U.S., Germany fancied at landmark Women's World Cup
By Philip O'Connor
(Reuters) - Canada will host the largest Women's World Cup in history over the next month where the neighboring United States are a hot favorite to snap a 16-year title drought at soccer's showpiece event.
With a legal fight over the use of artificial turf now in the rear-view mirror, Canada will kick off the June 6-July 5 tournament against China in the first international competition to be played entirely on plastic pitches.
Eighth-ranked Canada qualified as hosts and are hoping the backing of a passionate fan base and the experience of winning a bronze medal at the London Olympics can carry them deep into the tournament.
The United States will face stiff European opposition led by continental champions and top-ranked Germany, as well as an Asian challenge spearheaded by holders Japan, who beat the Americans on penalties in the 2011 World Cup final.
Taking place for the seventh time, the Women's World Cup will feature an expanded field of 24 teams, twice as many as when it started back in 1991 and eight more than in the last three tournaments.
The 24 nations will be divided into six groups of four, with matches taking place in six cities across Canada.
The top two teams in each group will make it through to the last 16, where they will be joined by the four best third-placed teams, and all eyes will be on Canada's near neighbors, who are hotly-tipped to win a third world title.
The Americans will cross the border having won the last two Olympic gold medals, but despite the growing popularity of the sport in the United States, they are without a World Cup win since securing their second title in 1999. Continued...