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Women’s World Cup

U.S. defense rests.

By Jerry Langdon
Gannett News Service

(Saturday, July 10, 1999) -- The U.S. soccer team defense took some knocks during the FIFA Women's World Cup -- and they responded with an awesome effort Saturday in the penalty-kick shootout victory against China.

Those who say a 0-0 game in soccer illustrates the weakness of the sport just don't get it. And after the well-played, dramatic final, similar to a pitcher's duel in baseball, maybe it's time to just stop trying to convince them.

There were 90,185 in the Rose Bowl, and they exulted in the ebb and flow of action, two evenly matched, offensively inclined teams, attacking as best they could against superior defenses.

Which brings us to the heretofore maligned American defenders. They were the difference against China. Not only during 90 minutes of regulation-time play. But 30 minutes of overtime without ailing Michelle Akers. And they dominated the shootout as well.

It's hard to single out anyone; they all performed brilliantly, stuffing the critics who said they were too old, too slow, too prone to make mistakes.

Carla Overbeck, 31, was the dominating player of the match. She orchestrated the defense, and was all over the field making key recoveries. She wasn't too slow. She wasn't out-physicalled. It may have been the best game of her career.

Joy Fawcett, 31, was a strong presence throughout the World Cup, and had a brilliant effort at right back -- intercepting more passes than Deon Sanders, taking the ball down the flank time and time again, and moving to midfield when Akers, 33, bowed out before overtime.

Kate Sobrero is no normal 22-year-old rookie. She doesn't back down from anyone, and is the only starting U.S. defender with speed. She more than held her own against Sun Wen when the Chinese star played up front, and paired beautifully with the ever-present Overbeck.

Brandi Chastain, 31, the left back, defies description. She had an own goal on an errant back pass against Germany. That didn't stop her from directing a second-half header to the U.S. goalie. She missed two penalty kicks earlier this season. That didn't stop her from nailing the winner Saturday.

And goalkeeper Briana Scurry need take no back seat to anyone in the world. Her diving save on China's third kick in the shootout was the difference. She already had one dominating World Cup victory to her credit, with three super saves against Brazil in the semifinals.

Sara Whalen, 23, showed no reticence when brought in at right back for Akers, using her speed and toughness to make several good plays in the two overtime sessions.

And who took charge on the attacking side in the shootout? The defense. Besides the aforementioned goal by Chastain, Overbeck converted the first shot, and Fawcett made the second.

Everyone contributed on defense.

Midfielder Kristine Lilly, who had the third shootout goal, experienced her best game of the World Cup, highlighted by a spectacular header save off the line on a goal-bound header from Fan Yunjie in the first overtime. Without her guarding the near post on Liu Ying's corner kick, and staying there, China wins.

Mia Hamm, who had the fourth shootout goal, wound up the World Cup with just two goals -- but she didn't get much effective service, and when she did, she was double-teamed. Besides being the world's top goal-scorer, she enhanced her reputation Saturday as the top defensive forward with all-over-the field hustle.

Michelle Akers gave it all she had, holding the center of the field despite several falls, with her right shoulder in pain every time she went down. In addition, she crashed once into the endline advertising boards, and collided twice with teammates before leaving with a head injury after 90 minutes.

The United States overwhelmed China with defensive pressure in the first half, seldom letting it get organized. China came back in the second half, with the brilliant Sun taking charge in midfield and leading several sorties. This continued in the first overtime session, with China dominating in Akers' absence.

But the Americans regrouped the final 15 minutes, and had China reeling at the end. Then it was time for the U.S. defense to get offensive.

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

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