With the opening games over in the Women's World Cup, here are five thoughts I had from the first few days of action:
1. Mysterious no more
North Korea certainly made a statement in its first game against the U.S., but the squad must be disappointed to come away with only a draw. North Korea certainly played well enough to pull out a victory. It's not often the U.S. is trailing midway through the second half in an international tournament, and almost never during group play of the Women's World Cup. North Korea was organized, it threw numbers into the attack and just all-around played like a team that could contend for the World Cup title.
2. The race for best player in the world is on
With two great goals in Brazil's 5-0 victory over New Zealand, Marta doesn't lose the top spot here. But Kelly Smith rocketed herself to No. 2 -- a spot the rest of the world should've put her in a long time ago -- after a brilliant end-of-game performance against Japan. England's best created a game-tying goal and a go-ahead goal to give her team a late lead in its opening game. After waiting 10 years to play in a Women's World Cup, Smith took the game in her hands when it mattered most and announced herself to anyone in women's soccer who didn't know just how good she was. It's unfortunate that England couldn't hang on, considering how hard Smith worked.
3. Germany's here to play
The defending champ put the rout on in the 11-0 pounding of Argentina. After a year of question marks, Germany was certainly looking to erase any doubts with its clinic in the opening game of the World Cup. The questions are still there, though -- Argentina was so weak that it's hard to really evaluate how good Germany may be this time around. It'll be interesting to see how the side fares against stiffer competition from England and Japan as group play continues.
4. The U.S.-Sweden matchup is critical
The loser of this game is probably headed home early in this World Cup. A win is important in the battle with North Korea for the top spot in this group because the second-place finisher in Group B likely will face Germany in the quarterfinals.
How will Sweden's injury issues affect the team as it plays its second game in four days? Will the U.S. bounce back from its disappointing draw with North Korea? Friday morning holds the answer. The U.S. midfield couldn't hold possession against North Korea, and anything close to a repeat of that against Sweden will be dangerous because of elite players such as Hanna Ljungberg, Victoria Svensson and up-and-comer Lotta Schelin. Ljungberg hung in against Nigeria for 69 minutes, so she may be fatigued on Friday, but anything she can give Sweden will be a boost.
5. Fouls, keeper problems and more!
It's been a bad few days for goalkeepers. Canada's Erin McLeod looked the best in a 2-1 loss to Norway; the two goals she gave up weren't her fault, and she made several impressive saves to keep Canada in the match. Argentina goalkeeper Vanina Correa clearly looked the worst (two own goals -- although FIFA later changed the scoring and awarded the goals to German players). But Hope Solo for the U.S. and Myong Hui Jon for North Korea also had issues in the 2-2 draw. The pouring rain, however, certainly helped the goal scorers in that game.
The foul that was called at the end of the Japan-England game that led to the Japanese goal was not a foul. The free kick never should've taken place. Not the only phantom foul call of the tournament, but the most noticeable.
Kelly Smith should've never let herself get a yellow card for encroaching on Aya Miyama's free kick. It's a careless yellow that could come back to haunt England. She's prone to getting cards, but it's unbelievable that she could let herself get one with no time left on the clock. She'll have to keep her temper in check against Germany -- which will be hard for her because it will be so physical and so tough for England.
Oh, Canada. The Canadians had been written off before the tournament, and for good reason because of how poorly they'd played and the problems they've had with coach Even Pellerud. They had Norway on the ropes and a shot at taking three points and gaining control of their own destiny. But Canada let Norway back in the game, and the upset bid was quickly over, likely along with any chance of advancing out of Group C.
Jacqueline Purdy is an editor for espnradio.com. She also hosts the ESPN Women's Soccernet podcast on ESPN PodCenter. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.