FIFA Scandal Set Aside As Women's World Cup Opens

Jun 7, 2015
Originally published on June 7, 2015 12:35 pm
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The Women's World Cup started with a bang yesterday when host Canada eked out a last-minute victory against China. The Netherlands beat New Zealand one-nil in the second game. NPR's Russell Lewis reports from Edmonton, where, for a few hours at least, FIFA's corruption and bribery scandal took a backseat to the game on the pitch.

RUSSELL LEWIS, BYLINE: Canada loves its hockey. But this month at least, it probably will love soccer more.

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VOYAGEUR FAN GROUP: (Chanting) Oh, ah, Canada - say oh-ah Canada.

LEWIS: An hour before kickoff, hundreds from the fan group Voyageurs marched to the Stadium in Edmonton, stopping traffic and cheering along the way. Michael Schwanke has high hopes.

MICHAEL SCHWANKE: If you're not going to be able to take a chance now with a big show - I mean, if not now than when, right?

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VOYAGEUR FAN GROUP: (Chanting) We're going to win the cup. We're going to win the cup. And now you're going to believe us.

LEWIS: The Canadian women have always been dominant, ranked no lower than 13th in the world. Expectations are high, especially after the team's bronze medal in the last Olympics. As this game got underway against China, both teams looked tight.

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UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Cheering).

LEWIS: It appeared the tournament's opening game would end without a goal until the referee called a penalty kick in stoppage time, and the Canadian captain, Christine Sinclair, saved the day, booting a perfect strike.

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UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Cheering).

LEWIS: More than 53,000 were in the stadium, the largest crowd to ever see a national soccer game in Canada, men or women. Edmonton resident Rita Feutl was all smiles.

RITA FEUTL: When girls see lots of support for women playing a team sport, I think it just normalizes it for them that they can do it, that it's just normal for them to play in this caliber of soccer.

LEWIS: One of those girls was 14-year-old Grace Taylor. She and her dad made the three-hour drive from Calgary. Taylor says Canada's win was inspiring.

GRACE TAYLOR: Yeah, it teaches us to just be strong and push until the end and just never give up and keep working hard. It will pay off in the end.

LEWIS: Canada has never won a World Cup tournament. She hopes this is the right start. Russell Lewis, NPR News, Edmonton. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.