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Women's World Cup History

  Michelle Akers dominated the inaugural Women's World Cup, scoring 10 goals and leading the U.S. team to the title. Rick Stewart/Allsport

An ambitious project when it was conceived by then-FIFA President Joao Havelange, the Women's World Cup has evolved into the premier event for women's soccer in less than a decade since the first matches were played back in 1991. The two previous World Cups have been won by the United States and Norway in 1991 and 1995, respectively.

The very first Women's World Cup was played in China in 1991. It was a tournament dominated by a towering trio of U.S. strikers -- Michelle Akers, Carin Jennings and team captain April Heinrichs. In six games, they combined for 20 goals, terrorizing opposing teams' defenses with their skill, speed and size.

The U.S. beat Sweden, Brazil and Japan in succession in group play and advanced to the quarterfinals where they crushed Chinese Taipei 7-0, led by five goals from Akers. In the semifinals, it was Jennings' turn to shine, as she recorded a hat trick in a 5-3 win over Germany. That win set up a final match with Norway.

The Norwegians were the surprise of the tournament. They had rebounded after suffering a crushing 4-0 loss to host China in the opening match of the tournament to advance all the way to the finals. In their final group match, Norway squeezed past Denmark 2-1 to avoid ending up the U.S. side of the bracket for the elimination rounds.

They then went to overtime with Italy in the quarterfinals before squeezing through. But in the semifinals the Norwegians blew out Sweden 4-1 to move into the finals.

The final match of the 1991 Women's World Cup was the perfect finish for the inaugural tournament. A hard-fought, tightly-played contest, it was not decided until the final minutes when Akers broke a 1-1 deadlock with the winning score. It was Akers second goal of the game and 10th of the tournament, sealing the trophy for her country and cementing her the title of best women's soccer player.

By 1995, Norway had nursed its wounds from the finals four years earlier. The Norwegians made the short journey to Sweden for the tournament ready to roll, and roll they did through group play.

Norway ripped through its three Group B opponents -- Nigeria, England and Canada -- scoring 17 goals and yielding none to establish itself as the elimination-round favorite. In the quarterfinals, it gave up its first goal in winning 3-1, but the score came the outcome of Norway's contest with Denmark no longer in doubt. That set up the match that the Norwegians had been waiting four years for -- a rematch with the U.S.

After starting the tournament slowly in a 3-3 draw with China in group play, the U.S. had rebounded with a 2-0 win over Denmark, a game in which superstar Mia Hamm played goalie after goalkeeper Brianna Scurry was ejected, and a 4-1 win over Australia. A dominating 4-0 quarterfinal win over Japan sent the U.S. into the Norway match on a roll.

Defenses dominated when the two world powers met on June 15, 1995. Both teams played it close to the vest, and a 10th minute score by Norway's Ann Kristin Aarones proved to be the difference in the game. That sent the U.S. home and pushed the Norwegians into the final where they would face a German squad, which had dispatched China 1-0 in the other semifinal match.

In front of more than 17,000 fans who sat through a steady rain, Norway got goals from Hege Riise and Marianne Pettersen to beat Germany 2-0 and capture the Women's World Cup title.

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