Women's World Cup opens Sunday in Germany
FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) — By the time Germany plays the official opener of the Women's World Cup on Sunday, France and Nigeria will have already begun the three-week tournament.
As host, Germany has the honor of opening the 16-team event, facing Canada at Berlin's Olympic Stadium after the opening ceremony. But three hours before that, France plays Nigeria at Sinsheim in the first game on the schedule.
Germany, the two-time defending champion, is looking to become the first nation to win three World Cup titles.
"It's the best team Germany has ever had and I believe they can win the title," said Steffi Jones, president of the organizing committee and a former Germany star.
Chancellor Angela Merkel, German President Christian Wulff and FIFA President Sepp Blatter are to be among the capacity crowd of 73,680 at Olympic Stadium, which hosted the final of the 2006 men's World Cup.
"If we play well, it's a lot cooler when more than 70,000 are celebrating and making the wave than to play before 150," Germany captain Birgit Prinz said.
German women's league games often draw no more than a couple of hundred fans, even though it boasts some of the top players in the world, not only Germans.
The German organizers have made a big effort to promote the tournament that runs until July 17 and say that 80 percent of the 90,000 tickets have now been sold.
Berlin has the biggest stadium, but it will host only the opener, with the tournament spread over nine venues across Germany. Frankfurt, which hosts the final, is the only other stadium that was used for the 2006 tournament. Most other arenas seat between 20,000 and 30,000.
If she scores, Prinz will become the first woman to have to scored at least one goal in five World Cups. She leads the career list with 14 goals.
At 33, she is a household name in Germany with a staggering 212 international appearances and 128 goals. Prinz plans to retire from the national team after the World Cup.
"I am just very happy that the stadium is going to be full and that I can be there in my last major tournament," she said.
Germany will be missing forward Martina Mueller with a hamstring injury.
"The mood is good, we are pleased to get going," said Germany coach Silvia Neid, whose team has spent more than two months at a training camp.
"We are playing against a very strong rival that has good attacking players," Neid said. "It's always important to start a tournament with a win."
Germany has won all its previous nine games against Canada, the last one 5-0 a year ago.
Since losing to the United States in the quarterfinals in 1999, Germany is undefeated in 12 World Cup matches, with 11 wins. It won the title four years ago in China without conceding a goal.
"There are few teams that can beat Germany," said Canada's Italian coach Carolina Morace.
Morace's top player, striker Christine Sinclair, said Canada had "nothing to lose."
"We are outsiders. We can play without pressure and give our best," said Sinclair, who has 116 goals from 159 internationals.
In Sinsheim, south of Frankfurt, where the 30,000-capacity stadium used by Bundesliga club Hoffenheim has not been sold out, France will try to show it should not be overlooked.
"Silvia Neid named seven teams that can win the title, but she did not mention France. She will have to change that," France coach Bruno Bini said.
Bini said France's goal was to make sure of advancing before the final Group A game against Germany.
"The important thing is to have fun," Bini said. "Then you have success, too."
Nigeria, the perennial African champion, has reached all five World Cup finals but the Super Falcons advanced out of the group stage only once.
France is in the tournament for the second time and was undefeated in qualifying, winning 11 of 12 matches, outscoring its opponents 53-2.
Lyon, the Champions League winner, provides the backbone of the France team with 10 players.