There are three weeks to go until the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2011™ in Germany, but the build-up to the global showdown began long ago. The 16 contenders are immersed in preparations for the elite tournament, with experts agreeing that more teams than ever before can justifiably entertain hopes of lifting the crown, as the gaps in quality between the teams at the top of the world game continue to diminish.

By the time of the Opening Match at the Berlin Olympic Stadium on 26 June, when the holders and hosts meet CONCACAF champions Canada, all the teams will aim to be in peak form and condition. The demands are greatest, and the pressure to perform highest, on the top three in the FIFA/Coca-Cola Women’s World Ranking.

Six get-togethers for Neid’s squad
Germany won the last two editions of the global tournament and will now play on home soil, so the expectations of success are particularly acute. The FIFA Women’s World Cup holders are currently completing an appropriately meticulous preparatory programme.

In the second-to-last of six training camps, coach Silvia Neid is on the lookout for her "golden formation", as she recently confirmed. "The job now is to decide who’ll play in the Opening Match against Canada, practise our set-piece routines, and fine-tune our attacking play,” Neid explained.

The training get-togethers began back in April and have all been held in Germany. The star names can hardly wait for the games to begin. "It's one of the reasons I’ve kept training so hard in recent years: To be a part of this,” commented 33-year-old Birgit Prinz.

The all-time leading scorer at the FIFA Women’s World Cup would dearly love to step down from the international stage on the ultimate high after lifting the FIFA Women’s World Cup for the third time in succession, and that in her home town of Frankfurt on 17 July.

We have a lot of talent and a good mix between youth and experience, so we’re capable of winning.

*US set for Austria
USA, the leaders in the world rankings, are also determined to follow up their triumphs in 1991 and 1999 by winning the trophy for a third time, and are preparing equally intensively for the effort. The Stars and Stripes squad is currently at a training camp in New Jersey, where they will attempt to use a send-off match against Mexico on Sunday to exact a measure of revenge for an embarrassing and painful semi-final defeat in the CONCACAF qualifying last November. Swedish boss Pia Sundhage has then handed her players a brief break, before the squad reconvenes in mid-June to apply the finishing touches at a training base in Austria.

"We're hoping to continue to climb and reach new heights as a team,” declared midfielder Heather O’Reilly after a 2-0 friendly victory over Japan in mid-May. Despite the loss of the versatile Lindsay Tarpley, who tore cruciate ligaments in her right knee against the Japanese, Sundhage remains upbeat: "We have a team capable of winning the Women’s World Cup."

*Marta and Co buzzing
As for Brazil, who lost the FIFA Women’s World Cup Final in 2007 to Germany and came second to the United States at the last two Olympic Football Tournaments, the tactical trend seems to be towards significantly bigger players. The squad spearheaded by FIFA World Player of the Year Marta is likely to include no fewer than 12 players taller than 1.70 metres (5'7). By comparison, only one player in the squad at China 2007 had attained that height.

Coach Kleiton Lima and his troops travel to a training camp in Teresopolis on 6 June, and do not fly to Germany until the 24th of the month. However, Marta and Co are already fired up for their opening fixture against Australia on 29 June. "We have a lot of talent and a good mix between youth and experience, so we’re capable of winning. That said, we still have a lot of hard work and sacrifice ahead of us, even before the tournament gets underway,” the undisputed superstar of the women’s game exclusively told

*Have Your Say
The big three in the race to claim the FIFA Women’s World Cup are slowly but surely working their way into peak form, ready for the summer showdown in Germany. Which of the other 13 hopefuls do you think could prove the biggest obstacle to the trio’s ambitions? Click 'Add your comment' and let everyone know your opinion, remembering to keep your posts clean, respectful, on-topic and in English.

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