SHANGHAI (AFP) - Sublime individual talent and entertaining matches drawing big crowds -- women's football has come a long way from the last World Cup four years ago in the United States.
While they are never going to rival the likes of David Beckham, Ronaldinho, and Thierry Henry in the popularity stakes, the best women footballers on the planet proved over the past three weeks that the game has taken giant steps.
With crowds averaging 38,000, the World Cup in China was a big success, so much so that the China Football Association said it was now mulling a bid to host the 2018 men's tournament.
FIFA president Sepp Blatter was suitably impressed by what he saw from a tournament won by an experienced Germany who beat Brazil 2-0 in the final.
The United States took third place and Norway fourth.
"Generally speaking, it is a big improvement by all the teams from four years ago in the United States," Blatter said.
"There has been an improvement in the speed of the games. Also, importantly, though not by all the teams, there has been an improvement in tactics.
"All in all, compared to 2003, women's football has moved to a new level."
The way forward now, he added, was the development of more women's professional leagues with many of the players competing in China not earning a living from the game.
"It is clear that women at this level are now able to deal with principles of good professional football. The only thing we are missing is professional leagues," said Blatter.
China's retired Sun Wen, joint-Women's Player of the Century, was also taken by the improvements she saw here.
"Having taken part in the previous four World Cups, I'm happy to see how football has grown in popularity worldwide," she said.
"The teams have made some terrific progress. In 1991 (at the inaugural World Cup) a small group of sides dominated all the others, but now, 16 years on, things have changed. All the participating sides have shown themselves to be more competitive."
The championships produced 111 goals, some edge-of-the-seat thrillers and just two red cards.
Once again, the traditional powerhouses were battling at the bitter end, but there were some turn-ups.
While Africa's representatives -- Nigeria and Ghana -- failed to get beyond the group stages Asian teams continued making progress with China, North Korea and Australia all getting to the quarter-finals, although Japan missed out.
South American champions Argentina were the biggest disappointment, with Germany beating them by a record 11-0 in the opening game of the tournament.
But the biggest surprise was Brazil, who made the final for the first time and won an army of fans in China with their silky skills, epitomised by 2006 World Player of the Year Marta.
Remarkably, no coaches were fired or walked away from the job although China's Swedish coach Marika Domanski-Lyfors is considering her position.
With no men's World Cup or youth World Cup next year, the women's game has the chance to keep itself in the spotlight and build on the momentum.
Aside from the Olympics in August, which for the first time features 12 women's teams, an inaugural U-17 World Cup will be held in New Zealand while the U-20 equivalent takes place in Chile.
"So you will see in the different continents women's football at its best next year," said Blatter.
"There is no World Cup or Youth World Cup competition for the men next year, so it will be FIFA's year for women's football."
|Hughes targets Arsenal fans to help Stoke end dismal away run|
|83 suspects, 98 clubs ´impacted´ in football abuse probe|
|Fowler pleads with Liverpool to keep ´top quality´ Sturridge|
|Reus ´100 per cent different´ on comeback|
|Ibrahimovic ´super happy´ for rejuvenated Mkhitaryan|
|Vertonghen: Football needs Mourinho|
|Title triumph went to Leicester´s heads, admits Ranieri|
|Conceicao named new Nantes coach|
|LaLiga lead means nothing - Zidane|
|Chapecoense add two stars to badge in wake of air disaster|
|Blatter accuses Infantino of lack of respect|
|Austin injury compounds Puel´s misery|
|Gestifute publishes further evidence of ´Ronaldo tax compliance´|
|Pioli eyes further Inter improvement|
|´I feel s***´ - Van Dijk blasts Southampton after Europa League collapse|
|Mourinho marvels at Mkhitaryan mentality after Zorya stunner|
|Southampton 1 Hapoel Be´er Sheva 1: Late Van Dijk leveller not enough as visitors progress|
|Inter 2 Sparta Prague 1: Eder double sends hosts out on a high|
|Vieira wanted Arsenal coaching opportunity|
|Vieira hopes MLS experience puts him in frame to replace Guardiola|
|Mkhitaryan: I waited a long time for this|
|Zorya 0 Manchester United 2: Mkhitaryan magic sends Mourinho´s men through|
|Ranieri urges Leicester players to fight for their futures|
|Cellino banned for 18 months over McCormack transfer|
|Koeman demands reaction from dropped Barkley|
|Tevez unsure on Boca future amid China speculation|
|Bradley vows to fight for his job at Swansea|
|Koeman speaks out on Depay, Schneiderlin links|
|Wenger unconvinced by World Cup expansion plans|
|Kovac brothers sign new Frankfurt deals|
|Selling Sturridge would be a mistake, says Rush|
|UEFA opens disciplinary proceedings against Besiktas, Dynamo Kiev|
|Filipe Luis suffers thigh tear|
|Kashima Antlers 2 Auckland City 1: Late Kanazaki header the difference|
|Suarez´s Barca renewal already done, says Bartomeu|
|Barcelona invite Chapecoense for Joan Gamper Trophy|
|Arsenal would have a chance against Real Madrid, insists Wenger|
|FIFA chief Infantino calls for zero tolerance on child abuse|
|Sanchez will not leave Arsenal for China - Wenger|
|Dybala delighted with Juventus return|
|Rashford desperate to learn from Ibrahimovic|
|Weigl not ready for Real Madrid - Tuchel|
|Why Zidane must drop Ronaldo at the Club World Cup|
|Barton: They built me up into a Neymar-Messi type|
|Shakhtar aware of Barca interest in Srna - Fonseca|
|Mets hitting coach believes Tebow can make it to MLB|
|Aubameyang reiterates Madrid dream after Bernabeu show|
|Zidane praises Benzema after 50th Champions League goal|
|Aubameyang deserves 99 per cent of credit - Reus|
|Neymar: There´s only one Ballon d´Or winner and it´s Messi, not Ronaldo|
|Magiera hails Legia victory as for ´all of Poland´|
|Tuchel thought Aubameyang had blown chance to equalise|
|Pochettino confident Spurs are back on track|
|Santo hails Porto´s mature performance|
|Lyon proved we can compete with Europe´s best - Genesio|
|Slutsky unsurprised by apparent Premier League interest in Dzagoev|
|Jardim frustrated as Monaco finally lose|
|Allegri dismisses importance of first-place finish|
|Zidane ´angry´ as Real Madrid let top spot slip|
|Sevilla aren´t satisfied with Champions League last 16 - Sampaoli|
|Ranieri slams Leicester´s lack of character|
|Confident Roberts ready to wing in for City|
|Real Madrid equal record 34-match unbeaten run|
|Kane relieved to end Wembley hoodoo|
|Legia Warsaw 1 Sporting CP 0: Guilherme seals Europa League spot|
|Porto 5 Leicester City 0: Silva at the double as Ranieri´s men crumble|
|Borussia Dortmund break record for goals in Champions League group stage|
|Real Madrid 2 Borussia Dortmund 2: Reus equaliser sees visitors grab top spot|
|Bayer Leverkusen 3 Monaco 0: Hosts retain unbeaten record with routine win|
|Club Brugge 0 FC Copenhagen 2: Routine win not enough as FCK must settle for Europa League|
|Lyon 0 Sevilla 0: Europa League holders secure passage|
|Juventus 2 Dinamo Zagreb 0: Bianconeri top group with easy win|
|Tottenham 3 CSKA Moscow 1: Spurs survive scare to seal Europa League berth|
|Benzema reaches 50 Champions League goals|
|Buffon´s 50-game Champions League run comes to an end|
|Santi Cazorla gives Achiles surgery two thumbs up|
|Video technology to assist referees at FIFA Club World Cup|
|Spalletti wants winning mentality to continue for Roma|
|M´Vila rejects Sunderland return|
|Robson-Kanu prioritised Premier League move, despite Atleti interest|
|Puel dismisses Fonte departure speculation|
|Mourinho rejects ´best coach in the world´ tag|
|Manchester United not giving up on Premier League, insists Mkhitaryan|
|Infantino favours 16 three-team groups at World Cup - report|
|Europa League an ´important competition´ for Mourinho|
|Brozovic extends Inter stay|
|Rooney still has England future - Hodgson|
|New wardrobe top of Jesus´ Manchester to-do list|
|Pioli not concerned by Simeone´s Inter comments|
|Poyet: It would be a pleasure to sign Tevez|
|Celtic charged by UEFA over crowd disturbances|
|Not extending Man United stay my only regret - Larsson|
|Aubameyang´s mum: He always spoke about Madrid, never Barcelona|
|AC Milan sale delayed until March|
|Police horse burger thrower fined|
|Nolito comfortable with Guardiola´s rotation policy|
|Ajax expect in-demand Bazoer to exit|
|Not even the Golden Boot would get me an England recall, says Defoe|
|MLS MVP Villa has no interest in Premier League move|
|Vidal: I never had a problem with Luis Enrique|
|Ancelotti not keen on Madrid Champions League reunion|
|Zabaleta: Guardiola needs Iheanacho more than ever|
|Ranieri not fearful of Foxes chop|
|Celtic fan arrested for throwing burger at police horse|
|Dad-to-be Lewandowski reveals baby news with goal celebration|
|Klopp´s Liverpool watched Barca at Camp Nou|
|Wenger braced for tough last-16 draw|
|Roberts buoyed by Guardiola acclaim|
|Gladbach´s Alvaro Dominguez retires at 27|
|Simeone satisfied with aggressive Atletico|
|Emery aims to bounce back after European disappointment|
|Madrid demand ´maximum respect´ for Ronaldo|
|No pressure on Iheanacho to fill Aguero´s boots - Guardiola|
|Cocu praises PSV effort despite European exit|
|Ancelotti hoping for confidence boost|
|Gunes takes blame for Besiktas thrashing|