The fifth FIFA Women's World Cup begins today in China - with holders Germany, 2003 runners-up Sweden, former winners Norway, Denmark and England all aiming to take the trophy to Europe for the third time.
Germany and England
Reigning champions Germany kick the tournament off against Argentina in Shanghai, and will hope to make it a fourth major competition win in a row as their 2003 success in the United States sandwiched 2001 and 2005 UEFA European Women's Championship victories. England, in the finals for the first time since 1995, are also in Group A and meet Japan in Shanghai tomorrow.
Sweden, who took Germany to golden goal extra-time four years ago, also begin on Tuesday against African champions Nigeria in Chengdu. Their Group B looks the toughest as it also contains the United States, two-time champions and pre-tournament favourites after a 13-game winning streak, and FIFA U-20 World Cup holders Korea DPR, four teams who were also together in 2003. The winners and runners-up in this group are bracketed for the quarter-finals with Group A.
Denmark meet hosts
Norway lifted this trophy in 1995 in Sweden and, after a spell in the doldrums, reached the UEFA WOMEN'S EURO 2005™ final. They open in Hangzhou on Wednesday against fast-improving Canada, who are led by Norway's World Cup-winning coach Even Pellerud, though he is suspended for that game. They then meet Australia and Ghana. A crowd of 60,000 is expected when Denmark take on hosts and Asian champions China in Wuhan, with Brazil - starring Umeå IK's FIFA Women's World Player of 2006 Marta - and New Zealand also in contention.
All 16 teams are aiming for the final in Shanghai on 30 September. There is also an additional prize on offer for Germany, Norway, Denmark and Sweden as the three best finishers among that quartet will return to China next year for the Olympic Games women's football tournament. England, under FIFA regulations, will not be eligible to enter the 2008 games as the United Kingdom.
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