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Countdown to Germany: 365 days to 2011 Women's World Cup

The knockout stage of the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa began Saturday, June 26, but the date has further significance to women’s soccer fans anxiously anticipating the next World Cup.  The Women’s World Cup, that is.

June 26, 2011 will serve as day one for the 2011 Women’s World Cup in Germany.  The tournament is highly anticipated by fans, media and organizers alike as ticket sales are soaring and the sponsorship program sold out 18 months in advance.  Once July 11 comes and goes in South Africa and the men’s installment of the World Cup ends, all eyes will be on Germany 2011 (at least in the women’s soccer world and, presumably, FIFA’s eyes).

With just one year until kick-off of the world’s biggest show, here are ten questions to think about as the Women’s World Cup approaches.

10 – Will African teams raise their credibility? With the world currently focusing on South Africa and what the tournament means for the country and the continent of Africa in the big picture of world football, the same must be thought about on the women’s side.  The 2011 Women’s World Cup will not be on African soil, but it will serve as a chance for African teams to show how much they have progressed over the past four years.  Of the six African teams in South Africa in 2010, only Ghana advanced to the knockout stage.  African women’s footballers will be hoping for better.

9 – Will the United States go with youth, experience, or find the middle ground? Superstar Kristine Lilly will be 39-years-old when the tournament kicks off, but right now she is playing better than she has in years and defying time.  Christie Rampone and Kate Markgraf are also savvy veterans, but rising stars like Kelley O’Hara, Lauren Cheney and Brittany Taylor will be pushing for spots.  The World Cup may be one year too early for this new crop of stars, but they will certainly push for places on Pia Sundhage’s roster.

8 – How will WPS internationals stack up against internationals from other leagues? Women’s Professional Soccer might be the best league in the world, but there are still more players not based out of the league then there are within it.  Players from the Bundesliga in Germany, the Damallsvenskan in Sweden and leagues all around Europe will have something to say about WPS’ claim to fame.  Let’s see how the players stack up.

7 – Could 2011 be the best World Cup since 1999? As great as ticket sales have been for Germany 2011, the attendance numbers cannot compare to 1999 by stadium capacity alone.  However, if October’s USA-Germany friendly indicates anything, the environment in Germany should be electric.  The short notice of the United States hosting the 2003 World Cup due to a SARS outbreak in China followed by China 2007 admittedly produced rather averagely supported World Cups.  Perhaps it was just tough to live up to 1999, but 2011 could be a nice turnaround of that trend.

6 – Will that World Cup buzz spill into the Bundesliga? Players will be captivated by the environment in Germany.  I can guarantee plenty of quotes from and interviews with players about the stadium environments and soccer fever around the country (and that is not a bad thing).  Surely, some players searching for the next level will become starry-eyed from this and it may sway them to ply their trade for a club in Germany.

5 – Are new WPS superstars on the horizon? There are a lot of undiscovered players out there and WPS coaches will absolutely have their eyes on the next big star.  Who will that be?  Your guess is as good as mine with some completely unknown players coming out of Africa, Asia and even the Americas, but there will surely be plenty.

4 – Which team will be the dark horse?  Or will there not even be a dark horse? Everyone will focus on the United States, Germany and Brazil.  Norway is always a contender as well, but will a team like Sweden, Australia or even Canada pose legitimate threats to make deep runs in the tournament and maybe even win it?  Sweden made it to the final in 2003 and Canada finished fourth that year.  There are plenty of solid teams in the world, but they never get put on the same level as the United States and Germany.  They will hope to change that in 2011.

3 – How will ESPN treat the 2011 Women’s World Cup? The global sports media giant has given unprecedented coverage to the 2010 World Cup and it has created soccer fever in the United States.  Germany 2011 promises to be a success in the stands (we could see less empty seats there than in South Africa) and there should be plenty for ESPN and other media outlets to talk about.  Somehow, I get the feeling that coverage could be buried to page two and play second fiddle with most outlets, but I say that hoping to be pleasantly surprised.

2 – Will WPS take an international break? The way I see it, WPS has to.  Between U.S. Women’s National Team players and internationals, the core players of the league will be gutted.  Teams will be playing without their biggest stars and fans will not take kindly to that.  Some may even be in a position where it will be hard to even field a team with so many absences.  WPS might not want to drop off the map for three weeks or more, but it may be forced to fill in the lack of games with team events, publicity tactics and maybe, dare I say, a women’s open cup.

1 – Who will win? That is the bottom line, isn’t it.  Really, this is more food for thought for United States fans.  The U.S. is the No. 1 team in the world and has been a perennial power since the first Women’s World Cup in 1991, but it will have been 12 years since the last time the Red, White, and Blue raised the trophy in 1999.  That is a bit lengthy for a team with such high expectations.  As great as Olympic gold medals are, they don’t stack up to a World Cup.


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