The 12 qualified teams were divided into three groups of four (A to C). The top two teams and the two best third-place finishers from the three groups advanced to the knockout round of eight teams. For only the first edition of the Women's World Cup, all matches lasted only 80 minutes, instead of the typical 90, and two points were awarded for a win (both of which would change in 1995).
For the first time in FIFA competition, six female officials were included. All functioned as lineswomen, except for Cláudia Vasconcelos who took charge of the third place play-off; becoming the first woman to referee a match sanctioned by FIFA.
FIFA's technical report demonstrates that, after the tournament, players and officials were undecided whether to persist with 80-minute matches, or to change to 90 minutes in line with men's football. Opinion was also divided about the suitability of using a size five football. Some teams reported difficulty in sourcing good quality equipment in the correct size.
The tournament was considered a major success in the quality of play and attendances at the games. FIFA president João Havelange wrote that:
"As president of FIFA it was a special pleasure for me to watch these young ladies playing with such flair and such elegance, and according to the reports of the many media representatives present, making the game truly into a celebration ... women's football is now well and truly established."
The perceived success of the tournament was a significant factor in the subsequent inclusion of women's football in the 1996 Summer Olympics.Sue Lopez reported that although attendances were very high, many tickets were complimentary. The "novelty factor" of women from foreign lands playing football also encouraged local people to attend.
^Williams, Jean (1 November 2007). A Beautiful Game: International Perspectives on Women's Football. Berg Publishers. p. 4. ISBN978-1-84788-345-2. Some of the terms and conditions had been changed this time: 90 minutes of play instead of 80 in China, a full group of 20 players instead of 18, three points for a win, and the experiment with time out.
^"FIFA Women's World Cup – China PR 1991". FIFA. Archived from the original on 11 March 2013. Retrieved 21 April 2013. In keeping with the true spirit of the celebration, six female referees or assistant referees were appointed among match officials for the first time in FIFA history. Claudia de Vasconcelos of Brazil, the referee for the 3rd-place match, became the first woman to officiate at this level for FIFA.