|Celia Okoyino Da Mbabi celebrates scoring Germany’s second in front of home crowd [GALLO/GETTY]|
An impressive opening ceremony kicked-off the Women’s World Cup on Sunday.
German President Christian Wulff, Chancellor Angela Merkel and FIFA President Sepp Blatter were among the capacity crowd of 73,680 at the Olympic stadium.
Playing in trademark black and white, hosts Germany survived opening-game jitters to beat Canada 2-1 and confirm their role as favourites for the title.
France won the opener against Nigeria 1-0 to leave the continental neighbours in charge of Group A.
But beyond the two matches themselves, the upbeat spirit of the women’s game stood out.
Riding the goodwill of the crowds, the atmosphere sometimes came close to the men’s 2006 World Cup – also staged in Germany – even if the action rarely did.
At Berlin’s Olympic Stadium, though, Canada’s Christine Sinclair highlighted the day with a stunning, perfectly curled free-kick late in the game which briefly gave Canada hope. But Germany survived on grit.
At the site of the men’s final five years ago, hundreds of German flags came out as Kerstin Garefrekes scored Germany’s first in the 10th minute and the home team support continued for the rest of the evening.
“It is fantastic,” said Chancellor Angela Merkel.
|The French team applaud the crowd following their opening win against Nigeria [GALLO/GETTY]|
From Berlin’s daunting Olympic Stadium, the contrast could hardly be bigger than the bucolic setting of the Rhein-Neckar-Arena, surrounded by wheatfields and an old hilltop castle.
Yet 600 kilometers to the south of the capital, there was hardly an empty seat as Nigeria and France kicked off the tournament before 25,475 fans.
With the crowds cheering both sides and a Nigerian brass band adding relentless rhythm under sunny skies, it was a stage most players had never before enjoyed.
“It is really nice to have them cheering for both sides,” said Nigeria’s Perpetua Nkwocka.
France striker Marie-Laure Delie scored the first goal of the tournament in a scrappy goal-mouth scramble, controlling a low cross and stabbing the ball home for the victory.
“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.
“She is an artist,” Bini said.
Germany’s start was much more workmanlike. Up 2-0 at half-time through goals by Garefrekes and Celia Okoyino Da Mbabi, the two-time defending champion squandered several easy chances to put the game away.
Sinclair’s great strike ensured the match was fraught with tension up to the final whistle.