Germany, France win openers
The World Cup started Sunday with two stadiums overflowing with goodwill, color and the cheer of nearly 100,000 fans. There were also four goals, including one stunner.
Germany, the two-time defending champion, survived opening-game jitters to beat Canada, 2-1, in Berlin and showed that the hosts will be the team to beat.
“It is fantastic,” said Germany’s No. 1 fan in the stands, Chancellor Angela Merkel.
France won the opener against Nigeria, 1-0, in Sinsheim to leave the continental neighbors in charge of Group A. The United States begins play in the 16-team tournament Tuesday, facing North Korea in Group C in Dresden
Beyond the games themselves, the upbeat spirit of the women’s game stood out Sunday. Riding the spirit of the crowds, the atmosphere approached that of the men’s 2006 World Cup—also in Germany—even if the action rarely did.
One clear exception came at Berlin’s Olympic Stadium. Canada’s Christine Sinclair, playing with a broken nose for most of the second half, highlighted the day with a stunning, perfectly curled free kick late in the game. That briefly gave Canada hope, but Germany survived on grit.
“The doctors told me her nose was broken, but she asked me to let her play,” Canada coach Carolina Morace said.
It was the first goal Germany had conceded in the World Cup since 2003.
At the site of the men’s final five years ago, hundreds of German flags came out as Kerstin Garefrekes scored Germany’s first goal in the 10th minute and the home team support continued the rest of the evening.
In the opening ceremony, a globe was revealed to have mirrors that reflected some of those in the sellout crowd of 73,680. Before the game started, waves rippled across the stadium.
From Berlin’s daunting stadium, the contrast could hardly be greater nearly 400 miles south of the capital—the bucolic setting of the Rhein-Neckar-Arena, surrounded by wheatfields and an old hilltop castle.
There was hardly an empty seat as Nigeria and France ushered in the tournament before 25,475 fans under an azure sky dotted with puffy clouds.
Used to performing before hundreds instead of thousands, players loved it as much as the fans. With the crowds behind both nations and a Nigerian brass band adding relentless rhythm, this was a stage most players had never enjoyed.
“It is really nice to have them cheering for both sides,” Nigeria’s Perpetua Nkwocka said.
France striker Marie-Laure Delie scored the first goal of the tournament in a scrappy goalmouth scramble, controlling a low cross and stabbing the ball home.
“We have three points in our pocket and no one can take them away from us,” coach Bruno Bini said.
Sinclair might have scored the best goal of the day, but France had the performer of the day in Louisa Necib, a smooth playmaker who makes difficult passing look dead easy, much like Zinedine Zidane did in Germany half a decade ago.
“She is an artist,” Bini said.
Germany’s start was much more workmanlike. Up 2-0 at halftime through goals by Garefrekes and Celia Okoyino Da Mbabi, the hosts squandered several easy chances to put the game away. Sinclair’s great strike ensured the match was fraught with tension until the end.
“We didn’t pass the ball enough in the first half, we didn’t keep it low and that’s why we had trouble getting into the game,” Germany coach Silvia Neid said. “And in the second half, we forgot to score. It got dangerous when they pulled one back close to the end.”
Birgit Prinz was unable to add the her World Cup tally of 14 career goals, but received thunderous applause when she was replaced in the 56th minute.