As the Women's World Cup fast approaches, it is worth taking a look at how things shook out four years ago in China. The Germans, of course, claimed their second straight world title, this time over Brazil, 2-0 in the final.
As the 2011 edition of the tournament rolls around, fans could expect something that looks very similar to the 2007 tournament.
For starters, there are similarities in group play with Japan and England being drawn into the same group again and Sweden, North Korea and the United States eerily being drawn into the same quartet.
In 2007, Japan and England drew 2-2 with Kelly Smith and Aya Miyama trading a pair of goals for each side. More interestingly, North Korea edged out Sweden on goal difference to send the Swedes home after the group stage. Sweden, of course, took Germany to overtime in the 2003 final, making the early exit an absolute shock.
The quarterfinals played out pretty much as expected, with Norway beating China 1-0, Germany handling North Korea 3-0, the U.S. defeating England 3-0, and Brazil just squeaking by Australia with a 3-2 victory. That set-up a very traditional semifinal round with Norway taking on Germany and Brazil looking to avenge a 2004 Olympic gold medal game loss to the United States (which would happen again in 2008).
But the semifinals proved to be far from dramatic. Germany easily defeated Norway 3-0 and Brazil handed the United States an absolute embarrassment of a result: A 4-0 loss that sent the Americans to their second-straight Women's World Cup third place match. That of course was the infamously publicized match in which Briana Scurry started in goal over Hope Solo.
In the United States' defense, it did respond well in the third place match, defeating Norway 4-1 behind a brace from Abby Wambach and a goal each from Lori Chalupny and Heather O'Reilly. Still, it was further disappointment for the United States, which in 2003 had to settle for third place on home soil.
Germany cruised to the title again, defeating Brazil 2-0 in the final behind goals from captain Birgit Prinz and midfielder Simone Laudehr.
In truth, Germany's title winning campaign is one that will likely be replicated over the next few weeks. Germany will have the support of an entire nation behind it this time around (as the host country) and rolls into the tournament as favorites.
Even as the current No. 1 in the world, the United States looks destined for another third place game, likely to face the Germans in the semifinals. That would mean the Americans would have to wait until 2015 for a title, which would be a 16-year drought for the country that wrote the book on success in women's soccer. That realization alone could be enough motivation to change the Americans' fortunes, but it seems unlikely that anyone will beat Germany.
The big barometer to measure will be how much things have changed since 2007. Can the semifinal round look any different this time around, or will it yet again feature super powers Germany, Brazil and the United States?
For all the talk of increased parity in the women's soccer landscape, the 2011 Women's World Cup will be the true test. Maybe the game really has developed enough to see a once overlooked team - the Englands and Australias of the world - pull off a shocking upset over the United States or Germany. There may be some surprises in the quarterfinals, but the top four is likely to be more of the same. True changes likely will not come until 2015 when these nations on the brink of the next level have had four more years to develop. But 2011 should at least show how far they have come since 2007.
Jeff Kassouf is a freelance writer and proprietor of Equalizer Soccer who will be contributing to FOX Soccer's coverage of the 2011 Women's World Cups.