This World Cup row is over, now real battle set to start

Frank Dalleres
Follow Frank
Abby Wambach has 182 goals in 241 games
Women’s football showpiece kicks off tomorrow.

ALREADY the biggest ever in terms of number of teams, hopes are high that this year’s Women’s World Cup, which starts in Canada tomorrow, will also prove to the best-supported.

Organisers forecast that 1.5m spectators will attend the 24-team tournament, and say another 500m could follow it on television. City A.M. examines the main talking points.

The United States, beaten on penalties by Japan in the 2011 final, and European champions Germany start as the favourites.

The Americans can boast two previous wins and have the advantage of playing in the closest country to home. They are led by forward Abby Wambach, whose 182 goals in 241 international appearances is a global record but for whom this may represent a last shot at a World Cup, aged 35.

Germany also have great pedigree, having lifted the trophy twice, winning back-to-back in 2003 and 2007, and won the European Championships for a sixth successive time a year ago. Their group – Ivory Coast, Norway and Thailand – looks simpler than USA’s, which includes Sweden, Nigeria and Australia, earning the inevitable Group of Death label.

England romped to the finals in style, winning all 10 qualifying matches and conceding just once in the process to raise hopes that they could improve on their routine quarter-final exit. Optimism has been dented by a series of friendly defeats, such as the 3-0 reverse to Germany in front of a record crowd at Wembley late last year, a narrow loss to USA in February and last week’s 1-0 setback against Canada.

Mark Sampson’s team, ranked seventh in the world, are grouped with Mexico, Colombia and France, the latter of whom they face in a tricky opening fixture on Tuesday.

Even before Fifa’s recent meltdown, the world governing body faced legal threats over a high-profile tournament as a row over artificial pitches at the Women’s World Cup raged.

Leading players including USA star Wambach last year even filed a lawsuit alleging gender discrimination, on the basis that – unlike this – no senior men’s World Cup has been played only on synthetic grass.

Players have raised concerns that the surface could increase the risk of non-contact injuries, but Fifa say there is no evidence for this. The lawsuit was dropped in January.