The Local's guide to the Women's World Cup
The biggest sporting event of the summer, the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup, kicks off June 26 in Berlin. Check out The Local’s guide as hosts Germany go for football glory.
Brazil's five-time Player of the Year Marta and all-time World Cup top scorer Birgit Prinz of Germany are among the big names who will headline the €51-million extravaganza which takes place over three weeks in nine cities.
Sixteen teams are battling for the top prize with over 670,000 tickets of the one million on offer already sold.
Five years after the successful hosting of the men's event, expectations are high that the German women can bring glory to the host nation and capture an unprecedented third successive title.
But Germany’s coach is not shy about her side's ambitions.
“Of course we want to become world champions in our own country,” manager Silvia Neid said recently. “That is our greatest wish, and a realistic goal. We are the favourites, and we will take on this role.”
Neid has preferred a no-nonsense approach since taking over Germany’s national side in 2005. But she knows that a third consecutive World Cup victory, after triumphs in the United States in 2003 and China in 2007, is far from automatic.
Germany and the United States have dominated the women’s game since the first World Cup in 1991, winning a combined four of five possible titles. But the gap between the powers and the rest of the world has steadily narrowed, and some half-dozen teams have a realistic shot at this summer’s prize.
"It is very, very difficult and it is becoming more difficult because other countries are catching up," said the 47-year-old Neid. "All the other nations now prepare with an intensity similar to ours."
Germany will be joined by the United States, Australia, North Korea, Japan, France, Norway, England, Sweden, New Zealand, Canada, Mexico, Equatorial Guinea, Nigeria, Brazil, and Colombia.
Interest in women's football is higher in Germany than in many other countries, and coverage for this year's edition looks set to exceed all previous tournaments being broadcast to more than 200 countries worldwide.
"The World Cup in Germany is going to be spectacular," said Brazil striker Cristiane.
"I played there and I know just how much passion they have for the sport and the structure they have at their disposal."
And as the World Cup nears, the German juggernaut appears to be hitting into top form on the pitch too.
“We have many different types of players and are very flexible,” stalwart goalkeeper Nadine Angerer said. “This might be what makes us different.”
Angerer, 32, and forwards Birgit Prinz, 33, and Inka Grings, 32, lead the so-called “golden generation” of German women’s football, boasting the experience of 400 international matches between them.
But the roster is also full of young, emerging talent. Eight players are 23 or younger, including midfielder Kim Kulig and striker Alexandra Popp, who led Germany’s Under-20 team to a world title last year.
That versatility will be on display to some 73,000 fans at Berlin’s Olympic Stadium, and millions watching worldwide, when Germany opens the tournament against Canada on June 26.
“You can feel the focus gradually shifting to the opening match,” Angerer said. “The anticipation grows every single day.”
But even in the pressure-cooker setting of World Cup football, the Germans seem unfazed.
“We are pleased about the hype. We want to be world champions,” Prinz said. “The public expect that of us.”