The Women's World Cup soccer tournament opens Saturday here in the United States as 16 teams from around the world try to win the top prize in their sport.
The United States hosted and won the hugely successful Women's World Cup tournament in 1999. China was to have hosted this year. But the SARS outbreak led world soccer officials to move the event back to the United States, where they felt the tournament could still be a success despite short notice.
Four years ago, the U.S. team faced Norway, Nigeria and North Korea in the opening round. This year, the draw is nearly identical, with Sweden in Group A instead of Norway. But U.S. coach April Heinrichs sees more of a comparison with the Sydney Olympic tournament.
"I actually feel like it is a draw much more similar to the 2000 Olympics where we have got four of the best probably seven or eight teams in the world in our group," she said.
Heinrichs says the group will present a difficult challenge for the U.S. team.
"We do not play these three teams regularly. And I kind of like facing some teams we have not played as regularly," she said. "If you look at the other three groups, it [Group A] is probably the toughest group."
Group B includes Brazil, France, Norway and South Korea. Group C features Argentina, Canada, Germany and Japan. Group D has 1999 World Cup runner-up China, Australia, Ghana and Russia. Each team will play the other three in its group, with the top two advancing to the quarterfinal round.
The Women's World Cup championship game will be Sunday, October 12 in Carson, California, just south of Los Angeles.
To open things up Saturday in the first round, when all venues will host doubleheaders, Nigeria plays North Korea and Norway takes on France in Philadelphia. In Columbus, Ohio, Germany goes against Canada before Japan faces Argentina. The U.S. women begin defense of their title on Sunday in Washington D.C. against Sweden.