“Roll on 2011,” USA forward Abby Wambach told FIFA.com as the curtain came down on the FIFA Women’s World Cup China 2007™. Anticipation for the 2011 edition started growing as soon as the dust had settled in Shanghai, and the excitement has not stopped building ever since.
Now, after four long years of waiting, Germany is finally ready to get the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2011™ underway. The tournament’s nine host stadiums are looking resplendent, and in just a few days’ time 16 teams will be stepping out on to pristine pitches across the country to kick off their campaigns.
Berlin’s Olympiastadium plays host to the competition’s opening ceremony, and there could not be a more fitting venue for the occasion. The stunning arena has a long and distinguished history, having originally been built for the 1936 Summer Olympic Games. The stadium also hosted FIFA World Cups in 1974 and 2006, but until now it has never staged a senior women’s international match. Canada take on hosts and defending champions Germany for the historic encounter on Sunday 26 June.
Birgit Prinz is the competition’s all-time leading goalscorer with 14 strikes, and she is set to play a starring role once again as Germany look to secure their third world title. Their main rivals for the crown are 1991 and 1999 champions USA, who are the only team to have reached the semi-final stage in every edition of the tournament to date. Meanwhile, 2007 runners-up and perennial bridesmaids Brazil will be hoping their five-time FIFA World Player of the Year Marta can fire them to glory for the first time.
New faces join past masters
Japan, Nigeria, Norway and Sweden join Germany, USA and Brazil in that elite group of teams that have qualified for all six FIFA Women’s World Cups to date. There have only been three different names on the trophy so far: Germany and USA have two titles apiece, while Norway triumphed back in 1995 to briefly break the pair’s dominance. Sweden 1995 is the only other edition to have been held in Europe, with the other four finals shared between China PR (1991 and 2007) and USA (1999 and 2003).
Host cities Augsburg, Berlin, Bochum, Dresden, Leverkusen, Frankfurt, Monchengladbach, Sinsheim and Wolfsburg are all set to relive the excitement that gripped Germany in 2006. Thousands of fans have already received warm welcomes across the country and will no doubt be enjoying the buzz of anticipation on the streets as they wait for the action to kick off.
Colombia and Equatorial Guinea will make their FIFA Women’s World Cup bows in Germany, and both sides arrive at the tournament high on confidence and ambition. Colombia surprised everyone by finishing fourth at the U-20 competition last year, and the senior side returns to the scene of the triumph hoping for similar success.
“We’re going for gold,” said Colombian starlet Yoreli Rincon. “It’d be great to come up against Brazil in the title decider. A win would help to strengthen women’s football in Colombia, and on a personal note it would give me a push towards taking Marta’s [World Player of the Year] crown.” Colombia will need to be at their best if they are to make their dreams a reality, however, as they share a highly competitive Group C with USA, Sweden and Korea DPR .
Equatorial Guinea may not arrive with quite the same fanfare, but their FIFA Women’s World Cup ambitions are every bit as stellar. The draw was not particularly kind to them, however, and the African qualifying section runners-up will need to be on top of their game in Germany. 2007 runners-up Brazil, Asian champions Australia and former winners Norway provide their opposition in Group D.
The task would appear more straightforward for England and Japan, who are the clear favourites to progress from Group B. Opponents New Zealand and Mexico should not be taken lightly, however, and the pair will be out to prove that they are not in Germany simply to make up the numbers. Mexico in particular go into the tournament on a high following their qualifying victory over arch-rivals USA. The win sealed their place in Germany and forced 2008 Olympic champions USA to sweat it out in a final play-off against Italy.
The outcome of Group A is harder to call. The section features France, CONCACAF champions Canada, African champions Nigeria and current holders Germany, and all four teams have the ability to go a long way in the tournament. Nigeria and Germany have selected several of the bright young talents who lit up the U-20 final just a year ago. Kim Kulig, Alexandra Popp and Bianca Schmidt all have another chance to shine on home soil, while Nigeria include no fewer than eight faces from the U-20 squad that finished second last year.
While Germany 2011 marks the start of bright careers for many of the young players on display, several international veterans could be making their final FIFA Women’s World Cup outings. Among the players hoping for one last hurrah are Japan midfielder Homare Sawa, USA defender Christie Rampone and Nigeria captain Perpetua Nkwocha.
In just a few days’ time, the speculation will be over and the competition will be in full swing. 22 days of competition and 32 matches lie ahead, with 336 players all desperate to get their hands on the 45cm-high, 1.8kg winner’s trophy. 51 match officials will oversee the encounters, with more than 2,000 journalists reporting on the action and around 670,000 fans packing the stands in support.
With 75 per cent of the available matchday tickets sold so far, there is still time for fans to enjoy the action from the stands. For those unable to make it to Germany, FIFA.com will be here throughout the tournament to provide all the latest news and action from the showpiece event of women’s football.