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Women’s World Cup

There’s more to this championship than the United States women.

By Jerry Langdon
Gannett News Service

The 1999 FIFA Women's World Cup already is a stadium-success.

It would not be surprising to see ticket sales for the three-week spectacular beginning Saturday hit the 500,000 mark, an astounding average of nearly 30,000 per date.

The skeptics who wanted this to be held in small East Coast venues were wrong, just like they were wrong in 1994 when they questioned the popularity of the men's World Cup in the United States. Huge crowds are expected for all U.S. games. But what will push the attendance over the half-million mark will be non-American players.

The skeptics said no one will watch the other 15 teams. Not true.

There are several reasons to watch non-U.S. teams in the doubleheaders scheduled throughout the tournament.

1. Canada, for example. It's not much of a squad, but we don't know of a more explosive goal-scoring threat than Charmaine Hooper.

2. Like watching the Brazil men? The women still have a ways to go, but no team is better one-on-one dribbling and passing.

3. Carolina Morace has retired for Italy after being the world's all-time goal-scorer, but already Patrizia Panico, 24, has made many forget her.

4. Nigeria may be the most athletic team in the World Cup. The 4-3 scrimmage victory against China was indicative of its talent. The forwards and attacking midfielders can get behind any defense.

5. Sweden is a true darkhorse, and has the best goalkeeper in the world in Ulrika Karlsson.

6. It's weird that most analysts have the United States a big favorite to win the World Cup. China has just as many credentials and has a 2-1 edge on the Americans this year. Sun Wen rivals Mia Hamm for top forward.

7. Martina Voss rates with the world's finest midfielders, and leads Germany, which is not exciting but has strength throughout the lineup.

8. Mexico, like Canada, is not much of a team, but half the members are from the United States, and that should be worth attracting fans -- and maybe even some Hispanics who so avidly support soccer when the men play.

9. Norway is the arch-rival the U.S. national team just doesn't like, though the players would never publicly say so. Linda Medalen may be the finest central defender in the world. Hege Riise has few peers at midfield.

10. Denmark may be long-ball, but it will be interesting to see Mikka Hansen, a former Santa Clara goal-scorer, at left wing. Her father is Danish, her mother American.

The U.S. team is full of pleasing personalities -- the shy off-field Mia Hamm, so passionate and aggressive and team-oriented on the field; the inspirational Michelle Akers, playing despite the sometimes-daily agonies of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome; Kristine Lilly, the quiet, superstar do-it-all midfielder; Julie Foudy, the vocal leader; pint-sized Tiffeny Milbrett, always smiling and hustling; emerging star Cindy Parlow, tough in the box on headers but also adept with the ball at her feet; wise veteran Carla Overbeck, who organizes the defense; left back Brandi Chastain, the most versatile player on the team; Joy Fawcett, still probably the best right back in the world; rookie Kate Sobrero, the newcomer who has added speed and power and youth to the defense; and goalkeeper Briana Scurry, who combines athleticism and intelligence to provide the one or two big saves usually required.

There is another off-field barometer that isn't certain yet -- television ratings.

The U.S. games surely will do well, but what defines well? The competition this weekend is the U.S. Open and later Wimbledon.

The non-U.S. games? Probably few will watch, but then how many view Major League Soccer? Or the National Hockey League, for that matter?

The main thing that needs to happen now for the tournament to be a success is for the United States to reach the final. Not having China or Norway in its bracket helps.

But the first-round matches may not be the originally anticipated cakewalk. The United States should beat Denmark in the opener, but the Danes are capable of causing problems. Then there's Nigeria the second match, and who knows what to expect there? North Korea is an easy group-closing match. Quarterfinal foe is likely Brazil or Germany, who are not apt to be awed by coach Tony DiCicco's forces.

The semifinal opponent, providing the United States is successful, also figures to be either Brazil or Germany. Norway and China are odds-on to meet in the semifinals, because their paths in Groups C and D are much easier than those confronting the Americans.

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

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