Women's World Cup Kicks Off

Wimbledon isn't the only big tournament to captivate the sports world this summer. Soccer fans will have three weeks worth of the FIFA Women's World Cup in Germany, starting Sunday. Guest host Susan Stamberg speaks with NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman about the 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup.

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SUSAN STAMBERG, host:

Wimbledon isn't the only big tournament to catch the sports world's attention this summer. Soccer fans will have three weeks' worth of the FIFA Women's World Cup in Germany starting today. NPR's Tom Goldman has an overview. Hi, Tom.

TOM GOLDMAN: Hi, Susan.

STAMBERG: Tell us about the U.S. players. Does this cup have one of those stars like Mia Hamm?

GOLDMAN: Well, by Mia Hamm, of course, you mean the best U.S. women's soccer player in history. Perhaps a player with the potential to be that transcendent star is 21-year-old forward Alex Morgan. She's the youngest player on the national team. She's fast, she's a great goal scorer. She doesn't start yet -her coach likes to put her in later in the game to take advantage of her speed and creativity.

Now, another U.S. player, of course, to watch, veteran forward Abby Wambach. She's a very physical player who's one of the world's best goal scorers. And the goalkeeper, Hope Solo, considered the best in the tournament at her position.

STAMBERG: So, lots to pay attention to. U.S. women's soccer, it can be a very fast and powerful game. How far will that take this cup team?

GOLDMAN: There's a belief among soccer experts that the athleticism won't take the U.S. as far as it has in the past when the U.S. was the dominant team in the world in the 1990s, early 2000s. A number of countries have caught up, and now the best teams play with a lot of skill and technique, and that's something the U.S. just doesn't do as well, that ability to do exciting, skillful things with the ball.

Just watch Marta from Brazil, considered the best player in the world, and you'll know what that means. So, this World Cup will be interesting to see just where the U.S. fits in this kind of new world order of women's soccer where there's more parity and a lot more skill.

STAMBERG: What about England? Their men's teams are certainly some of the most popular in the world. The women's team finally getting some respect at home too, right? But what are their prospects in this cup?

GOLDMAN: They're not among the favorites, which include host Germany, the USA, Canada, Brazil. But England could do well. The English have an outstanding midfielder named Kelly Smith. She's not only battled injuries in her career but also depression and alcoholism.

You know, Susan, while U.S. girls and women had the advantage of Title 9 to boost their sports opportunities, English girls and women have had to fight mightily for acceptance. So, doing well for Germany would be a great what do you think of us now moment.

STAMBERG: Yeah. You know, it seems that every global sports event has at least one controversy. So, what's the scandal for this women's World Cup?

GOLDMAN: Well, Equatorial Guinea 2011 is that country's first women's World Cup, and there are two sisters on the team. They're star players who are accused of being men and didn't make the trip to Germany. The gender accusations have never been proved. The team also faces allegations that its players from other countries had their citizenship process unlawfully sped up.

STAMBERG: Thanks very much. NPR's Tom Goldman.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome.

STAMBERG: This is NPR News.

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