SHANGHAI - Women's football has come a long way since the first World Cup in 1991, and the fifth edition in China this week has the chance to drive it to the next level.
The last tournament in 2003 stamped the game on the sporting map, with a hugely successful event hosted by the US after a last-minute move from China when a deadly disease outbreak rattled nerves.
France, South Korea and Argentina made their debuts and there were upsets galore.
The 2007 hosts, China, were caught short in the quarterfinals by Canada, while defending champions the US fell 3-0 in the semis to Germany.
In a genuinely exciting all-European final, a 2-1 golden goal victory gave reigning European Champions Germany their first world title and the achievement of becoming the only nation to win both a men's and women's World Cup final.
The game came of age at that inaugural World Cup in 1991 when 12 teams competed in China to large and enthusiastic crowds. Female referees were appointed for the first time in Fifa history, with Claudia de Vasconcelos of Brazil becoming the first woman to take charge at such a high level.
The US team tore through the tournament to lift the trophy.
Michelle Akers, Carin Jennings and April Heinrichs combined to score 20 of the 25 goals for the US, including all five (Jennings 3, Heinrichs 2) in a 5-2 semifinal victory over Germany.
Akers responded with both goals in their 2-1 win over Norway to take the title in front of 65000 fans in Guangzhou.
In Sweden in 1995, the world's top 12 teams came together once again to consecrate women's football at the highest level. The competition opened with a shocker, as Brazil downed hosts Sweden 1-0.
The Brazilians, though, could not maintain the pace, and lost their next two matches to skid out, while Sweden rallied to make the quarterfinals.
But it wasn't to last as China gained a measure of historic revenge in the last eight. After being eliminated in their home country in 1991 by Sweden, China knocked out the hosts on penalties. Germany cruised past England to earn a berth in the semis, while Norway ripped Denmark to set up a semifinal against the US.
The Americans travelled to Sweden as favourites but couldn't cope with what Norway threw at them, losing 1-0.
That pushed the Norwegians into the final where they faced Germany.
In front of more than 17000 fans who sat through steady rain, Hege Riise and Marianne Pettersen hit the target as Norway won 2-0, with Sweden's Ingrid Jonsson becoming the first woman to referee a Fifa final.
The World Cup travelled to the US in 1999, with 16 teams playing in huge stadiums and spectator figures topping 666000. The US beat China 5-4 on penalties to win the tournament. - Sapa-AFP