Hosts Germany launch bid to win record third World Cup

Germany's women's football team celebrate winning the World Cup
Germany won the 2007 World Cup in Shanghai

Defending champions Germany begin their bid for a hat-trick of women's World Cup titles in front of about 74,000 fans on Sunday.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel will be among the sell-out crowd in Berlin's Olympic Stadium.

The hosts face Canada in their opener, though France and Nigeria get the tournament under way hours earlier.

Hope Powell's England begin their World Cup campaign against Mexico on Monday.

New Zealand and Japan are England's other Group B opponents.

More than 700,000 tickets have been sold for the three-week event, with about half the games expected to attract more than 20,000 fans.

England captain Faye White believes the standard of football at international football has improved since the 2007 World Cup in China, and she thinks that games will be a lot tighter in Germany.

"Not only have England progressed and developed so have other nations," White told BBC Sport. "The gap between the top five or six teams and the rest is narrowing, as well as improvements to the technical and tactical side of the game.

"Back in 2007 we had a game against Argentina where we won 6-1, but I would be surprised if we saw a score like that in this World Cup."

The Germany players and coach Silvia Neid have seen their faces splashed across the front pages of newspapers in the build-up to the competition as they aim to become the first country to win the tournament three times.

Public viewing areas for the matches have been set up in cities to accommodate large groups of fans and all 32 games will be broadcast live in Germany by the two public television channels.

"We have a dream and that is to win the title at home. We will do everything to make it come true," said Neid.

Katja Kraus, a former Germany goalkeeper who has risen to top management levels in the men's Bundesliga, said: "The World Cup will give women's football a new dimension."

The United States, also twice World Cup winners and the reigning Olympic champions, are the world's number one ranked team and are among the favourites.

They will be looking to make the final this time after missing out in 2007 when they were beaten 4-0 by Brazil at the last-four stage.

Coach Pia Sundhage will be confident of making it through Group C, where the US face North Korea, Colombia and Sweden.

The US have lost to Mexico, Sweden and England in recent months.

Brazilian striker Marta, who has won the Fifa Women's Player of the Year five times in a row, is the star of a young team bidding to win the competition for the first time.

She was the top scorer in the 2007 World Cup with seven goals.

Coach Kleiton Lima said: "Marta once again will be the biggest name of the World Cup. Brazil will rely on a great player like her. But it will also rely on the rest of the squad. She won't win the World Cup herself."

The South Americans take on Australia, Norway and Equatorial Guinea in Group D.

The 32-match tournament, comprising four groups of four teams, will be played at nine venues across Germany, with the group winners and runners-up progressing to the quarter-finals, ending with the final in Frankfurt on 17 July.