Women’s World Cup opens Sunday in Germany

On Soccer

Defending champion Germany, Brazil and the U.S. are the favorites in this year’s Women’s World Cup.

It has been quite some time since Birgit Prinz circled July 17 on her 2011 calendar — in Germany’s black, red and gold colors, naturally.

That’s the day when the final of the sixth Women’s World Cup — which begins Sunday — will be played in Prinz’s hometown of Frankfurt.


That’s the day she hopes to be on the winner’s podium holding the world championship trophy for the third successive time, after Germany’s victories in 2003 and 2007.

That’s the day she might call it a career after cementing her place in soccer history as the all-time leading goal scorer in the Women’s World Cup.

“I’m satisfied with what I’ve achieved,” she told in April. “When I look back on my career, I can see that what’s happened has been pretty special.”

True, but Prinz, 33, is not alone in her ambition.

Brazil’s Marta, the five-time FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year, also has her eyes set on the trophy after having come agonizingly close to winning it all in each of the last three major women’s tournaments.

Brazil ended up with silver at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, with silver at the 2007 Women’s World Cup in China and with silver at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

“We really want to win it,” Marta, 25, said recently. “It’s a title that we’ve had in our hands in the past but didn’t win because of small details. For a long time we have shown we have a wealth of talent in our ranks. . . . Now, the time has come to win a title.”

But Marta’s goal is also the aim of U.S. standout Abby Wambach.

Wambach, 31, is the key striker the American team is relying on to provide the goals that will recapture the trophy they last won in 1999 and thereby make the U.S. — and not Germany — the first nation to win the tournament three times.

With 118 goals in 157 matches for the U.S. national team, Wambach is even more dangerous than Prinz, who has scored 128 goals in 208 games for Germany, but not as lethal as Marta, who has found the back of the net 56 times in 55 games for Brazil.

Wambach’s hopes, however, extend beyond a championship.

“We all want to play good-looking soccer,” she told Thursday. “We don’t want to just win games, we want to win beautifully.”

So there they are, the three favorites — Germany, Brazil and the U.S.

But the June 26-July 17 tournament, being played in nine German cities, has 13 other participants, and such teams as 1995 champion Norway, neighboring Sweden, and even England, Canada, Australia, France, Japan and North Korea have a chance at a medal.

As Sandrine Soubeyrand, France’s veteran midfielder, said recently: “We’re not going there for the sightseeing.”

For Colombia, Mexico, New Zealand, Nigeria and Equatorial Guinea — which this week dropped two players from its team after they were accused of being men — sightseeing is probably the only thing to enjoy.

It all begins Sunday evening in the southwestern German town of Sinsheim, where Nigeria plays France, but the spotlight will come a few hours later (ESPN and Galavision, 11:30 a.m. Pacific) when host and favorite Germany plays Canada in front of a sellout crowd of more than 80,000 at Berlin’s Olympic Stadium.

The entire 32-game tournament will be shown on the ESPN network’s outlets, as well as on Galavision. Tony DiCicco, who coached the U.S. to its 1996 Olympic gold medal and to the world championship in 1999, will be an ESPN analyst, as will former U.S. stars Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy, Brandi Chastain and Brianna Scurry.

Going in to the tournament, hopes are high among the contenders.

“If you were to ask me what our ambitions are, well, we want to be a Germany,” England Coach Hope Powell told “We want to be the leading nation in women’s football. Germany inspires us, and we want to surpass them in the future.”

English star Kelly Smith echoed the thought, claiming that the 21-player England roster is “the strongest team that I’ve been a part of, and I’ve been in the squad for about 15 years.”

The Swedes are no less confident.

“We have the players and we have the talent,” said striker Lotta Schelin. “We have a team which could go a very long way. We’ve spoken a lot about this, and we want to reach the last eight at the very least. That’s our top priority. We’ll have to see what happens after that.”

If there is a favored team among neutrals, it is probably Japan, and not only for soccer reasons.

“After the tragic earthquake in March, many of us encountered problems and were not able to train,” said Japanese midfielder Naomi Kawasumi. “I wondered if we’d be able to play in Germany.

“Thanks to the support we received from all over the world, we’ve managed to make it to the World Cup. As a sign of gratitude, we’d love to put on a great show while we’re here.”

But the real sentimental favorite outside Germany and the U.S. is Brazil.

“For the sake of Brazilian women’s football over the next few years, we simply can’t afford to go backwards,” said Marta’s strike partner Cristiane. “Now it’s time for us to win it.”