Another summer, another World Cup.
The Women’s World Cup kicks off Sunday in Germany. The Germans are shooting for their third straight Cup, but winning the ultimate prize won’t be easy since a number of talented teams are in the mix. The quadrennial tournament runs through July 17 and features 16 of the top women’s teams from around the world.
Here’s a look at some of the teams vying for the Cup.
Brazil has a well-deserved reputation for soccer obsession, and the women’s national team is no exception. Brazil is one of the few countries in the world to field equally competitive men’s and women’s teams. Ranked third in FIFA rankings, Brazil is the only Latin American country with a women’s team in the top 20.
A contender to win it all, Brazil is led by Marta, who – if she’s isn’t recognized as such already – will undoubtedly go down in history as the greatest women’s player of all-time. The 25-year-old striker is a five-time FIFA women’s player of the year and the best female player in the world today.
In 10 World Cup games, she has 10 goals. Brazil is good enough for Marta to have a shot at winning one of the sports few accolades that has eluded her so far – a World Cup title.
While none of the groups at the World Cup are a walk in the park, Brazil got one of the better draws with Group D. The group includes Norway (No. 9), Australia (No. 11) and Equatorial Guinea (No. 61).
The win was the Mexicans’ first over the Americans and proved they can go up against the world’s best. Despite that slight boost in confidence for Mexico, the U.S. team took back a bit of the momentum earlier this month, defeating Las Tricolores, 1-0.
Mexico is ranked 22nd in the most recent FIFA rankings and considered an underdog to advance out of group play. Las Aztecas’ Group B includes a pair of top 10 teams in Japan (No. 4) and England (No. 10). Keep an eye out for Maribel Domínguez, the only player on the Mexican team with World Cup experience.
The Colombian women’s team secured the second spot in the South American Confederation to make its first World Cup appearance. This tournament may prove to be a learning experience for the emerging squad, which has developed into one of the top teams in Latin America, but has yet to record a win over a top-tier opponent.
Many casual soccer fans remember the United States’ dramatic shootout win in 1999. What they might not realize is that that year was the last time the U.S. women won the World Cup, as the Stars and Stripes have finished in third place the last two tournaments.
The U.S. women’s national team still is a powerhouse on the international soccer stage – as evidenced by its Olympic gold medals in 2004 and 2008 – but the gap is closing.
In fact, after losing, 2-1, to Mexico, the United States failed to automatically qualify for the tournament. The CONCACAF spots went to Canada and Mexico, and the United States had to beat Italy in a two-leg playoff to secure the final berth in the 16-team tournament.
While the United States enters the tournament as the top-ranked team, it is not the favorite. That distinction goes to host nation and back-to-back champion Germany.
Two-time defending champion and host nation Germany enters the tournament as an overwhelming favorite. The Germans will be looking to continue the dominance they've displayed the last two tournaments as they seek an unprecedented third straight World Cup.
Just how overpowering was Germany in the 2007 World Cup? The team didn’t give up a single goal in the entire tournament. Three-time FIFA player of the year Birgit Prinz returns to lead the experienced and tested team. Having the support of a home crowd will be another benefit.
However, Germany will be tested early. Placed in Group A – or this edition of the tournament’s “Group of Death” – second-ranked Germany will face a pair of top 10 teams, Canada (No. 6) and France (No.7), as well as Nigeria (No. 27) in the opening round.
Maria Burns Ortiz is a freelance sports journalist, chair of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists' Sports Task Force, and a regular contributor to Fox News Latino. Follow her on Twitter: @BurnsOrtiz