The other day, Sepp Blatter, President of FIFA and all-around international man of mystery, took to Twitter to pronounce: "In Canada, women's football and players such as @Sincy12 [Christine Sinclair] may be the driver for men's football."
Maybe, Mr. President, maybe. But that's not the only point of the women's game, is it? It can't be that the women's game exists primarily to cultivate interest in men playing the game of soccer.
No, it can't be. To use an old slogan from FIFA itself – "One World, One Game."
All women's sports are inadequately covered by mainstream media, as if they were an alternative culture, one that undermines the mainstream, male-centric, big-business sports. Women's soccer certainly deserves better than the occasional look, or the condescension it gets in some quarters.
And then along comes this, the FIFA Under-20 Women's World Cup, unfolding here as a curtain-raiser of sorts for next year's larger Women's World Cup in Canada. In soccer, it's the Canadian women that matter. And the Under-20 national team did fabulously well at BMO Field (the "National Soccer Stadium" for FIFA purposes) in front of a raucous, passionate crowd of 14,800.
The stadium has seen bigger attendances but few more intensely played matches. Canada started brightly, but Ghana's deftness in counterattack proved the difference on Sherifatu Sumaila's finely worked goal in the 22nd minute. Canada came close to equalizing, with Emma Fletcher hitting the post as the first half ended, and poured on the pressure in the second half. But Ghana withstood and won 1-0.
Canada plays Finland on Friday and Korea DPR the following Wednesday; Korea has already defeated Finland.
Smart with the ball, speedy, tactically sophisticated, this young Canadian team is glorious to watch. Five players on this team have already played for the senior national team. Some will probably be stars by this time next year. One is Kadeisha Buchanan, an 18-year-old university student from Toronto, and an established, formidable defender. Anyone who watched her mark the American star striker Abby Wambach out of games saw a skilled, confident teen make the U.S.'s all-time leading scorer invisible.
This is the seventh FIFA Under-20 Women's World Cup. It's not a novelty and it's not going to disappear. The inaugural tournament – then the Under-19 Women's World Cup – was held here in Canada in 2002. Canada made it to the final, losing to the U.S. in front of 47,000 fans in Edmonton. No small thing. And from that event grew the careers and reputations of Christine Sinclair and Erin McLeod, among others.
Of the 16 nations represented, the U.S. and Germany come with the most might and reputation, having won five of the past six editions of the tournament between them. They played a fiercely competitive match in Edmonton Tuesday evening, one that ended with a fading U.S. losing 2-0 in an emphatic victory for Germany.
Brazil is here too, a great team to watch and with one aim in mind – forging a women's team to win Olympic gold in Rio in two years time. The lure is all the greater since the men's team faded so dismally hosting last month's World Cup.
England is good, too, though with less flair and precision than France, which now vies with Germany for supremacy in the women's game in Europe. Ghana, a proud soccer nation, is also, and obviously, a team to focus on.
There's a theory going around, and it's a valid one: Women's soccer, free of the distracting macho antics and theatrics of the male professional game, is soccer in its purest form – the world's game played simply and with skill and passion. Fewer stoppages, fewer fouls, greater ardour.
It links women everywhere, of every background, religion and culture, because it is the world's game, everybody's. The game that crosses the boundaries of nations, religion and culture. It's not evolving to drive the men's game. It has its own torque driving itself forward.