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U.S. hopes for 3rd World Cup title as play begins
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In this May 30, 2015, file photo, a spectator watches warm-ups before an international friendly soccer match between South Korea and the United States in Harrison, N.J. - photo by Associated Press

EDMONTON, Alberta — Canada coach John Herdman pretty much summed up the prevailing sentiment when he was asked what he was looking forward to most about the Women's World Cup.

"Winning," Herdman said.

Join the crowd, coach.

Canada, ranked No. 8 in the world, opens women's soccer's premier tournament with a group-stage match against No. 16 China on Saturday in Edmonton, one of the six Canadian cities hosting the monthlong event. The final is July 5 in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Twenty-four teams are competing this year, up from 16 that took part in the 2011 tournament in Germany. Japan won that one on penalty kicks in a memorable final against the United States.

The Americans, ranked No. 2, are among the favorites, along with top-ranked Germany and third-ranked France. The U.S. women are in Group D, the so-called "Group of Death" that includes upstart Australia, Sweden and former U.S. coach Pia Sundhage, and perennial African champion Nigeria.

Group D opens with a match between the United States and Australia in Winnipeg on Monday, but probably the most anticipated match of the group stage is the showdown between the U.S. and Sweden next Friday. It pits Sundhage against former assistant Jill Ellis, who took over the U.S. team last spring.

The players, many of whom played for Sundhage, were keeping perspective on the match.

"It's just another game for us, it's just another in the group round," said U.S. defender Meghan Klingenberg. "We're not looking at is as the 'Group of Death' or the easiest group, or whatever it is. We're just looking at it as a game we have to win because we want to be on the podium at the end of this tournament."

Some things to watch as the tournament gets underway:

THE SHOW MUST GO ON: The women's game and the World Cup have not really been touched all that much by the scandal rocking FIFA, the sport's international governing body.

The only telltale sign of its impact came when FIFA Secretary General Jerome Valcke withdrew from the tournament's opening news conference in Vancouver. He was replaced by Tatjana Haenni, FIFA's deputy director of the competitions division and head of women's soccer.

At the news conference, Canadian Soccer Association President Victor Montagliani was asked if there were any improprieties associated with Canada's bid for the event — a reflection of the corruption allegations facing FIFA as a whole.

The question was a bit amusing because Canada was the only country that bid. Zimbabwe withdrew.

"I actually think that it's a positive thing that the first tournament after whatever happened last week is the Women's World Cup. Because women's football is a very pure form of football. And I think women's football can shine some light in the dark clouds that are hanging over the game," Montagliani said.

ASSESSING THE UNITED STATES: There have been mixed reviews of the U.S. team in the matches leading up to the World Cup, starting with an uncharacteristic loss to France in Lorient in February and ending with a listless 0-0 draw against South Korea in New Jersey last Saturday.

The players themselves say they are unconcerned, trusting a process. "Everybody, don't freak out," forward Abby Wambach said. "We're going to be fine."

TURF WARS: The event is the first senior World Cup, for the men or women, to be held on artificial turf.

That hasn't gone over well with many players, who believe that artificial turf exacerbates injuries and changes the way the ball moves.

Wambach led a group of players who filed a legal challenge last fall, alleging gender discrimination — because the men's World Cup is always played on real grass. The players withdrew their action earlier this year when it became clear it wouldn't be considered before the event.

All six stadiums and 18 practice fields in Canada are outfitted with fake turf.

GOAL LINE TECHNOLOGY: This is the first Women's World Cup that will use goal-line technology aimed at taking the guesswork out of the ref's hands when it comes to those critical goal/not-goal questions.

The Hawk-Eye system trains seven cameras on each goal. If there's a score, a signal is transmitted to a watch worn by each match official.

Goal-line technology was also used in the men's World Cup last year in Brazil. That system was provided by the German company GoalControl.

So what spurred technology's intrusion into the Beautiful Game? The 2010 World Cup. A shot by England's Frank Lampard in the second round against Germany was clearly over the line, but disallowed. That goal would have tied it 2-2. Instead Germany won 4-1.

SAYING GOODBYE: Several stars have announced that this will be their final World Cup, including Japan's Homare Sawa, who is playing in her sixth — a record among women and men.

German goalkeeper Nadine Angerer also said she is retiring after this year. And Wambach will likely to hang up her cleats — although she may stick around for the 2016 Olympics.

"We have stars like Alex Morgan and Sydney Leroux and Megan Rapinoe who are going to continue on for many years on this team. And hopefully I'm going to be riding out off into the sunset with a World Cup championship," Wambach said. "For me it would be an amazing thing to be able to leave this team on a high note and know that it's in good hands with those players."