BERLIN -- In the world of women's soccer, facing Germany's national team is like facing a top fighter. Add an intimidating home crowd, and it's like facing Muhammad Ali in his prime.
Granted, the sheer numbers attending Sunday's opener -- a sold-out Olympic Stadium with 73,680 people -- won't be matched by future games. The other Women's World Cup stadiums are smaller.
But this crowd isn't here to clap politely or look on with curiosity like an Olympic crowd watching curling for the first time. They're here to show their colors all over town and make some noise.
All over the city, fans wearing German jerseys crowded trains Sunday afternoon -- often not even heading to the stadium just yet. Hours before the game, they were massing in the streets around the stadium.
Thirty minutes before game time, the stands were full, and the crowd was already into it.
"I'm not used to that volume, but it was great," said Canadian goalkeeper Erin McLeod, who limited but couldn't stop the German offense in a 2-1 loss. "In warm-up you heard how loud it was."
The crowd's enthusiasm added to a cheerful opening ceremony that called upon several sections of the crowd to flip over cards to create large, colorful displays. They cheered in appreciation as a large globe at midfield had its outer shell taken away to reveal a reflective layer, holding a giant mirror to the crowd.
And their knowledge of the game showed through -- retired defender Steffi Jones, president of Germany's organizing committee, received a deafening ovation upon her introduction in the ceremony. Birgit Prinz, playing her fifth World Cup, also heard a massive roar when she left the game in the second half.
"I'm just glad there were that many people out to support women's soccer," McLeod said. "Germany's done a great job."
As the game started, fans started a wave that made several strong laps around the historic stadium.
Fans also worked hard to impose their will on the referee, an important asset for a very physical German team. They whistled their derision when calls didn't go their way or when Canadian players went down.
Of course, they didn't object when a German defender's elbow sent Canada's top scorer, Christine Sinclair, to the hospital with a suspected broken nose after the game. No card was issued on that play.
Nor did they object when Germany failed to follow soccer's unwritten rules and return the ball after Canada played the ball out to tend to injured midfielder Sophie Schmidt.
"That happened a couple of times," Schmidt said. "It happens in soccer. You'd hope [they'd return the ball], but you always have to be on your toes. Maybe they don't see the situation the same way that you saw the situation."
When Sinclair, playing through her injury, scored on a well-struck free kick late in the game, the crowd was silent. Briefly.
By the time action had picked up again on the field, the chant was back: "DEUTSCH-land, DEUTSCH-land, DEUTSCH-land."
Canada managed one more surge forward, but with three strong subs on the field and the crowd urging them on, Germany's players kept up their unrelenting pace.
Throughout the weekend, Canadian players and coach Carolina Morace referred to Germany as the No. 1 team in the world. But what about the FIFA rankings that say label the U.S. No. 1, Germany No. 2?
"Well, we're in Germany, so it seems like they're No. 1," Schmidt said.