Hosts Germany are joined by France, England, Sweden and Norway at the 16-team 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup – which will kick off in style with the biggest crowd ever to attend a female game in Europe.
The first match of the tournament will match France with Nigeria in Group A at 15.00CET on Sunday in Sinsheim but the official curtain-raiser is three hours later at Berlin's Olympiastadion. Around 75,000 tickets have been sold for Germany's game against Canada, the European champions aiming to win their third successive World Cup. UEFA.com profiles the five European contenders.
Germany (hosts, holders)
Group A matches: Canada (18.00, 26 June, Berlin), Nigeria (20.45, 30 June, Frankfurt), France (20.45, 5 July, Monchengladbach)
World Cup best performance: winners 2003, 2007
UEFA Women's EURO best performance: winners 1989, 1991, 1995, 1997, 2001, 2005, 2009
Expectations are huge in Germany's first home World Cup, with approaching 700,000 tickets sold for the 32 games. The squad combines the experience of goalkeeper Nadine Angerer and strikers Inka Grings and World Cup record scorer Birgit Prinz with young talents like defender Babett Peter, midfielder Kim Kulig and attacker Alexandra Popp, the star of last year's home FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup victory. Their form in friendlies has been sensational: this season they have won all seven games, scoring 30 and conceding one.
Group A matches: Nigeria (15.00, 26 June, Sinsheim), Canada (18.00, 30 June, Bochum), Germany (20.45, 5 July, Monchengladbach)
World Cup best performance: group stage 2003
UEFA Women's EURO best performance: eight-team group stage 1997, 2001, 2005, 2009; quarter-finals 2009
Bruno Bini's side were magnificent in qualifying, scoring 50 unanswered goals in ten perfect group wins before a 3-2 aggregate dismissal of Italy. They have been further boosted by Olympique Lyonnais's UEFA Women's Champions League triumph with the likes of Camille Abily, Wendie Renard, Sonia Bompastor, Louisa Nécib and Eugénie Le Sommer shining. Although Nigeria are not to be underestimated, France's meeting with Carolina Morace's improving Canada could be the key.
Group B matches: Mexico (18.00, 27 June, Wolfsburg), New Zealand (18.15, 1 July, Dresden), Japan (18.15, 5 July, Augsburg)
World Cup best performance: quarter-finals 1995, 2007
UEFA Women's EURO best performance: runners-up 1984, 2009
Four years ago a quarter-final run in their first World Cup since 1995 was considered a success. After finishing runners-up at EURO and in their last two games beating the United States and Sweden, expectations are higher this time round. While Kelly Smith remains the key in attack, Ellen White has claimed the lone forward role for herself, keeping the likes of Eniola Aluko and Karen Carney on the bench. First opponents Mexico qualified with a sensational defeat of the US, and New Zealand are fast improving but Olympic semi-finalists Japan may provide England's biggest obstacle.
Group C matches: Colombia (15.00, 28 June, Leverkusen), Korea DPR (2 July, 14.00, Augsburg), United States (20.45, 6 July, Wolfsburg)
World Cup best performance: runners-up 2003
UEFA Women's EURO best performance: winners 1984
Since their superb 2003 run Sweden have had mixed fortunes, going out in the 2007 group stage and falling to Norway in the UEFA Women's EURO 2009 quarter-finals. The two teams that finished above them in China four years ago, the US and North Korea, are up against Sweden again but strike duo Lyon's Lotta Schelin and 1. FFC Frankfurt's Jessica Landström are increasingly filling the daunting hole left by 2003 heroes Hanna Ljungberg and Victoria Svensson.
Group D matches: Equatorial Guinea (15.00, 29 June, Augsburg), Brazil (18.15, 3 July, Wolfsburg), Australia (18.00, 6 July, Leverkusen)
World Cup best performance: winners 1995
UEFA Women's EURO best performance: winners 1987, 1993
Whereas Sweden sometimes fall short of expectations, Norway have a habit of performing when it matters – not failing to reach a World Cup or EURO semi-final since 2005. It will not be easy in their group against Asian champions Australia and 2007 runners-up Brazil – inspired by Marta. Since their impressive run to the EURO 2009 last four Eli Landsem has taken over as coach and although the inspirational Solveig Gulbrandsen has retired, Cecilie Pedersen – who burst on to the scene as an unknown teenager two years ago – has recovered from injury to lead the line.
Road to the final
1: B1 v A2, 18.00, 9 July, Leverkusen
2: A1 v B2, 20.45, 9 July, Wolfsburg
3: C1 v D2, 13.00, 10 July, Augsburg
4: D1 v C2, 17.30, 10 July, Dresden
1: Winner QF1 v Winner QF4, 18.00, 13 July, Monchengladbach
2: Winner QF2 v Winner QF3, 20.45, 13 July, Frankfurt
• Third place match: 17.30, 16 July, Sinsheim
• Final: 20.45, 17 July, Frankfurt
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