USA avenged their heart-breaking 2011 Women's World Cup final loss at the hands of Japan, with a resounding 5-2 victory against the Asian team in the final of the 2015 tournament in Vancouver, Canada, on Sunday.
The Americans made a blistering start to the game that left a strong Japanese side completely rattled, virtually ending all hopes of a Japanese comeback in the first 16 minutes itself. Midfielder Carli Lloyd led the team with a hat-trick, the first ever in a Women's World Cup final, including a goal from the halfway line in the 16th minute. USA managed to slow the game after the explosive start, bringing to an end a highly compelling edition of the Women's World Cup.
FIFA scandal prior to tournament
10 days before the start of the tournament, Swiss law enforcement officials arrested 7 high-ranking FIFA officials in Zurich. The arrest of the officials, coupled with an FBI-led investigation in the US, which indicted 14 past and present senior FIFA officials on charges of corruption, drew the attention of the international media, and created the biggest crisis in FIFA's history.
With Sepp Blatter calling for an extraordinary congress four days after his re-election, there were fears that the entire scandal would take the spotlight away from the Women's World Cup, which had already been embroiled in another controversy.
Artificial turf controversy
All the games of the tournament were played on artificial turfs, which are seen as unsafe for players. Many prominent footballers voiced their anger over the use of the turfs and even filed a lawsuit against FIFA on the issue. USA's veteran footballer Abby Wambach stated that their male counterparts would never have been subjected to similarly unsafe conditions. Despite these objections, the tournament went ahead with the artificial turfs in place, drawing criticism from various quarters.
Increased viewership, in spite of controversies
In spite of these controversies, the tournament has been a major success in terms of viewership, after some action-packed games throughout the month. The 2015 edition had been expanded into 24 teams, an increase of 8 teams from the last tournament. The increased slots for the finals saw 8 teams making their World Cup finals debuts, helping the competition gain new viewers from across the world. In traditional women's football bases like USA, China and Japan, there has been a significant rise in TV viewership.
In USA alone, the average viewership has been up by 45%, with 8.4 million viewers tuning in to watch the USA-Germany semi-final, making it the third most watched women's football game in the country. In host nation Canada, the total viewership in the first three days itself was more than three times the 2011 audience. Similarly, both China and Japan recorded a jump in viewership as well. Last month, FIFA's Youtube channel recorded its highest ever traffic in a single month, which is a glowing endorsement of the women's game.