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Women's World Cup

U.S., China share favoritesí role with three others close.

By Jerry Langdon
Gannett News Service

(Tuesday, June 8, 1999) -- Five teams generally are given good chances to make the semifinals of the 1999 FIFA Women's World Cup, beginning June 19 and running through July 10. They are the United States, China, Norway, Brazil and Germany.

The favorites for the championship match are the U.S. and China. The darkhorse is rebuilt Sweden.

The most stringent early competition comes in (1): Group B, with Brazil and Germany vying for No. 1 to avoid the United States in the quarterfinals; and (2): Canada, Russia and Japan fighting for a quarterfinal berth from Group C. The top two teams in each group advance to the quarterfinals.

A capsule look at the 16 nations competing for the third Womenís World Cup:

Group A

Denmark   Denmark: The opening foe for the United States. Gitte Krogh is a top striker, paired with Lene Jensen. Mikka Hansen (formerly of Santa Clara) starts at midfield, where Christina Petersen is a veteran hand. Lene Terp is an outstanding central defender, very fast and skillful. Goalkeeper Dorthe Larsen is recovering from her second broken arm in as many years. Missing from the roster are former mainstays Birgit Christensen on defense and Anne Nielsen at midfield. Danes recently lost matches to Sweden, 4-0, and Germany, 3-1. Chances: Not a lock to make quarterfinals.

Nigeria   Nigeria: "We no longer have an inferiority complex," said 26-year-old star midfielder Nkiru Okosieme, a veteran of the 1991 and 1995 World Cup squads (0-5-1). Mercy (Marvelous) Akide is an outstanding striker. Kikelomo Ajayi is one of the best two-way left backs in Africa. Goalkeeper Anne Agumanu-Chiejine, 25, has two young daughters and will be in third World Cup. The Super Falcons had a 28-0 goal-differential in qualifying. Chances: Possible for second advancement slot.

North Korea   North Korea: This is a darkhouse team that upset Japan in World Cup qualifying with its speed and skill, and extended China before losing, 2-0, in the Asian finals. Kim Kum Sil is the main offensive threat. Pak Jong Ae also is a factor. Kim Sun Hui is the heart of the defense. Chances: Slim.

USA   United States: Seven likely starters were on the 1991 winners of the first Women's World Cup. This is an attacking team, as always, but with built-in flexibility due to the versatility of several players. Much pressure is on central defenders Carla Overbeck and Kate Sobrero to stop counter-attacks as outside backs frequently move forward. Kristine Lilly is the team leader at midfield. Forwards Tiffeny Milbrett and Cindy Parlow must score to make opponents pay for likely double-teams of all-time world scoring leader Mia Hamm. Chances: Excellent to make finals.

Group B

Brazil   Brazil: Dangerous counter-attacking team with brilliant ball-handling, but leaves gaps on defense and must watch fouling. Likely U.S. opponent in either quarterfinals or semifinals. Roseli (knee) is out of the tournament, but Brazil still is explosive up front. Pretinha (with two goals in each of the last two games) and Katia are forces at midfield or forward. Sissi is a threat, especially on deadballs. Elane and Nene are key defenders, strong tacklers with just modest speed. Red-haired goalkeeper is Maravilha. "Brazil has joined the elite in women's international soccer," U.S. Coach Tony DiCicco said. Chances: Bound for semifinals if it wins group.

Germany   Germany: The U.S. men had Thomas Dooley, born in Germany, son of an American serviceman. The German women's team has native Steffi Jones, daughter of an American serviceman and a central defender with veteran Doris Fitschen. Sandra Smisek, remembered for her diving header goal in 3-1 win against the Americans in 1997, teams with Birgit Prinz on attack. Tops overall is midfielder Martina Voss, who is helped by Bettina Wiegmann and promising newcomer Melanie Hoffman. Goalkeeping is strong with Silke Rottenberg. Likely U.S. opponent in either quarterfinals or semifinals. Chances: Bound for semifinals if it wins group.

italy   Italy: Antonella Carta, 32, is one of the most talented midfielders in the World Cup. Pitrizia Panico broke the Italian league scoring record with 51 goals and is a more than adequate replacement for retired Carolina Morace, third-leading scorer in women's soccer history. Rita Guarino is another scoring threat up front, and Manuella Tesse is the best midfielder. No big names on defense, but they are like the men -- solid. Giorgia Brenzan is a good goalkeeper. Chances: Uphill fight in toughest group.

Mexico   Mexico: Several players who honed their games in the United States figure to play roles, including all-time Notre Dame leading scorer Monica Gerardo, three-time Cal-Santa Barbara All-American Laurie Hill, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo striker Regina Oceguera, former California star Andrea Rodebaugh, former Santa Clara midfielder Lisa Nanez, Notre Dame striker Monica Gonzales and San Diego State goalkeeper Linnea Quinones. "In the beginning they were hesitant to accept us . . . because we're not born there, and that sort of thing, but we've all grown close," Gerardo said. Maribel Dominguez is Mexico's top scorer. Chances: Slim.

Group C

Canada   Canada: Charmaine Hooper, 31, is the heart of the offense at attacking midfield. Just ask the United States, which she has owned. Difficult to stop one-on-one. Very fit. "I will challenge any guy to doing dips, pullups and pushups," she said in her media biography form. Silvana Burtini is another strong scoring threat. Midfield is not distinguished. Nicole Wright has emerged as a solid goalkeeper. Defense has been rebuilt but is a problem, with little speed or experience. Chances: Has decent chance for quarterfinals.

Japan   Japan: Despite the presence of a strong domestic professional league -- missing in the United States -- Japan has been unable to establish a major presence on the international scene. Homare Sawa is an outstanding attacking midfielder. Nami Otake and Tamaki Uchiyama provide firepower at forward. Japan's disciplined defense is helped by the improvement in goal provided by Nozomi Yamago. Chances: Slim.

Norway   Norway: Nemesis to the United States (11-10-1 advantage), a possible foe in the finals, defending 1995 champion is rebuilding but still has a strong veteran corps. Hege Risse, 29, has few peers in the midfield, joined by young players Monica Knudsen and Unni Lehn. Marianne Pettersen, Ragnhild Gulbrandsen and Ann Kristin Aarones comprise a strong forward line, backed up by 17-year-old sensation Dagny Mellgren. Linda Medalin, third all-time in World Cup scoring, has been moved to defense, which was hurt this spring when star Gro Espeseth tore a knee ligament. Brit Sandaune and Anne Nymark Andersen are solid defenders in front of goalkeeper Bente Nordby, recovering from a knee injury. Chances: Solid for semifinals, perhaps more.

Russia   Russia: No team is more physically imposing, with 13 members of the 22-player pool 5-foot-7 or taller, and 14 players at 140 pounds or more. Aleksandra Svetlitzkaia, Larissa Savina and Natalia Barbachina have goal-scoring potential, but keys to the attack are skilled central midfielders Irina Grigorieva and Tatyana Egorova. Veteran goalkeeper Svetlana Petko and defender Marina Burakova anchor the defense. Chances: Will fight Canada for No. 2 slot in weakest group.

Group D

Australia   Australia: Striker Julie Murray, 28, is the longest-serving player, making her first international appearance in 1986 -- though she was dropped for two years after the 1995 World Cup. She is joined up front by 6-1 Cheryl Salisbury. The Matildas' midfield is led by rising stars Lisa Casagrande and Joanne Peters and veteran Sharon Black. Anissa Tann-Darby anchors the defense, aided by Traci Bartlett, Sarah Cooper and Bridgette Starr along with goalkeeper Belinda Kitching. Chances: Possible for second advancement slot.

China   China: One of the strong favorites, it has boosted a soft area by moving superstar Sun Wen from midfield to forward on this veteran-ladened team. Liu Ailing and Zhoa Lihong lead a strong midfield group with their passing and dribbling abilities. Jin Yan has picked up the pace in recent months at forward. Acrobatic Goa Hong is the frequently brilliant goalkeeper who occasionally will let in a soft goal. She is aided by battle-tested defenders Fan Yunjie, Xie Huilin, Wang Liping and Wen Lirong. Can match United States in athleticism and skills. Chances: Excellent to make final.

Ghana   Ghana:Little is known about Black Queens, who finished second in Africa qualifying. Vivan Mensah and Nana Amma Gyamfuah are outstanding strikers. Alberta Sackey, known for her proficiency in volleyball as well as a spectacular bicycle kick goal in Africa Nations Cup play, is equally at home as midfield playmaker or on defense if needed. Chances: Slim.

Sweden   Sweden: Not among the elite the past couple years, Sweden is rebuilding in an effort to regain its status as the equal of anyone in the world. Always a skillful side, it is trying to become more athletic with the younger players. Ulrika Karlsson may be the top goalkeeper in the World Cup. Jane Tornquist is an outstanding defender, helped by Cecilia Sandell. Malin Andersson is an impact midfielder, helped by 20-year-old Hanna Ljungberg. Top forward is Victoria Svensson. Chances: Should finish second in group.

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

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