Carson winners: Germany celebrates after winning the 2003 World Cup at Home Depot Center; can they repeat as hosts? (AP Photos).
The FIFA Women’s World Cup begins Sunday and while it has a low profile in the U.S. – at least compared to the heady days of 1999, Mia Hamm, Brandi Chastain and that Rose Bowl sports bra – that’s not the case in the host nation.
Incidentally, coverage begins on ESPN and ESPN2, which will air all 32 matches live and in high definition, at 6 a.m. Sunday when France meets Nigeria followed by Germany-Canada at 9 a.m.
Associated Press Sports Writer Nesha Starcevic has more on the tournament:
FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) — When Germany won its first major title in women’s football at the 1989 European Championship, the players received a gift — a discounted coffee set.
The second-choice product from a local manufacturer, featuring a tacky design of red and blue blooming flowers, may have been a poor choice for a prize but, then again, the German football federation once banned organized women’s football from 1955 to 1970.
The women’s game has come long way since its pioneer days. If the German team wins the upcoming tournament at home, each player will receive a bonus of $85,410.
“The World Cup will give women’s football a new dimension,” says Katja Kraus, a former Germany goalkeeper who has risen to top management levels in the men’s Bundesliga.
The women’s domestic league, which is semiprofessional at best, needs a major boost. Few teams make money and not many players can live off their earnings.
“That’s going to be the biggest challenge,” DFB general secretary Wolfgang Niersbach said.
The 12-team league had an average attendance last season of fewer than 900 per game, a far cry from the 40,000-plus average of the men’s Bundesliga.
Germany will be seeking to become the first team to win three straight titles when the
tournament kicks off Sunday against Canada in Berlin’s Olympic stadium and runs through to July 17.
That was the stadium that also hosted the 2006 men’s World Cup final, when Italy beat
The 2006 tournament has been known ever since as the “summer fairy tale” for its fabulous weather, huge and generally merry and well-behaved crowds that turned it into a monthlong party.
German organizers are trying to reproduce that atmosphere and the strong marketing effort has sold 75 percent of the 900,000 tickets for the 32 games spread over nine venues.
Aside from Berlin, which will host only the opening match, the sole other 2006 World Cup arena to be used will be the Frankfurt stadium, the venue of the final. Most other stadiums have a capacity of between 20,000 and 30,000.
Germany’s team has spent more than two months in training camps.
Coach Silvia Neid’s team played four warm-up games and won them all, scoring a combined 15 goals and conceding none. That’s not surprising, seeing that Germany won the title four years ago in China without conceding a goal.
Two of Germany’s rivals were World Cup finalists — Germany beat North Korea 2-0 and Norway 3-0.
The U. S. comes into the tournament as Olympic champion and ranked No. 1 in the world, but the Americans lost 3-1 to Norway in a warm-up match and was the last team to qualify in a playoff against Italy, which was thrashed 5-0 by Germany three weeks ago.
The U.S. won two of the first three World Cups but the last was in 1999. Still, the Americans don’t see themselves as underdogs.
“If we’re at our best, there’s not a team in the world that can beat us,” said veteran forward Abby Wambach, right.
The United States has lost to Mexico, Sweden and England in recent months.
“That’s a sign of how strong the sport has become,” captain Christie Rampone said.
“International teams have more money invested and more of a commitment to women’s soccer. There’s not a team out there you can overlook.”
Though the U.S. could run into Brazil in the quarterfinals if it struggles in the group stage,
the earliest the team could meet Germany is the semifinals.
Brazil, runner-up four years ago, is unbeaten since April 2009 and has Marta, the five-time FIFA player of the year. But the Brazilians haven’t played much since regional qualifying.
The Germans have only lost three games since February 2009 — but all three were to the Americans.
The U. S. has a tough group, with North Korea, Sweden and Colombia. Germany and Canada also face Nigeria and upcoming France. England plays Japan, New Zealand and Mexico. Brazil is with Norway, Australia and Equatorial Guinea.
AP Sports Writer Nancy Armour in Chicago contributed to this report.