Mark J. Terrill, File, Associated Press
FRANKFURT, Germany — When Germany won its first major title in women's soccer, coming home with the trophy from the 1989 European Championship, the players' bonus was a coffee set. A tacky one to boot, with a design of red and blue blooming flowers — and a flaw.
The discount, second-choice product from a local manufacturer may have been a poor pick for a gift, but consider that this was the same German federation that had banned organized women's soccer between 1955 and 1970.
The women's game has come long way since its pioneer days. Should Germany win the Women's World Cup, the players will be able to buy any tea set they want — and then some — with their bonuses of $85,410 each.
"The World Cup will give women's soccer a new dimension," says Katja Kraus, a former Germany goalkeeper who has risen to top management levels in the men's Bundesliga.
Germany will be trying to become the first team to win three straight World Cups when it kicks off the three-week tournament against Canada on Sunday in Berlin's Olympic stadium. The tournament will be held in nine cities across Germany, with the July 17 final in Frankfurt.
"This is going to be a great event to rival and maybe surpass the 1999 spectacle. We all know that was an awesome and competitive spectacle of women's athletics," said ESPN analyst Tony DiCicco, who witnessed the sold-out stadiums and enthusiasm first-hand as the U.S. coach in 1999. "We have great teams — three of my personal favorites are the U.S., Germany and Brazil — and we have great players.
"We've got the most prepared teams probably in the history of the Women's World Cup from top to bottom," he added. "There's going to be a couple of lopsided games but, overall, I think this is going to be the most engaging competition as far as the World Cup (ever)."
The 2006 men's World Cup in Germany is now known as the "summer fairy tale" for its fabulous weather, huge and generally well-behaved crowds that turned the tournament into a monthlong party. German organizers are trying to reproduce that atmosphere, and the strong marketing effort has sold 75 percent of the 900,000 tickets for the 32-game tournament.
Aside from Berlin, which will host only the opening match, the only other 2006 World Cup arena to be used is in Frankfurt. Most other stadiums have a capacity of between 20,000 and 30,000.
The tournament will also have unprecedented television coverage both in Germany and the United States. All 32 games will be shown live in Germany by the country's two public television channels. ESPN is giving the Women's World Cup the same kind of treatment it did last year's men's tournament in South Africa, showing all 32 games live on either ESPN or ESPN2, as well as online at ESPN3.com.
ESPN also created a mobile studio, "Big Blue," that will allow the network to do live pregame, postgame and halftime shows from the different stadiums, along with showcasing cultural sites throughout Germany.
"We will cover the tournament as a tournament unto itself," said Jed Drake, executive producer of ESPN's World Cup coverage. "But we will recognize the importance of the U.S. team to our audience, and pay extra attention to them. ... I do believe that the interest in the U.S. team is going to generate a lot of interest, and we're starting to feel that buzz now."
The Americans come into the World Cup as the top-ranked team in the world and defending Olympic champions. But it's been 12 years since the "Golden Generation" — Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy, Joy Fawcett, Kristine Lilly and Brandi Chastain, just to name a few — won the United States' second title, and the Americans have been uncharacteristically inconsistent of late.
After going more than two years without a loss, the U.S. dropped three games in five months. The Americans were stunned in the semifinals of regional World Cup qualifying by Mexico, a team that had been 0-24-1 against its northern neighbor. The U.S. had to win a home-and-home playoff with Italy just to get to Germany.
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