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Jerry’s World

Women’s World Cup marketing puts strain on the participants.

By Jerry Langdon
Gannett News Service

(Sunday, July 4, 1999) -- Marketing takes precedence this weekend as four teams travel coast to coast for semifinal games Sunday in the 1999 FIFA Women's World Cup.

The United States and Brazil journey West from Landover, Md., to Stanford, Calif. China and Norway, meanwhile, fly East from San Jose, Calif., to Foxboro, Mass.

The reason for these jaunts: So fans in the San Francisco-Oakland area can see the Americans play. The genesis behind marketing for the Women's World Cup was for as many venues as possible -- six -- to see the United States play.

It is the one flaw in the otherwise brilliantly conceived plan by tournament boss Marla Messing and associates, who have brought about the most successful women's sporting event in world history. The likelihood that these athletes -- already weary, especially China and Norway -- might not perform at peak levels due to the excessive travel apparently was not a factor in the scheduling.

The United States and Brazil, fresh from two draining victories Thursday night, have two days off before their match -- but they have had considerably less time in the air than the other two semifinalists.

There are complications in scheduling 16 teams in a nation as big as this, and understandably wanting as many people as feasible to see the Americans play. But we say feasible, not possible.

Having winning quarterfinalists travel cross-country is not in the best interest of the athletes, and that always should be the No. 1 priority.

Here's a little question-and-answer, with both provided by the writer.

Question: Was the tournament rigged for the United States to make the final?

Answer: No. Through the first four games, the Americans had by far the tougher road. Germany in the quarterfinals? Compare that with Norway (3-1 against Sweden), China (2-0 against Russia), and Brazil (4-3 in overtime against Nigeria).

The U.S. group foes - Nigeria, Denmark, North Korea - were superior to what the other favorites faced: China (Sweden, Ghana, Australia) and especially Norway (Russia, Canada, Japan). Yes, the Americans have the easier semifinal, Brazil, and China and Norway have to go at each other. But did the Americans complain in 1996 when they had Norway in the semifinal, while China went against Brazil?

Question: What has been the most significant on-field development during the World Cup?

Answer: Nigeria, with its incredible rally against Brazil, overcoming a 3-0 deficit with three goals in the final 27 minutes of a wild quarterfinal match.

The African champions lost in overtime, but came away with more than a moral victory, signaling they are close to joining the world's elite. Ironically, though, they fell victim to their own tournament-long transgressions, playing shorthanded the final minutes due to ejection of forward Patience Avre for a second yellow card, then committing a foul in overtime that led to Sissi's winning free kick goal.

Both African participants (including Ghana) complained that officials penalized them unjustly, that contact was a part of women's soccer just like men's soccer. There's nothing wrong with contact, but there is something wrong with tackles from behind, errant elbows, and tackles without hitting the ball.

We saw at least three red-card fouls in the Nigeria-United States game, none of them called. There could have been serious injuries that match. China complained about Ghana tackling, recommending its players get rid of the ball more quickly than usual to avoid injury. Tackling techniques need to be improved. When and if this happens, Nigeria will be right up there with the United States, Norway and China.

Jerry Langdon is sports editor of Gannett News Service and can be e-mailed at jlangdon@gns.gannett.com.

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