Sinsheim, Germany, Jun 27 : On a great day for women's football, it was a good day for Europe's teams.The World Cup started Sunday with two stadiums brimming to overflow with goodwill, color and the cheer of nearly 100,000 fans -- plus four goals, including one stunner.
Playing in trademark black and white, host Germany survived opening-game jitters to beat Canada 2-1 and confirm its role as the favorite for the title. France won the opener against Nigeria 1-0 to leave Germany's continental neighbors in charge of Group A.
"We didn't pass the ball enough in the first half, we didn't keep it low and that's why we had trouble getting into the game," Germany coach Silvia Neid said. "And in the second half, we forgot to score. It got dangerous when they pulled one back close to the end."
Beyond the two matches themselves, the upbeat spirit of the women's game stood out. Riding the goodwill of the crowds, the atmosphere sometimes came close to the men's 2006 World Cup -- also staged in Germany -- even if the action rarely did.
At Berlin's Olympic Stadium, though, Canada's Christine Sinclair, playing with a broken nose for most of the second half, highlighted the day with a stunning, perfectly curled free kick late in the game which briefly gave Canada hope. But Germany survived on grit.
"The doctors told me her nose was broken, but she asked me to let her play," Canada coach Carolina Morace said. "I asked if it would be dangerous, but Christine is a smart player -- she knows what she can do and what she can't do."
It was the first goal Germany had conceded in the World Cup since 2003.
At the site of the men's final five years ago, hundreds of German flags came out as Kerstin Garefrekes scored Germany's first in the 10th minute and the home team support continued for the rest of the evening.
"The fans were great," Neid said. "People had the feeling it could be getting close and they really got behind us. I thought it was a brilliant reaction."
"It is fantastic," said Germany's No. 1 fan in the stands, Chancellor Angela Merkel.
In the opening ceremony, a globe was revealed to have mirrors which reflected some of the 73,680 sellout crowd. Before kickoff, the Mexican waves went around the ground before the game started.
From Berlin's daunting Olympic Stadium, the contrast could hardly be bigger than the bucolic setting of the Rhein-Neckar-Arena, surrounded by wheat fields and an old hilltop castle.
Yet 600 kilometers (373 miles) to the south of the capital, there was hardly an empty seat as Nigeria and France kicked off the tournament before 25,475 fans under an azure sky dotted with puffy clouds.
Used to performing before hundreds instead of thousands, Players loved it as much as the fans. With the crowds cheering both sides and a Nigerian brass band adding relentless rhythm under sunny skies, it was a stage most players had never before enjoyed.
"It is really nice to have them cheering for both sides," said Nigeria's Perpetua Nkwocka.
France striker Marie-Laure Delie scored the first goal of the tournament in a scrappy goal-mouth scramble, controlling a low cross and stabbing the ball home for the victory.
"We have three points in our pocket and no one can take them away from us," coach Bruno Bini said.
Sinclair might have scored the best goal of the day, but France had the performer of the day in Louisa Necib, a smooth playmaker who makes difficult passing look dead easy, much like Zinedine Zidane did in Germany half a decade ago."She is an artist," Bini said.
Germany's start was much more workmanlike. Up 2-0 at halftime through goals by Garefrekes and Celia Okoyino Da Mbabi, the two-time defending champion squandered several easy chances to put the game away. Sinclair's great strike ensured the match was fraught with tension up to the final whistle.
Birgit Prinz was unable to add the her all-time World Cup tally of 14 goals, but received thunderous applause when she was taken off in the 56th. AP