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Women's World Cup opens new frontiers

With huge crowds and television audiences, popular winners in Japan, and European talents like Lotta Schelin and Sonia Bompastor shining, the tournament in Germany was a hit.

Japan's players bask in their Women's World Cup final triumph
Japan's players bask in their Women's World Cup final triumph ©Getty Images

Germany may have been unable to win their third straight FIFA Women's World Cup – the trophy going to Japan in Frankfurt on Sunday evening – but the tournament proved a huge success for the hosts and the female game in general.

After a European record crowd for women's football of 73,680 flocked to see the opening encounter between Germany and Canada at Berlin's Olympiastadion, no fewer than 800,000 people attended the 32 matches in total. The fixtures were also a television success in many countries, not least Germany, where audiences topped 17 million for the home side's quarter-final loss to Japan and the average approached seven million per game. Even NASA astronaut Sandra Magnus, aboard the last Space Shuttle flight, has been demanding results, admitting to being "really shocked" by Germany's exit.

On the pitch, Japan secured their first major women's honour – they have never even been Asian champions – courtesy of a swift passing game compared to FC Barcelona's, while competition top scorer Homare Sawa, contesting her fifth World Cup, was a soaring presence at the heart of their victory. The nation had previously reached the semi-finals at the 2008 Olympic Games, but their knockout-phase displays against Germany, Sweden and the United States set new standards in the women's sport.

The two European contenders who performed best were the teams previously marked as serial underachievers. Sweden, the 2003 runners-up, had not won a knockout match since Thomas Dennerby's 2005 appointment, but, having topped their group ahead of the US, they saw off Australia in the quarter-finals before being outpassed by Japan. Until that last game their defence had been immense, and in the semis they badly missed the injured Caroline Seger, who, like Lotta Schelin up front, confirmed her world-class status.

France, after all their youth success and Olympique Lyonnais' UEFA Women's Champions League win, were due a breakthrough and it came with their 4-0 trouncing of Canada and penalty shoot-out elimination of England in the last eight. Charismatic coach Bruno Bini ensured that the likes of Sonia Bompastor, Camille Abily, Louisa Necib and Laura Georges gave full rein to their abilities – and his side are now serious contenders for UEFA Women's EURO 2013 as well as the 2012 Olympic tournament, where they and Sweden will join Great Britain thanks to their World Cup showing.

A notable absentee from the Olympics, incredibly, will be Germany, whose thoughts must turn to winning their sixth successive European title in Sweden. The dismayed host nation can nonetheless console themselves by pointing to the quality of their new generation – hence Birgit Prinz and Ariane Hingst ending their stellar international careers on the bench against Japan – while coach Silvia Neid is carrying on at the helm. "I've got so much support from my players and from so many other people that I am full of energy again," she said.

England exited the competition in the quarter-finals as well, joining their male counterparts in experiencing the heartbreak of a spot-kick loss. Yet even if Hope Powell decides to finish her 13-year coaching reign to take a senior job at the Football Association, she will leave her successor a fine legacy. No longer are her team reliant on the immense talent of Kelly Smith thanks to the emergence of Ellen White and the maturing of Karen Carney and Jill Scott.

Norway's group-stage elimination against Australia was a disappointment, in contrast, but the number of competitive countries continues to increase, hence the expansion of the 2015 finals in Canada to 24 sides.