Why the 2019 Women’s World Cup could be the turning point for women’s football?

Why the 2019 Women’s World Cup could be the turning point for women’s football?

None more so than leading up to this summer has women’s football been in football fans’ attentions. Media coverage, the quality of players, even record attendances – everything seems primed heading into these World Cup finals in France for it to make that final push to be accepted on equal footing to the male counterpart.

As the world prepares for the opening clash between France and South Korea in the Parc des Princes in Paris, a spotlight is once again being shone upon the female side of the most popular sport in the world.

Four years ago, as Canada played host to the premier women’s football tournament, approximately 1.35 million people attended the 52 matches on show.

France’s offering is expected to see a similar or better turnout according to Fifa, but it is the TV viewing figures most noteworthy. The world football governing body expect the numbers to easily surpass the 750 million people who watched the event four years prior.

Back in 1995, in Sweden, just 4,500 people attended each game and a total attendance figure for the tournament ran in a little over 112,000 people. There was little coverage of games.

Certainly, women’s football is starting to grow by greater and greater numbers each iteration of the tournament, and year by year. This year’s competition in France will likely be the biggest spotlight so far for the sport, and as such its greatest stage to show off the true talent, pedigree and passion on offer in the women’s game.

Women’s football still falls woefully short in commercial backing when compared to the men’s game, and while some of that comes down to a lack of audience in domestic leagues compared to the men’s game, tournaments like the World Cup are offering advertisers and sponsors that vast audience.

There will be some of the finest stars on display in France this summer and there will be plenty eyes watching the action.

Sadly, though, there will not be all the top stars. Norway’s Ada Hegerberg – the first ever recipient of the female Ballon d’Or and the highest-paid female footballer – will not be present. Hegerberg made the personal decision to boycott the World Cup, walking away from the Norwegian national team in 2017 after becoming increasingly frustrated by what she deemed a “lack of respect” for female players.

Despite being the highest-paid female player, the 23-year-old Olympique Lyonnais striker earns only around $450,000 (£354,000) a year.

While that’s not a figure to be sniffed at, it is 325 times less than Barcelona star Lionel Messi – one of men’s football’s greatest current players – earns in the respective annual period.

Similarly, prize money still falls well short for women’s football as it currently stands.

The 2019 tournament will see a record $30m (£23.6m) in prize money – which is double the prize pot from 2015 – which is progress, but ultimately the winner’s $4m (£3.1m) share is still just 50% of what each of the 16 men’s teams eliminated in the group stages (the earliest stage) took home last summer in Russia.

Clearly, there are issues remaining in women’s football and while the wheels of progress are turning, they’re doing so still at a sluggish pace.

That is why France 2019 has the potential to be quite so significant for the female side of the sport. With the world’s eyes on the game, and with the quality of the players undeniably at its finest, it is truly a chance for these women’s national teams to prove just why those responsible for the commercial boom in football to pay attention equally to both genders.

There will always be more money in men’s football, for many years to come, due to its more established popularity and therefore easier financial returns, but tournaments like France have the potential to demonstrate just how much potential exists in the women’s game.

While there would undoubtedly mean a smaller initial reward financially for investors, there would also be a lower price of entry, and unlike the men’s game – which is already at its peak as the global superpower of sport – there is still so much space to grow.

Investors who join now can reap the ever-increasing rewards for many years to come, and women’s football is only going in one direction right now; upwards.

France has the opportunity to be the turning point for women’s football. Canada, four years ago, started the process of truly legitimising in the image of those key decision-makers and money-holders that there was true investment to be had in the women’s game.

Now, the country of the men’s World Cup holders, could leave it’s mark on the game of football once again by propelling the women’s game upwards into the bright future it deserves, and will one day reach, one way or another.

Women’s football is here to stay and to continue to grow and improve. A magnificent tournament hosted in one of Europe’s top football nations could be the moment those who watch the men’s game already finally sit up and take notice.

That is the legacy France 2019 has the potential to make of itself.

Underestimated or simply upstaged? Scotland stumble from the start against Kazakhstan

Underestimated or simply upstaged? Scotland stumble from the start against Kazakhstan

Scotland fell to an embarrassing 3-0 defeat to Kazakhstan in their opening EURO 2020 qualifying match in the Kazakh capital, Nursultan. However, was it a case of underestimating the underdog, or simply being upstaged by a nation rising to the occasion?

Going into the match in the recently renamed Kazakh capital, the Scotland side will have been feeling confident.

Their opening two matches of their qualifying group had put them up against Kazakhstan and San Marino. On paper, that looked as close to a guaranteed six points as one could have hoped for from the group.

There were some minor hurdles to navigate from the Kazakh side, namely the distance to travel to the country and the artificial pitch they play on, but for a squad of professional international footballers that shouldn’t have been too much of a concern.

Manager Alex McLeish clearly felt confident, as he opted for a side that while bursting with attacking talent, was largely void of big name stars or the traditional on-pitch leaders within the Scotland camp.

Still, even with the omissions, as Serbian referee Srdjan Jovanovic blew the starting whistle in the Astana Arena those celebrating the navy blue shirts would have been confident. After all, Kazakhstan had only recorded victory in three of their previous 40 competitive fixtures – against Andorra, Latvia and the Faroe Islands.

They weren’t going to be a challenge.

Yet, nobody seemed to pass that message on to the hosts, who buzzed around from the very first seconds in their yellow jerseys. Encouraged by the raucous atmosphere in the stadium, they were up for this match.

And after just six minutes of play, they reminded Scotland that they were here to play as Yuriy Pertsukh latched onto a lofted ball with a lovely touch before lashing home a strike. The home supporters were sent into raptures in the stands as Scotland looked desperately for an offside call that was never going to come.

It was just about the worst start McLeish could have witnessed, but little did anyone know at that point that the wheels had only just started to come off. It was going to become a whole lot worse yet.

Before the clock could even reach double figures, that became abundantly clear when Yan Vorogovskiy inflicted further pain, taking advantage of a sleeping Graeme Shinnie.

Scotland were utterly stunned, much like those watching on, as they found themselves 2-0 down inside 10 minutes to a side they’d expected to breeze past. This had not been on the script.

The one positive for Scotland, it was still early in the game.

However, Kazakh goalkeeper Dmytro Nepohodov obviously decided he was quite keen to add to Scotland’s misery and add a clean sheet to what was set to be a famous victory. Every time Scotland looked like they might have been able to regroup and snatch back a crucial goal, the FC Ordabasy man was there to deny them – in spectacular fashion at times too.

Trouble continued in the second half, as more woeful defending – this time from Scott McKenna – allowed Baktiyar Zainutdinov to out-jump his man and kill off the tie with a smartly finished header.

Already, just five minutes into the second half, the tie was dead in the water and the hosts were all but assured of their famous victory.

Having often been on the losing side of results, they know how to defend and sit back to deny and frustrate opponents. The rest of this match was no different.

Scotland soon discovered themselves playing the match they had predicted from kick off, facing up against a rigid Kazakh defence happy to sit back and soak up pressure comfortably. The only difference, the Scots still lacked real quality while Kazakhstan were riding high on cloud nine, with vocal support from the crowds inside the Astana Arena.

Oh, and the score was still 3-0 in favour of the hosts.

No surprises, therefore, when the final whistle gifted a result of the exact same scoreline. It was a memorable night for those Kazakh players, and one of absolute horror and embarrassment for a woeful Scotland.

Yes, there had always been a banana peel of sorts to slip up on against Kazakhstan from the start, but nobody had truly expected McLeish’s men to actually trip on it. And especially not as spectacularly as they did.

It was a truly embarrassing result – one that will stick with this side for the rest of their EURO 2020 campaign – and that may well have already proven fatal in their pursuit for qualification, given how many competitive teams are in Scotland’s group.

Kazakhstan deserve plaudits for their efforts and display. They were genuinely brilliant on the night.

However, Scotland sat back and underestimated the minnow nation so much that it invited the upset, and it was frankly what was deserved. There were schoolboy mistakes and a real lack of leadership on display in navy and it proved costly.

The one solace for McLeish and Scotland, their next match is against San Marino. Time away from the spotlight and against an opposition of an even easier calibre than the Kazakhs is crucial. Confidence can be rebuilt by racking up the goals in a game that you would expect should be a breeze.

But, they absolutely must not falter in it. An embarrassing 3-0 loss to Kazakhstan is bad. Really bad. But anything over than a resounding victory over San Marino in three days time would be curtains for Scotland and EURO 2020.