Germany's Kim Kulig (14) tries to control the ball next to Canada's… (Valeria Witters / US Presswire )
The Women's World Cup got off to a crackling start Sunday when tournament favorite and host Germany held on to defeat Canada, 2-1, in front of record crowd of 73,680 at Berlin's Olympic Stadium.
Earlier, in front of 27,674 at the much smaller Rhein-Neckar Arena in Sinsheim, France shut out Nigeria, 1-0.
The results left the two European tied teams atop Group A, which the defending world champion Germans are expected to win. The French victory, meanwhile, put Les Bleus in prime position to also advance to the knockout round in the 16-team tournament.
"We have three points in our pocket and no one can take them away from us," said France Coach Bruno Bini, who saw his team play well enough to win but not well enough to dominate.
Nigeria, relying on its speed and athleticism, played a counter-attacking game but did not have the technical skill or tactical acumen to break down the French defense.
What scoring chances the African champions did create were squandered by poor finishing.
"We were just unfortunate," Nigeria Coach Eucharia Uche said. "If we had converted our chances, we would have been looking at a victory."
It took the French team — with defender Sonia Bompastor and midfielder Louisa Necib in exceptional form — almost an hour to score the game's lone goal. It arrived in the 56th minute when forward Marie-Laure Delie knocked a cross from teammate Eugenie Le Sommer past Nigeria goalkeeper Precious Dede.
American referee Kari Seitz had charge of the cleanly played match.
In Berlin, Germany jumped to a 1-0 lead after 10 minutes when lanky midfielder Kerstin Garefrekes headed the ball in from close range off a cross by defender Babett Peter.
Three minutes before halftime, debutant Celia Okoyino da Mbabi made it 2-0 when she scored after collecting a hopeful lob sent downfield by Garefrekes.
In all, the Germans outshot the Canadians, 21-6, including 9-1 in shots on target.
"The first match of a tournament is always difficult," said Canada Coach Carolina Morace, a former Italian international. "Perhaps we were a little bit fearful at the start, but my team put in a good performance."
The Canadians fought back and cut the deficit in half with eight minutes remaining when their top player, striker Christine Sinclair, scored on a superb free kick. It was the first goal given up by Germany in 679 minutes of World Cup play dating to 2003.
Surprised, the German players began showing a few nerves, but they hung on for a deserved win.
"It was very, very close at the end," Germany Coach Silvia Neid said. "It could easily have finished 2-2."
The tournament continues Monday when Japan plays New Zealand in Bochum and Mexico plays England in Wolfsburg.