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Reputations are on the line this summer for the tournament's hosts, the world's most talented player and the hungry American team
The sixth Women's World Cup kicks off on Sunday, and over the following three weeks ESPN will broadcast all of the games live. The U.S.'s group is the toughest of the four, not least because Sweden has already beaten the Americans this year and North Korea tied them in their '07 Cup opener. The Yanks open the tournament against North Korea on June 28 in Dresden, then face Colombia on July 2 in Sinsheim and Sweden on July 6 in Wolfsburg. Three things to look for:
1. Can Marta finally win the Big One?
The Brazilian dynamo, now 25, is the five-time reigning world player of the year, but her team has been unable to win a world championship despite reaching the finals of the '07 World Cup and '04 and '08 Olympics. "I would give up every personal award I have ever gotten to win the World Cup as a team," says Marta, who plays her club ball in the Buffalo area and doesn't want Brazil to be known, like the Bills, for losing the Big Game four times.
2. Is this Germany's watershed moment?
Domestic support is at an alltime high for the nation's first Women's World Cup, which should make the atmosphere every bit as festive as it was during the men's Cup in 2006. The powerful German team, led by alltime World Cup scoring leader Birgit Prinz (above), will get a big boost from the home fans.
3. Can the U.S. break out?
The Americans won Olympic gold in '08 despite the absence of injured striker Abby Wambach. But more nations than ever are capable of a deep World Cup run, including rising powers Canada, England, North Korea and Sweden. Wambach and keeper Hope Solo may be the best players in the tournament at their positions, but the U.S. will need big performances from others, especially central midfielders Carli Lloyd and Shannon Boxx.
GRANT WAHL'S WORLD CUP FORECAST
GROUPS LISTED IN PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH; TOP TWO TEAMS ADVANCE