Football -Womens' World Cup: New samba beat lifts the girls from Brazil

Marisa Knightley sees the women's World Cup hit the right notes
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The Independent Online
ANYONE WATCHING Eurosport's coverage of the Women's World Cup in the US could not fail to have noticed the remarkably high standard of football on show. The event is a testament to the fact that women's football is the fastest-growing team sport in the world, explains why more than 500,000 tickets for the tournament have already been sold and why, at the opening game in the Giants Stadium where USA beat Denmark, there were a record 78,972 attending.

England did not qualify from their difficult Uefa group, despite being ranked eighth in the world, and, although it is assumed that the final will be USA v China or Norway, there have been enough upsets to keep up the excitement level.

The Chinese are impressing huge crowds with their pace and agility and possess an acrobatic goalkeeper, Gao Hong. The States have captured the imagination of their home support. They are a class act - their speed and athleticism is astonishing and their passing immaculate. Their superstar Mia Hamm - who reputedly earns $1m (pounds 62,100) a year in endorsements as the highest international goalscorer in football history (male or female) - lived up to expectations by scoring the opening goal of the tournament with a left-foot curler into the top right-hand corner.

But the goal of the tournament so far was the 20-yard cannon from Russia's Galina Komarova in their first game against defending champions Norway to whom they nobly lost only 2-1. They have now reached the quarter- finals.

Germany and Italy are both veterans of the sport and great to watch - Italy's Panico is as accomplished at theatrics as she is at football - but they were both drawn in Group B, the so-called "group of death". They are battling for the second qualifying spot after drawing in their opening match, and their fate is decided today when Italy play Mexico.

But the two real surprises are North Korea, about whom little is known but who comfortably beat Denmark 3-1 and will therefore qualify for the quarter-finals if the USA beat Nigeria today, and, believe it or not, Brazil.

Despite historically being the leading footballing nation, the women's game in Brazil is relatively new. It was only in the late 1980s that they developed their first national team, and even then the vast majority of the squad was made up from one team - Radar of Sao Paulo. It was only in 1997 that Brazil held their first national club championship. But the past few years have seen a rapid improvement in the game. There is better organisation of clubs and with Brazil's contract with Nike the team look set to make it past the first round for the first time.

They have all the traditional traits that you would expect of the Brazilians - style, audacity and dancing feet. Rosseli and Pretinha are exciting to watch but it was Sissi who scored both goals in the game against Italy, which caused the Italians to resort to battle tactics.

With the crowds averaging 25,000 and the final expecting a larger attendance than the men's equivalent in Paris last year, finally women's football is receiving deserved recognition.