By Steve Keating
(Reuters) - The Women's World Cup stopped to take a breath on Wednesday following an opening round of games that produced a little bit of everything, from tight matches to blowouts played in front of packed stands and near empty stadiums.
The month-long tournament which began on Saturday in Edmonton under the dark cloud of a FIFA bribery and corruption scandal got off to a brilliant start when Christine Sinclair scored in injury time to give the hosts a heart-stopping 1-0 win over China.
A record crowd for a Canadian international match of 53,058 was on hand to celebrate the victory and was joined by a record television audience of 1.8 million, but not everyone was feeling the joy of the World Cup party.
The Canadian Soccer Association announced on Monday that it had surpassed one million in ticket sales for the six venues across Canada but apparently not many were sold for the Group E opener between debutants Spain and Costa Rica that was played in a nearly vacant Montreal Olympic stadium
FIFA put the official attendance at 10,175 while local reports had the number at no more than 2,000 in a cavernous stadium built for the 1976 Montreal Olympics that provided a dreary backdrop for an occasionally entertaining 1-1 draw.
Overall, however, organizers had big smiles as World Cup fever began to catch hold in hockey-mad Canada, particularly in Winnipeg where thousands of American supporters flooded across the Manitoba/North Dakota border for the U.S. opener, which ended in a 3-1 win over Australia.
The arrival of the Americans in the Manitoba capital brought a genuine World Cup buzz that had been largely lacking in other cities as packs of face-painted fans dressed in outlandish red, white and blue costumes waved flags and chanted as they filled bars and restaurants in the days and hours before the match.
The second-ranked U.S. women have also commanded the sporting spotlight back home where fans have gathered in bars to watch the games on TV.
Broadcaster Fox Sports 1 attracted 3.3 million viewers to the game between the U.S. and Australia, more than three times higher than Team USA's first group stage match in 2011.
"The place erupts when they score goals," said Brian Mullin, bartender at the Cock 'n' Bull British pub in Santa Monica near Los Angeles, where 100 people convened on Monday to watch the game.
Not all the opening games produced edge-of-your-seat excitement.
With the tournament growing from 16 to 24 teams, the difference in class was sometimes glaring and produced predictable mismatches, such as the 10-0 hammering by Germany, champions in 2003 and 2007, over African debutants Ivory Coast.
But blowouts were the exception with three of the first 12 games ending in draws and four others decided by a single goal.
(Editing by Mark Lamport-Stokes)