FIFA Women’s World Cup

FIFA Women`s World Cup China PR 1991
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  • Carin Gabarra won the adidas Golden Ball of the inaugural Women’s World Cup
  • meets the American on the anniversary of the final
  • “I am proud to be part of the history of the American selection”, she confides

Winner of the first adidas Golden Ball of the FIFA Women’s World Cup ™, Carin Gabarra has a long and rich lineage. Appreciated for her creativity on the ball, she delighted the public with technical gestures, at a time when Rose Lavelle was not even born yet.

Gabarra flew on Air Force Two, along with Jill Biden, to cheer on her heiresses: members of the US Women’s National Team.

On the anniversary of the final of the first FIFA Women’s World Cup ™, met Gabarra, who has served as the United States Navy Women’s National Team coach since 1993, to recall the memory of this historic tournament and find out how her participation changed the course of her life.

Michelle Akers-Stahl (C) holds the trophy together with teammates Julie Foudy (L) and Carin Jennings (R)

Carin Gabarra, what state of mind were you in before the first FIFA Women’s World Cup ™? Did you expect to evolve at such a level?

No one really knew what to expect. We had been to China three or four times before the tournament started. We were therefore able to familiarize ourselves with the movements, culture and life there. It helped us a lot. We had participated in a competition in China the previous year and we had obtained decent results, nothing more. Most European countries had their own championships. Our opponents played much more often than us. On our side, we were not used to major international competitions. We were just a bunch of kids spotted in high schools and universities. We had no idea what to expect there, but we were very confident.

What anecdotes have marked you?

The atmosphere was very special because our families had accompanied us. We’ve been playing together for three or four years. We knew each other well, but we never had the opportunity to introduce our loved ones. For their part, our parents had never seen a match live. We also took our own cooks with us, so as not to be too disoriented by the food. It’s not always easy to eat a healthy diet when you are away from home. We were staying in a five star hotel. We felt that the Chinese had invested a lot of money, time and effort in this competition. To win a World Cup, you have to bring together a lot of ingredients. If all the elements are not in place, we cannot go to the end. All of these little things have contributed to our success.

View of the opening ceremony of the first Womens World Cup in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, 16 November 1991
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What memories do you have of the first matches of this Women’s World Cup?

It was fabulous to have our families with us and to spend time with our loved ones. We also had supporters, which was a great first. We were very honored to represent our country. The uniform and the crest were very valuable to us. But you have to realize that at the time, there was no social networks, nor the Internet. We were alone with our families. Almost all of the matches were sold out. There was atmosphere. Even the bus rides were thrilling as we could see thousands of people entering the stadiums. We really felt like we were participating in an important event. We had never experienced anything like it. It was a monumental tournament, something new for us and for the whole world.

What do you take away from the final?

I remember how I felt after the game. We were world champions and we were trying to take stock of what we had just accomplished. It was an important game and the crowd was great. Norway has given us a lot of trouble. It is a team that we had often faced. We had a great rivalry. The Norwegians were good at making us thwart. They played football very different from ours and they mastered their strategy to perfection. They liked to play long, to take advantage of their superiority in the air. We preferred to keep the ball on the ground, in a style close to the tiki-taka. We have played six matches in less than two weeks. We were all exhausted and the game didn’t necessarily keep all of its promises. It was the determination that made the difference. At the final whistle we were ecstatic.

What did you think of the 2019 edition?

It was great. With us, internationals are always part of the family. It’s very touching. We are all very close to each other. We stayed in touch. I always felt like I was part of the team, even after hanging up the boots. The teams capable of accomplishing what the United States achieved in 2019 can be counted on the fingers of one hand. They had to face very high level opponents. Far from home, they have managed to win in European stadiums, against high quality teams. Above all, they have been able to maintain their level of performance. It is something very difficult. For that, we must avoid injuries and have a group in full possession of its means. There are so many factors that come into play. I am proud to be a part of the history of the American selection and to be associated with this team. Women footballers are making a lot of money these days. They are famous, but they are also heavily criticized for their actions on social media. This environment is very different from the one I experienced in my time. The development of women’s football has brought with it its share of advantages, but also of difficulties.

You followed the final of the 2011 Women’s World Cup under very specific conditions. Do you remember?

I worked at the Naval Academy. I was at my desk when my phone rang. The screen indicated “hidden number”. It was the former president of US Soccer, Sunil Gulati. At the time, I was part of the technical commission. He said to me, “Do you want to come see the final? Tomorrow, you board Air Force Two.” My file was validated very quickly because the FBI has a file with my fingerprints, due to my work at the Naval Academy. The verifications did not take long. When we left Washington, there were people from a wide variety of backgrounds aboard the aircraft: Ms. Biden was there, as were Chelsea Clinton and other members of the State Department. What a journey ! You could use your phone, there were films projected on the big screen … But everyone slept during the crossing. I kept asking Air Force members about the plane. It was phenomenal. I was very lucky.

Is there an anecdote that stood out for you?

I particularly remember an event that happened just before we arrived at the stadium. Mrs. Biden said to me, “It’s weird, you make it seem like a different person.” I replied: “Obviously! We have a match!” The game was very important to me. It was a World Cup final! Unfortunately, we lost. I was very disappointed. To get back to the hotel, we were divided into three or four limousines. I was in the last one. When we got there, Mrs. Biden walked up to me and asked if we should go visit the players after such a loss. I told him: “Of course. You are the vice-president’s wife. That’s what you are here for.” We went to the players’ hotel and the atmosphere was awful. We don’t like to lose. We walked in and then Mrs. Biden and Mrs. Clinton spoke with the players.


In what areas can women’s football still develop?

I want women to continue to play at their level, to continue to be the best and to have the necessary support, including financial, to stay at this level and have a career in football. In my day, it was unthinkable. I want young girls to continue dreaming, to play with confidence and to feel accepted, to see themselves as athletes and not as female athletes, to be able to practice the sport of their choice, at the level that suits them.

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