany's Bettina Wiegmann was cancelled out by Denmark's Susan Mackensie's 25th-minute penalty.[10][19] The game was the first to reach extra time, with the Euro champions prevailing from a goal by Heidi Mohr after 98 minutes.[10][19] The host's run meanwhile reached an abrupt and unexpected end when a Pia Sundhage goal three minutes proved enough for Sweden to reach the Semi-Finals.[18][10][19] Italy proved more resilient in its match, coming from behind twice to have its encounter with Norway initially end 2-2.[10][19] However, a penalty from Tina Svensson 96 minutes in finally gave the Scandinavian side the victory.[10][19] The United States-Chinese Taipei match was comparatively one-sided, five goals from Michelle Akers-Stahl contributing to a 7-0 romp.[10][19]

Despite having lost heavily to China early in the tournament, Norway redeemed themselves with a convincing victory against Sweden.[10][19] Lena Videkull put the Swedes in front after six minutes, but the nation conceded a penalty after 39 minutes.[10][19] Svensson therefore levelled proceedings, and Medalen put the Norwegians ahead two minutes later.[10][19] In the second half, Norway further controlled the encounter via an Agnete Carlsen strike.[10][19] Finally, a second goal from Medalen after 77 minutes put Norway into the Final.[10][19] Meanwhile, Carin Jennings scored a hattrick for the United States after just 33 minutes.[10][19] Heidi Mohr pulled a goal back for Germany a minute later, but despite a 65th-minute strike from Weigmann, two further goals by April Heinrichs guaranteed a European-North American Final.[10][19] In the Third Place playoff, Sweden put themselves 4-0 in front by half-time against Germany, which remained as the final score.[10][19]

Heading into the Final, the United States expressed confidence and motivation against Norway.[20][7] Akers-Stahl stated that "I think we feel we are on a mission now and no one will get in our way, no matter what. If we play well, we should win."[20] In front of between 63,000-65,000 at the Tianhe Stadium, Akers-Stahl put her side in front after 20 minutes, capitalising on a Shannon Higgins free-kick into the box by delivering a header.[21][10][7][19] However, the lead was short-lived; a long free-kick into the United States box reached Medalen, whose header rebounded from the left post into the goal.[21][10][19] Both teams were evenly matched in the first half, but neither were able to again break the deadlock.[21] However, even the United States admitted that Norway found a second gear in the second half, controlling proceedings, particularly within the last 30 minutes.[21][7]

Despite this, the European side could not find that second goal.[21] In contrast, after 78 minutes, a lob from Higgins was intended to reach Akers-Stahl.[21] Svensson attempted to intercept but made an error in doing so, allowing Akers-Stahl to move past her.[21] The US forward then beat goalkeeper Reidun Seth, before calmly tapping the ball into the net.[21][10][19] Despite a Norway fightback, the United States held strong, winning the Final 2-1 and claiming the side's first of to date four World Cups.[21][10][19][7] Post-match, the US manager Anson Dorrance praised the Norwegian opposition, stating "Norway had the run of play and we got the break." I consider my team an excited but certainly very lucky world champion."[21] While the team's win would ultimately make little impact in their home country, it did provide a boost to US credentials heading into the 1994 men's World Cup, which the country was due to host.[21][7] Dorrance reflected this, stating "I feel what we've done here is proof to the world we are a developing soccer nation."[21]


From a television standpoint, the 1991 FIFA Women's World Cup received substantial coverage in China.[21][20] According to The New York Times, Chinese reporters travelled across the country to comment on the matches, with television broadcasts providing full live coverage or at least highlights.[21][20] The world feed in particular was relayed across over 100 countries, with many airing live and tape-delayed match broadcasts.[21] Coverage in the United States was handled by SportsChannel America, with commentary provided by Randy Hahn and Rick Davis.[1] The broadcasts were aired on tape delay and received criticism for poorly inserted mid-game advertisements.[1]

In April 2013, Megan Dubeau uploaded the full coverage of all six matches featuring the United States. But while the champions' run is fully recovered, other game footage remains scarce. Thanks to a FIFA documentary, key highlights of various non-United States matches are publicly viewable. However, the full tapes remain unaccounted for.



Highlights of the 1991 FIFA Women's World Cup.

Coverage of the Final.

United States vs Germany.

United States vs Sweden.

United States vs Brazil.

United States vs Japan.

United States vs Chinese Taipei.

See Also


  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 1.13 US Sport History detailing the prelude to the 1991 FIFA Women's World Cup, including the lifting of bans worldwide, the unsanctioned Women's World Cups and Mundialitos, and the eventual creation of the tournament. Retrieved 22nd Feb '23
  2. FIFA claiming the 1991 FIFA Women's World Cup was the first ever Women's World Cup. Retrieved 22nd Feb '23
  3. Common Goal detailing the 1970 and 1971 Women's World Cups which was not FIFA-sanctioned. Retrieved 22nd Feb '23
  4. Big Soccer detailing the Mundialito tournaments. Retrieved 22nd Feb '23
  5. RSSSF detailing the results of the Mundialito. Retrieved 22nd Feb '23
  6. France 24 detailing FIFA finally deciding to produce a Women's World Cup following pressure including from Wille's speech. Retrieved 22nd Feb '23
  7. 7.00 7.01 7.02 7.03 7.04 7.05 7.06 7.07 7.08 7.09 7.10 7.11 7.12 The Guardian detailing the success of the 1991 FIFA Women's World Cup, and the United States run to the Final. Retrieved 22nd Feb '23
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 8.5 8.6 8.7 The 18 summarising FIFA's creation of its World Cup, its concerns, and how the tournament proved successful in the end. Retrieved 22nd Feb '23
  9. Fox Sports listing the top four teams of each FIFA Women's World Cup. Retrieved 22nd Feb '23
  10. 10.00 10.01 10.02 10.03 10.04 10.05 10.06 10.07 10.08 10.09 10.10 10.11 10.12 10.13 10.14 10.15 10.16 10.17 10.18 10.19 10.20 10.21 10.22 10.23 10.24 10.25 10.26 10.27 10.28 10.29 10.30 10.31 10.32 RSSSF detailing the results of the 1991 World Cup. Retrieved 22nd Feb '23
  11. RSSSF detailing the 1991 African Women's Championship. Retrieved 22nd Feb '23
  12. RSSSF detailing the 1991 AFC Women's Championship. Retrieved 22nd Feb '23
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 RSSSF detailing the 1991 UEFA Women's Euro 1991 qualification and Finals. Retrieved 22nd Feb '23
  14. RSSSF detailing the 1991 CONCACAF Women's Championship. Retrieved 22nd Feb '23
  15. Front Row Soccer summarising the United States winning the cup. Retrieved 22nd Feb '23
  16. 16.0 16.1 RSSSF detailing the 1991 OFC Women's Championship. Retrieved 22nd Feb '23
  17. RSSSF detailing the 1991 Sudamericano Femenino. Retrieved 22nd Feb '23
  18. 18.0 18.1 18.2 18.3 18.4 18.5 18.6 FIFA detailing Ma Li's opening goal, and summarising China's run in the tournament. Retrieved 22nd Feb '23
  19. 19.00 19.01 19.02 19.03 19.04 19.05 19.06 19.07 19.08 19.09 19.10 19.11 19.12 19.13 19.14 19.15 19.16 19.17 19.18 19.19 19.20 19.21 19.22 19.23 19.24 19.25 19.26 19.27 19.28 19.29 19.30 19.31 FIFA technical report providing comments on certain teams. Retrieved 22nd Feb '23
  20. 20.0 20.1 20.2 20.3 The New York Times reporting on the United States' motivation towards winning the Final. Retrieved 22nd Feb '23
  21. 21.00 21.01 21.02 21.03 21.04 21.05 21.06 21.07 21.08 21.09 21.10 21.11 21.12 21.13 21.14 The New York Times reporting on the United States beating Norway for the World Cup. Retrieved 22nd Feb '23