The 2013 women's European Championship in football is set to kick off in Sweden, and Germany is looking to defend its title. Twelve teams will be taking part - but can any one of them end Germany's winning streak?
The women's Euro 2013 opens Monday in Sweden with two matches from group A. Italy and Finland play in the first match, and later on in Gothenburg, hosts Sweden play in a Scandinavian rivalry match against Denmark.
Sweden is considered among the favorites, and the tournament marks the first major test for head coach Pia Sundhage, who coached the US women to second place in the 2011 World Cup and a gold medal at the 2012 London Olympics.
It's also a return to the spotlight for the 53-year-old Sundhage, who is a favorite among Swedish fans of women's soccer and was a player in Sweden starting at age 15 in 1975.
"We're playing at home in Sweden and there are a lot of enthusiastic people hoping that we play a lot of games and play well," Sundhage said in an interview on UEFA.com ahead of her team's first match with Denmark. "I've learned from the five years in the States that it's a privilege to play under pressure and we have to embrace the pressure. These players do well when it matters."
Sundhage's team - including forward Lotta Schelin, one of Sweden's top players - put the hurt on England last week 4-1 in a final tune-up before the start of the tournament. If reports of turmoil within the team are true, their form in the England friendly was that of a well-oiled machine.
Germany seeks return to form
Sweden may have the home advantage, but the favorite for hoisting the trophy after the final on July 28 is Germany under head coach Silvia Neid.
The women's European Championship has only been held 10 times, and Germany have won seven editions (including the last five). The only other teams to win have been Sweden (in 1984) and Norway (1987 and 1993).
Neid's squad will be focused on getting back to winning ways after suffering an embarrassing quarter-final exit to the World Cup in 2011 - a tournament Germany hosted and were highly touted to win.
The German team won't simply waltz to a title in Sweden, however, with a number of players plagued by injuries or illness heading into the tournament. That includes Kim Kulig and Alexandra Popp, two stars of the 2011 World Cup, and first-team regulars Babett Peter, Verena Faisst, Viola Odebrecht, and Linda Bresonik.
As a result, Neid is having to start some relatively untested players, with an average age of 23.5 years old among them. Women's players tend to have longer careers than men, with France's Sandrine Soubeyrand taking to the pitch at the Euro 2013 just a few weeks shy of her 40th birthday.
But as Germany's first match approaches against the Netherlands on Thursday, Neid says the players are ready to go.
"As far as I'm concerned, it can start. I'm excited about working with this team. It's a lot of fun," she said. "The young players are full of passion, and the older players are bringing in their experience. It's a good mix. And we've come closer as a team because of all the injuries."
Filling the stands
While the matches of 2011 women's World Cup in Germany enjoyed relatively good attendance numbers - including a crowd of 73,000 for Germany's first match of the tournament and a nearly-sold out 48,000-capacity stadium in Frankfurt for the final between Japan and the US, European Championships are traditionally less popular in women's soccer.
The highest attendance for a match in the final round of the European Championship was a match in the 2005 edition in England, when 29,092 fans saw England take on Finland in Manchester.
The matches in Sweden will be held in seven stadiums, and only one - the Friends Arena in Solna - has a capacity of over 20,000. For the final of the Euro 2013, it will be able to accomodate 30,000 fans. The rest of the stadiums max out at 16,700 spectators in Gothenburg and go as low as 7,500 for the stadiums in Linköping and Halmstad. Rounding out the host cities are Norköping, Kalmar and Vaxjo.
Euro 2013 organizers are hoping to draw fans to stadiums with affordable ticket prices. The highest ticket price for all rounds of the tournament is 220 Swedish krona (around 23 euros, $30). Fans can also buy tickets to all three group games of a particular team for around 52 euros.
In addition to the four teams from Group A playing on Wednesday, Group B's first matches will take place on Thursday and feature Norway against Iceland and Germany against the Netherlands. Title-condenders France take on Russia, and dark-horses England square off against Spain in Group C matches on Friday.
The quarterfinals will take place on July 21 and 22, with the semifinals on July 24 and 25 and the final on July 28.