The fourth Women's World Cup tournament has concluded with the emergence of Germany as the strongest team in the world, while the once dominant United States finds itself in a transition period with many veteran players giving way to a younger generation.
Germany defeated Sweden, 2-1, in a tough, physical championship game Sunday that ended with a golden goal in extra time. The final showcased the style of play and high level of talent seen throughout the tournament.
U.S. coach April Heinrichs has been amazed at the individual performances that made each game exciting to watch.
"This World Cup is faster and more physical," she said. "Every single player that has been involved in this tournament has had to elevate their speed of thought, elevate their commitment to take physical risks, elevate their commitment to say 'I am not going to let you come through my zone.'"
Several U.S. veterans made their final Women's World Cup appearances, after their professional careers abruptly came to an end with the demise of the WUSA league. Foreign stars on many of the World Cup teams also played in the league and got to know the U.S. women very well.
WUSA chief and former national coach Tony DiCicco says that contributed to the stunning 3-0 semifinal defeat to Germany. He says the rest of the world now views the U.S. women's team differently.
"I think that mystique has been compromised. They still have tremendous respect for the USA women," he said. "They know they are never going to stop playing. But now they know they are not 'super women' in soccer uniforms. They are just good players that have a great incentive to win, that are very fit and talented. But they are still women."
The U.S. team's performance showed its rising stars will challenge for the big international soccer titles. But the World Cup tournament also displayed more equality among the nations competing, which will make the upcoming Athens Olympics next year a great tournament to watch.