By Scott McDonald, AP
SHANGHAI, China — Germany will be a marked team when it kicks off the defense of its women’s World Cup title on Monday.
The Germans, who beat Sweden in extra time of the final four years ago, open the tournament against South American champions Argentina, and coach Silvia Neid said she realizes Germany is now in the center of the spotlight of world soccer. “Four years ago nobody thought we could win the title. Now we are the team everyone is chasing,” Neid said Sunday.
“We have to play in the opening match. It is an honor to do that,” Neid added. “Once the game starts our title is gone, but we can win it back in this tournament.”
The 16-team tournament is spread around five cities in China with the final back in Shanghai on Sept. 30.
The other favored team is two-time champion the United States, which plays its first game Tuesday in Group B against North Korea. The Americans are ranked No. 1 by soccer’s world governing body with Germany No. 2.
Neid said her team was injury-free and prepared for a physical game against Argentina.
“We know their players are hot tempered. They are a tough team which plays hard with technical skill, but we are looking forward to the game,” said Neid, who played in Germany’s first women’s international match 25 years ago as an 18-year-old.
Neid’s top player is expected to be veteran forward Birgit Prinz. She has played nearly 170 times for Germany and has scored more than 100 goals. Argentina has already been forced to replace midfielder Mariela Coronel, who was injured in training, with Emilia Mendieta, team spokesman Ricardo Ruiz said.
“It will be a very hard game for Argentina. The team knows Germany is the most dangerous opponent in the group,” Ruiz said.
The teams have played only once before, when Germany won 6-0 in a group match in the World Cup four years ago. Ruiz said other than the injury to Coronel, Argentina’s preparations had gone well.
The other two teams in Group A _ England and Japan _ play Tuesday, and the winner in the group plays the second place team in Group B, which besides the United States and North Korea, has Sweden and Nigeria. The second-place team will play the winner from group B.
Training sessions for Germany and Argentina at Hongkou Stadium, the site of the opening match, were cancelled Sunday because of heavy rains over the last several days. FIFA said the cancellation was to ensure the field remained in good condition for the tournament.