The Ottawa Citizen from Ottawa, Ontario, Canada on June 19, 1999 · 63
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The Ottawa Citizen from Ottawa, Ontario, Canada · 63

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Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
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Saturday, June 19, 1999
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63
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THE OTTAWA CITIZEN SPORTS SATURDAY, JUNE 19, 1999 F3 Richard Starnes takes a look at each of the 16 teams in this The whole world will be watching as the Women's World Cup of Soccer begins in the United States today with four games. Ticket sales have surpassed 400,000 and total attendance could easily reach half a million. Every game will be televised. Corporate sponsorship is unparalleled. Of the 63 countries that tried, 16 clubs have qualified, and they have been broken down into four groups for the Cup. The first- and second-place finishers advance to the quarterfinals. Here are capsule looks at each of the competing teams. GROUP A United States Background: Twenty years ago, soccer for women hardly existed. Today, nearly eight million American women play the game. No wonder the U.S. is always considered the team to beat. Add the host-country advantage, which translates into every one of its games sold out and maybe 40,000 rabidly patriotic fans in the stands, and small wonder the U.S. is the overwhelming favourite. Players to watch: They are everywhere on this team. Mia Hamm is the name and face we are most likely to recognize she does TV ads with Michael Jordan and is the world media darling and is a high-class goal scorer. So is Cindy Parlow. Also, keep an eye on goalkeeper Briana Scurry. Prediction: Champions. Denmark Background: The Danish team has been among the front-runners since the women's World Cup made its debut in 1991. This year, it raced to the finals, winning every qualifying game and outscoring opponents 22-3. That included two cruising victories against the rough-and-tumble Russians. Denmark may be considered behind its Scandinavian cousins Sweden and Norway, but it has the depth to spring a surprise or two. Players to watch: Opposing coaches will be looking for ways to counter the scoring threats of Gitte Krogh and Lene Jensen. Both are fast and skilful enough to turn a game on a couple of rapid strikes. Prediction: Quarterfinalists behind the U.S., but no further. Nigeria Background: Nigeria has been the best team in Africa since it started playing internationals, but its players need more exposure to high-calibre soccer for it to make a serious breakthrough. Known as the Super Falcons, Nigeria has reached the finals of all three women's World Cups, but failed to win a game the first two times and may struggle again. That is unlikely to dampen the spirits of fans who packed stadiums as their heroes crushed every team they played to qualify, scoring 28 goals and conceding none. Players to watch: "Marvelous" Mercy Akhide is the most exciting striker in African football, scoring 10 of Nigeria's 28 qualifying goals. Also look out for defender Prisca Emeafu and keeper Ann Agumanu-Chiejinei, who can be expected to be busy. Prediction: Will not qualify for playoffs, but may beat North Korea. North Korea Background: Women's soccer is hardly off the ground in North Korea, and its national team has fought its way to the World Cup finals to the amazement of most Asian soccer observers. Fit, fast and physical, the North Koreans knocked down the heavily favoured Japanese to reach the final of the Asian Cup. That was enough to take them to this competition with China. They are probably too inexperienced and lack the technical skills to spring further surprises, but their work ethic and aggression will make their opponents work for every possession and goal. Players to watch: The only player of note is Kim Kum Sil, who became a national hero when she scored the goal that beat Japan in the Asian Cup. She scored eight goals in five games in that competition. Prediction: North Korea will make its physical mark, but don't expect more. GROUP B Brazil Background: Dazzling footwork, audacious speed and a commitment to attack are the hallmark of all great Brazilian soccer teams, and the rapidly improving women's team is no exception. This soccer-crazy country has taken the fledgling women's game to heart and support is growing quickly. This team is filled with expectations it can upset the Chinese and the Americans. Even if it doesn't, its entertaining style will draw attention. Players to watch: Every player on . this team possesses superior ball skills, especially midfielder SissL Look out for Roseli and Pretinha to produce spectacular goals on this offensively explosive team. Prediction: Ignore warnings about a weak defence. This team will win its group, maybe the whole thing. 'Ready to kick tip bV-' 'A V - ifj vs "1 Canada, which kicks off its World r""- "" """"" '""-""iF" - n . . A f It's heads up for midfielder Moni Vergara during the Mexican team's workout yesterday in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Mexico will play Brazil in one of today's opening-round games. Mexico Background: Mexico has relief through U.S. players with some sort of parental qualification to make it even halfway competitive at this level. It may have finished second to Canada in qualifying, but other opponents were weak The influx of U.S. college stars has not boosted the talent level sufficiently and this squad remains the weakest in its group. Players to watch: Notre Dame's all-time leading scorer, Monica Gerardo is a genuine world-class striker. Also, pick out Laurie Hill, midfield star with the University of California. Prediction: Too weak to challenge. Germany Background: Germany is among the world's strongest women's soccer nations, but it struggled to qualify for the World Cup finals. In a group that included Norway, England and Holland, this team was forced into a two-leg playoff with the Ukraine. Despite the struggle, the Germans are highly regarded and genuine title contenders because of their strength at the back and their deadly attack. Players to watch: Steffi Jones daughter of an American serviceman and Doris Fitschen are among the game's best central defenders. Sandra Smisek and Birgit Prinz are skilled goalscorers. Prediction: Will get out of its group with Brazil and could make the final four. Italy Background: There is a semipro-fessional league in Italy, but it is not of the highest calibre, and the national team is not in the same class as several European rivals. It did not qualify for the last World Cup and only made it this time thanks to a 2-1 win against Finland on the last day of qualifying. It relies on counterattack for goals and is suspect on defence. Players to watch: If Italy is to progress, it will be on the shoulders of attacking midfielder Antonella Carta, a playmaker and goalscorer. Goalkeeper Giorgia Brenzan will need to be at her best. t-SJJ -?Y -a.. iik Cup tonight against Japan, will rely heavily on Nepean's Charmaine Hooper, -: ., ... .... THE ASSOCIATED PRESS Prediction: It would be a major shock if Italy gets out of its group. GROUP C Canada Background: Canada cannot expect to win the world title, but it has its sights set on getting through the first round, maybe even the quarterfinals. It's a legitimate goal for a team that destroyed all competitors in its path en route to the finals. With Nepean's Charmaine Hooper capable of scything through defences and Silvana Burtini in the sort of form that gave her 14 goals of 42 Canada scored in qualifying, this team has the firepower. It is tough in midfield and solid in goal. If the inexperienced defence holds up, look for a surprise or two. Players to watch: Hooper is among the top five players in the world and can turn a game on her own, and look out for Amy Walsh, who may be the tournament's midfield surprise. Prediction: Canada will make the second round, maybe the semifinals. Norway Background: Norway has the credentials to retain the tide it took four years ago. It has been a leading force in women's soccer since the game began to blossom and is the only team in the world with a winning record against the United States. That included a 4-1 victory at Portugal's Algarve Cup last year. Confidence, power and strength in depth complement a team with a solid system built around a core of five players who helped steer their country to the World Cup in 1995. Players to watch: Bente Nordby is rated the best goalkeeper in the world. Hege Riise rules in midfield and Marianne Petterson is a talented striker. Prediction: Easy group winners and certain semifinalists. Could win the title. Russia Background: Qualifying for the finals was a considerable achievement for the Russians. First, cash for all their heels year's Women's World II " H "- ' , t -r-1 i.i. tt 1" I N4r- Women's World Cup Canadian TV schedule Today: ABC, opening ceremonies and U.S. vs Denmark (live), 3 p.m.; CTV Sportsnet 27, Japan vs Canada, 10:30 p.m. (live). Tomorrow: CTV Sportsnet, U.S. vs Denmark, 4 a.m.; China vs Sweden, 6 a.m.; Norway vs Russia (live), 4p.m.; Australia vs Ghana, midnight. Monday: CTV Sportsnet, Germany vs Italy, 2 a.m.; North Korea vs. Nigeria, 4 p.m.; Brazil vs. Mexico, 1 p.m. Wednesday: CTV Sportsnet, Canada vs Norway (live), 6 p.m.; Australia vs Sweden (live), 8:30 p.m. t Thursday: CTV Sportsnet, Japan vs Russia, 2 a.m.; China vs Ghana, 4 a.m.; Brazil vs Italy (live), 6 p.m.; U.S. vs Nigeria (live), 8:30 p.m. Friday: CTV Sportsnet, North Korea vs sports dried up with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Then women's soccer got off to an inept start in the "new" Russia, but that did not stop the team from beating Finland in a two-game playoff to reach these finals. They won both games 2-1, showing a rough-and-tumble style mixed with above-average skills. Difficult opponents in the same way as North Korea. Players to watch: Russia relies on midfield control, so watch for the skills of Irina Grigorieva and the strength of Tatiana Egorova. Prediction: Canada beware. This is a tougher squad than many predict. Japan Background: The Japanese love their women's soccer and have the most thriving professional league in the world. In spite of that, the team only squeezed into the World Cup finals with a third-place victory against Taiwan. Both China and North Korea made it ahead of the Japanese, who earlier had beaten outclassed Guam 21-0. This team is highly skilled and plays at top speed, but it lacks a physical presence and can be knocked about. Players to watch: Howara Sawa is the midfielder Japan relies on. She will need to be at the top of her form if her country is to progress. Prediction: Japan will struggle to make the grade in any of its first-round games, including the one against Canada. GROUP D Ghana Background: The "Black Queens" of Ghana have one major advantage over every other team at the finals: They are such newcomers to the international scene and such surprise qualifiers that no one knows much about them and almost no one has seen them play. The national hero is Vivan Mensah, who scored twice in the semifinals of the African championship against Congo. That victory sealed a place in this event. However, the lack of quality opposition leaves the team ill-prepared and it is likely to struggle. Players to watch: Keep an eye open for two forwards, lanky former basketball star Alberta Sackey and Nana Gyamfuah. Prediction: It would be astonishing to see Ghana get past the first round. Cup of Soccer. - - ft A. v -.4 BARRY GUTIERREZ, THE OTTAWA CITIZEN third from left in the front row. Denmark, 2 a.m.; Germany vs Mexico, 4 a.m. June 26: CTV Sportsnet, China vs Australia, 2 a.m.; Ghana vs Sweden, 4 a.m.; Norway vs Japan, midnight. CTV, Canada vs. Russia (live), 12 noon. ' June 27: CTV Sportsnet, Mexico vs Italy (live), 4:30 p.m.; Germany vs Brazil, midnight; Nigeria vs Denmark, 2 a.m.; U.S. vs North Korea, 4 a.m. June 30: CTV Sportsnet, quarterfinals (live), 8 and 10:30 p.m. July 1: CTV Sportsnet, quarterfinals (live) 7 and 9:30 p.m. July 4: CTV Sportsnet, semifinals (live) 4:30 and 7:30 p.m. . July 10: CTV Sportsnet, bronze-medal game (live) 1:30 p.m. ABC and CTV, - gold-medal game (live) 3:30 p.m. Australia Background: Because the next Olympics are in Sydney, Australian authorities have been pumping large amounts of money into their sports programs. That includes the women's soccer team, which has a $i-million budget. However, improvement on the field is not as strong and the Waltzing Matildas will find it tough getting past China and Sweden. In qualifying, Australia conceded only one goal, against New Zealand in the final, but Fiji and West Samoa were weak opposition. Players to watch: Goalkeeper Belinda Kitchen is solid in the air and commanding around her goal. Look to Lisa Casagrande to lead the scorers, along with Julie Murray, who has switched successfully from midfield to forward. Prediction: Unlikely to get past 'the first round. " China Background: It was no surprise to see China roar through World Cup qualifying. This team has been together for years, rather than months, and is probably the best-prepared squad in the world. Defeated 1-0 by Sweden in the 1991 quarterfinals and 1-0 by Germany in the 1995 semifinals, the Chinese are widely predicted to reach the final this time. They are solid in every position and play to a predictably well-rehearsed pattern. Players to watch: Liping Wang and Yunjie Fan are defenders, but watch them overlap in attack and provide chances for forward Jin Yan and midfielder Sun Wen. Also, watch the acrobatics of goalkeeper Gao Hong. ; Prediction: If the U.S. doesn't win, China will. . Sweden ;-: Background: Sweden has high hopes of major success after slicing through Spain, Iceland and Ukraine in an unbeaten qualifying run. This, is a team that was given a major shake after a disappointing exit at the last World Cup in Sweden. Some experienced players remain, such as Kristin Bengtsson and Malin Andersson, but they have been mixed with a host of youngsters and the mix looks skilful and potent. ; -. - Players to watch: Bengtsson and Andersson run midfield, Ulrika Karls-son is a quality goalkeeper and 19-year-old Hanna Ljungberg is a superstar in the making. Prediction: Serious semifinal contenders, depending on the draw. k . v i y

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