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Women's World Cup

Opening weekend is a hit; so what’s next?

By Jerry Langdon
Gannett News Service

(Monday, June 21, 1999) -- The United States wins the opener. Six of the eight first-round games are close, three determined by one goal, three ties. Big crowds. One showcase match. Tight competition for quarterfinal berths in three of the four groups.

That's the capsule summary of the first weekend of the 1999 FIFA Women's World Cup.

Attendance average for the four doubleheaders: 33,359. That includes the record 78,972 in Giants Stadium for the U.S. game, as well as 23,289 in San Jose, Calif., for Japan-Canada and China-Sweden, 17,102 in Pasadena, Calif., for Germany-Italy and Nigeria-North Korea, and 14,873 in Foxborough, Mass., for Australia-Ghana and Norway-Russia.

Expect a full-house 65,000 for the United States in its second game, Thursday in Chicago against Nigeria.

Jerry Langdon’s first-round prediction record: 7-1 (.875)

Group A

The United States should have no problems winning all three games. Nigeria has an explosive attack, but the Americans figure to exploit huge gaps in its defense. But will the United States be able to contain colorful striker Mercy Akide? The Denmark-Nigeria game Sunday probably will determine the second-place finisher. North Korea is a spunky side, and had Nigeria on the ropes with a series of near-miss corner kicks in the closing minutes of their 2-1 loss. Why was its captain, defender Kim Sun Hui, on the bench the entire game? Denmark is disciplined, but without much offensive imagination.

Group B

Mexico, an outclassed 7-1 loser to Brazil, figures to be the goal-differential victim against Germany and Italy, too. It does not have the physical strength or ability to be competitive in this toughest of four groups. Brazil is favored, but should get tested against the two European powers. First place in the group means avoiding the United States in the quarterfinals. But at this point Germany and Italy just want to survive in the group. Neither showed much attacking mentality in their methodical 1-1 draw, particularly Italy.

Group C

Wide open is the second qualifying slot. Give the No. 1 finish to Norway, which is in by far the easiest four-team bracket. Linda Medalen is dominant in the central defense, though questions exist on the flanks. Japan was impressive with its speed and passing, dominating slow Canada though winding up in a 1-1 tie. Canada is uncertain due to the left hamstring problem of goal-scorer Silvana Burtini. It also needs for attacking midfielder Charmaine Hooper to be more forceful. Perhaps bothered by an early yellow card, she was a non-factor against Japan. Russia was too slow and ponderous against Norway, but may have better luck against its remaining two foes.

Group D

China and Sweden appear headed for a 1-2 finish, which would put Sweden against Norway in the quarterfinals. The two teams were in the weekend's best game, a well-deserved 2-1 victory by China, with the victors not happy with their play. "Our technique was not as good as it usually is," star midfielder Liu Ailing said. China wore down Sweden with its speed on the wings. Sweden showed a dangerous counterattack. Ghana will be without midfielder Barikisu Tettey-Quao, ejected in the 26th minute for a tackle from behind against Australia. The play of its 21-year-old goalie, Memunatu Sulemana was extraordinary.

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

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