The women's World Cup kicked off today with Germany, the United States and Brazil favourites to lift the trophy.
Our time to win women's World Cup, says Brazil's Marta
The women's World Cup kicked off last night with Germany, the United States and Brazil among the favourites to lift the trophy.
Other countries among the 16 finalists looking to upset the heavyweights include England, Sweden and Norway in the sixth staging of the women's tournament first staged in 1991.
Marta, Brazil's five-time Player of the Year, and Birgit Prinz, of Germany, the all-time World Cup top scorer, are among the big names who will headline the €51 million (Dh268m) showcase over the next three weeks.
The United States, the two-time Olympic gold medallists, and Germany have traditionally dominated the tournament winning two titles each with Norway taking the honours in 1995.
But the five-time European champions Germany, trained by top women's coach Silvia Neid, will be the team to beat.
The United States, the top -ranked team in the world, have bounced back from their struggles through qualifying by winning the Algarve Cup in Portugal, and are in Group C with North Korea, newcomers Colombia and Sweden.
The US open their campaign against North Korea in Dresden tomorrow and hope to make it to the final on July 17.
Japan, New Zealand, Mexico and England face off in Group B with Brazil, the 2007 runners-up, headlining Group D, where they are up against Australia, Norway and debutants Equatorial Guinea.
Marta, dubbed the female version of Pele by the Brazil coach Kleiton Lima, insists their time has come to emulate their countrymen's achievements.
"We really want to win, it's a title we've had in our hands in the past but didn't win because of small details," said Marta, whose side open against Australia in Moenchengladbach on Wednesday.
"We've been finalists twice in the Olympic Games and once at the World Cup. Now it's time to win," she said.
But Tom Sermanni, the Australia coach, believes that the tournament is more wide open than ever as "the Matildas" attempt to better their quarter-final spot four years ago.
"The women's game has grown and developed significantly having become quicker, technically better and teams are more tactically mature," Sermanni told Fifa.com.
"Germany are obviously, for me, the favourites. Brazil and the US have earned the right to be classed as teams that can win it. Outside of that there are a big group of teams - around seven or eight - that could go deep into the tournament in the right circumstances, should they get on a roll.
"I honestly think there is not a lot between many teams now."
The US's opener tomorrow is particularly intriguing after training sessions behind closed doors and cancelled public appearances created a cloak of mystery around their opponents North Korea.
The Koreans are in impressive form, having seen off England 3-0 in a warm-up match last Tuesday.
With an average age of just 20 years and 11 months, the North Korean squad for Germany 2011 is one of the youngest to ever contest a women's World Cup.
Only Nigeria and Taiwan have fielded younger teams, and both squads played during the inaugural finals in 1991.
But while hosts Germany have taken every opportunity to promote the tournament, North Korea have insisted on tight security around their training ground and are keeping themselves to themselves.
"This thing about North Korea is they like it when things stay mysterious," said Abby Wambach, the US striker, remembering how the North Koreans earned a surprise 2-2 draw with the USA in the group stage at the last World Cup.
"In 2007, they suddenly came out and gave us a tough match."
Journalists and photographers eager to watch the North Koreans, who finished runners-up at the Asian Championships, were left disappointed as training took place last week behind closed doors with security guards present.
Thick screens surrounded their Dresden training ground.
Any gaps through which interested fans or journalists could sneak a glance were quickly blocked up and the team departed swiftly after a two-hour training session on Thursday.