FIFA Arrests Unlikely To Tarnish The Women's World Cup
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
The 2015 Women's World Cup gets underway later today in Edmonton, Canada. And even before the game kicks off, there have been arrests, indictments, allegations of corruption (laughter). That's big-time sports for you. Organizers in Canada hope that the public will also pay attention to the games because they'll see some of the world's top athletes. NPR's Shereen Marisol Meraji joins us now from Edmonton. Shereen, thanks so much for being with us.
SHEREEN MARISOL MERAJI, BYLINE: You're welcome.
SIMON: Has the glitter of the tournament been tarnished more than a little bit by the arrests and allegations of corruption at FIFA?
MERAJI: You know, Scott, it's really hard to say. Most of the people we've talked to here in Edmonton over the past few days say what's happening with FIFA has nothing to do with what's going on on the field. There's definitely a worry here, though, that the media will fixate on it. And at FIFA's opening press conference in Vancouver, the president of Canada's soccer association got a barrage of questions all about the drama, and he basically said, look, this is perfect timing for the Women's World Cup. It's the purest form of the game. It's soccer to the core. Let's focus on that because that's what this sport needs - some purity, some positivity. And let's not forget, Scott, this is the biggest women's sporting event in the entire world. And a half a billion people are expected to watch today's opening game between Canada and China, so it's a big deal.
SIMON: And more national teams than ever, right?
MERAJI: Yeah, that's right. The World Cup is held every four years, and this year there are 24 teams, which is eight more than four years ago. It should be really exciting. Canada is a giant country. So they're going to be traveling around a ton from the West Coast of Vancouver all the way to Moncton on the East Coast, which, you know, hey, I've never even heard of that place so that should be...
SIMON: I've been to Moncton.
MERAJI: Tell me about it.
SIMON: I hope it's open when you get there. The U.S. team is ranked second in the world, right?
MERAJI: That's right. And the U.S. has a good chance to win it all. It's won this tournament twice before. That's two more times than the U.S. men. I'd just like to put that out there. Perhaps the U.S.'s biggest strength is its depth on the bench. You've got women that could start on a lot of other teams in the Cup. They could be starters, but the U.S. is playing in a difficult group. Its first game is against Australia this Monday in Winnipeg. Australia is ranked 10th in the world, and the best game to watch is probably the game against Sweden because Sweden's coach used to be the U.S. women's coach. There might be a little bit of emotional baggage on the field there. And the U.S. squad wraps up group play against Nigeria on June 16 in Vancouver.
SIMON: What other teams or great players do you think we ought to look out for?
MERAJI: Germany - you want to look out for Germany. They've won two World Cups, too. But the Germans are having some issues. The reigning FIFA world player of the year, Nadine Kessler, she's out after knee surgery. One of their star midfielders broke her leg. Of course, we can't forget about Japan. Japan are ranked fourth, but they're the reigning World Cup champions. A talented young player to keep an eye on is 20-year-old Asisat Oshoala from Nigeria. She just won the BBC's female footballer of the year award. Not so young as the Brazilian team, but the team...
SIMON: But Marta - they've got Marta.
MERAJI: Exactly, they got Marta. She's the best player in the world - FIFA's footballer of the year five times. She's so good she doesn't need a last name, Scott. She's just Marta.
SIMON: She could balance of Volkswagen on her foot. She's that good.
MERAJI: She's that good, so I wanted to leave the best for last, and there you have it.
SIMON: NPR's Shereen Marisol Meraji in Edmonton. Have a great time.
MERAJI: Thanks, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.