The 5 Greatest Women’s World Cup Finals of all time
The 2023 World Cup final will be the ninth installment, but which is the best so far? Ranking the 5 best FIFA Women’s World Cup finals in history.
The 2023 Women’s World Cup is heating up as it heads to the knockout stages this weekend. Before we reach the final, let's take a moment to revisit some of the greatest finals the competition has offered us. These memorable matches have featured sell-out crowds, Golden Goals, and some of the most intense penalty shootouts in the history of the tournament.
When is the 2023 Women’s World Cup Final?
The women’s World Cup final will take place on August 20th, kicking off at 6:00 AM EST at the Stadium Australia, otherwise known as the Sydney Olympic Stadium.
With a capacity crowd of 83,500 people, the 2023 final will be quite the spectacle. Australia are still in the competition, and some of the tournament favorites including England and Spain will all be battling it out for a spot in the finals this Sunday.
Women’s World Cup Finals History
The first of the women’s World Cup finals took place in 1991, when the inaugural tournament was hosted by China. The USWNT beat Norway that year, and have won another three tournaments since cementing their status as the most successful women’s team of all time.
Meanwhile, Germany have won the competition twice, while Japan and Norway have both claimed one each. The 2023 women’s World Cup final will mark the ninth edition, with an anticipated sellout crowd of 83,000 soccer fans.
The 1999 tournament final held at the Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena is the record attendance for a women’s World Cup final, with 90,185 fans in attendance that day.
Ranking the Top 5 Greatest FIFA Women’s World Cup Finals in History
- 1991 Women’s World Cup Final: USA vs Norway
Final Score: 2-1 USA
The inaugural tournament resulted in a closely contested final between two of women’s early powerhouse nations.
Norway were one of the early adopters in Europe and quickly established themselves as a dangerous team, but they got off to a slow start in the competition.
In the first game of the Group Stage, they suffered a 4-0 burial from the host nation China, but quickly gathered themselves to not only qualify but progress all the way to the final with knockout wins over Italy and Sweden.
Meanwhile, the USWNT had scored 23 goals in just five games after finishing top of their group and taking down both Chinese Taipei and Germany to reach the final. They would start clear favorites to win against the Norwegians in the final.
Legendary US striker Michelle Akers gave the USWNT the lead, but Norway closed the gap within 10 minutes and the game was tied at half time.
In the 78th minute it would be Akers again who gave the US the advantage, and this time they held on to claim the World Cup trophy with a 2-1 win.
The final marked the first World Cup win for the USWNT, and inspired them to go on and win three more in later competitions.
- 2015 Women’s World Cup Final: USA vs Japan
Final Score: 5-2 USA
The most dominant win in women’s World Cup final history belongs to the USWNT, who headed into the 2015 tournament seeking redemption.
Four years prior, they experienced the competition slipping through their fingers in a penalty shootout against Japan. As fate would have it, the two teams met again for the second time in a row in the 2015 final.
This time around they went out on a mission, and within 15 minutes they were leading 4-0. The game was all but over, and a Carli Lloyd hat trick led the way.
One of her three goals came from a stunning strike from the halfway line, lobbing the Japanese goalkeeper in one of the most outrageous moments we’ve ever seen at World Cup competition. Lobbing the goalkeeper from the halfway line on an international stage is one thing, doing it in the tournament final is another.
The USA won 5-2, with the game being held at BC Place in Vancouver, Canada. It had been 16 years since their last win, and they were finally back on top.
- 2003 Women’s World Cup Final: Germany vs Sweden
Final Score: 2-1
In 2004 the Golden Goal rule was scrapped from the footballing world following the Euro 2004 men’s competition. But in 2003 before it ceased to exist, the rule had a pretty significant impact on the women’s World Cup.
The tournament was hosted at the last minute in the USA after the SARS outbreak in China, and the final would be held at the Home Depot Center in Carson, California.
By the time the 2003 World Cup arrived, Germany had asserted their dominance in Europe, securing three consecutive European Cup victories. Notably, two of those finals resulted in wins over Sweden another in which they eliminated Sweden in the semi-finals.
It’s fair to say a rivalry was building, and Sweden were on the wrong end of it far too often. In the 2003 final it was the Swedes who took the lead, thinking that maybe it was finally their turn to take Germany's crown away from them.
Their lead lasted just five minutes though, with Germany scoring inside of two minutes when the second half got underway. The game then remained deadlocked until extra time, where the Golden Goal reared its head.
A deep cross from a free kick was lifted into the box, and German defender Nia Kunzer met it with force to guide it into the back of the net, ending the game and winning the competition for Germany.
Swedish players were left stunned as the Germany bench ran out onto the field in celebration. Perhaps they would have won anyway, but Sweden probably wishes the Golden Goal rule was abolished a year or two sooner.
- 1999 Women’s World Cup Final: USA vs China
Final Score: 0-0 (USA won on penalties)
The 1999 tournament final could easily be considered the greatest women’s World Cup final of all time, and the spectacle of the game certainly enhances that potential.
The USWNT were under serious pressure to deliver, with more eyes on the women’s game than ever before as they hosted the competition in their own backyard. The stakes felt higher than ever as the potential to grow the game and encourage young women to pay more attention to it was evident.
They scored 13 goals and won all three games in the Group Stage, before taking down the European champions in Germany and Brazil in back-to-back knockout games to reach the final.
At the time, China were one of the strongest teams in the game. They’d beaten out Russia and in the semi final won 5-0 against defending champions Norway to set up a tense final.
China had the best chance of the game, but saw a powerful header cleared off the line in an iconic moment from Kristine Lilly that remains one of the greatest World Cup moments of all time.
As it transpired, the breathtaking clearance kept the game at 0-0 all the way through to a penalty shootout, making for a truly spectacular finish to the picturesque finale.
When Brianna Scurry saved the third Chinese penalty, the USWNT had the advantage. As Brandi Chastain stepped up fifth, all four of their penalty takers up until that point had scored, and if she was able to finish they would win the competition in front of 90,000 home fans.
Chastain coolly placed her spot kick in the corner and dropped to her knees in celebration. This iconic photo remains a symbol of USWNT soccer to this day. Not only did they reclaim the World Cup, but the sheer magnitude of the event sent the women’s game in America to a new level, playing a key role in the development of the game. It’s one of the best women’s World Cup games of all time.
- 2011 Women’s World Cup Final: Japan vs USA
Final Score: 2-2 (Japan won on penalties)
The 2011 tournament final saw Japan, whose women’s World Cup odds marked them as a serious underdog, make it all the way to the competition's final.
Led by the legendary Homare Sawa, who scored an important hattrick against Mexico in the Group Stage, Japan started to cause a stir in the competition.
Japan would then upset Germany with a 1-0 win in extra time in the Quarter Final, before defeating Sweden 3-1 in a stunning Semi.
The USWNT had already faced one penalty shootout against Brazil following a thrilling finish to that Quarter Final matchup and were desperate to get the job done in 90 minutes in the final.
It took just shy of 70 minutes to break through Japan's defense, who played scrappy and hard to keep the U.S. at bay. Alex Morgan finally gave them the lead and it looked like that might have been enough, but with less than 10 minutes to go in the game Japan squared it, capitalizing on a defensive error.
Extra time generated the same result. Only this time it was even more intense. When Abby Wambach fired home from close range from an Alex Morgan pullback the game seemed to be all but over for a second time, but Japan’s leader Homare Sawa flicked home from a corner in the 117th minute to level it again at 2-2.
This is exactly what the USWNT didn’t want to happen. A penalty shootout levels the playing field, and it all comes down to execution. It was the USWNT’s second appearance in a World Cup final shootout, but this time they struggled right from the start.
They would miss all three of their opening penalties, giving Japan a significant advantage, and when Saki Kumagai stepped up and scored the fourth for Japan it was all over.
Japan had won the World Cup, marking one of the most outstanding moments in sporting history for their nation. Overcoming the odds and fighting back twice makes it one of the greatest soccer comebacks we’ve ever seen at a women’s tournament, and to finish it off on penalties was electric.
Parameters for Ranking
These women’s World Cup finals have been ranked based on the thrill factor of the final itself, as well as considering other deciding factors such as underdog stories and moments like the Golden Goal in 2003.
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Visit Betway’s Women's World Cup predictions page for expert picks throughout the tournament.
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