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Women's World Cup

Dicicco 'saves' Hamm.

By Jerry Langdon
Gannett News Service

(Friday, June 25, 1999) -- Tony DiCicco was booed for it by some fans, but he made a smart decision yanking star forward Mia Hamm in the 51st minute of the 7-1 romp against Nigeria.

The U.S. coach wants her available for the rest of the FIFA Women's World Cup. And this might have been in jeopardy if she was exposed to the brutal tackles by Nigerian defenders for another 39 minutes.

She had just been swept off her feet for the umpteenth time when DiCicco made his move. Referee Nicole Mouidi-Petignat of Switzerland appeared oblivious to the game-long carnage against U.S. ballhandlers, issuing just two yellow cards - and no expulsions. The final count on fouls: Nigeria 29, United States 3.

Several of the tackles were from behind; luckily, there were no injuries.

If this was Major League Soccer, Nigeria would have been down two or three players - by halftime. Cindy Parlow, another forward, received even harsher treatment, spread throughout the match.

The Americans are not known for falling on slight contact. In fact, DiCicco has said they should go down more often when fouled to draw attention - but they don't, presumably for reasons of pride. They thus can't compete with the men for diving.

Nor does the United States retaliate. It is not in the players' nature, apparently, or perhaps they were concerned that Ms. Mouidi-Petignat might actually act on a transgression and issue the Americans a yellow or red card.

DiCicco was a master of understatement afterwards: "I'm really proud of the team for handling the physical nature of the game, which was close to getting out of hand. Our team never retaliated - they showed great restraint."

Wonder what would have happened if reserve forward Danielle Fotopoulos - known for dishing out her share of punishment - had gotten in the game?

Brazil is noted for rough play on occasion, but nothing like the 29 fouls committed by Nigeria. Are we crying too much? China was a 7-0 winner against Ghana, in which the losers had one player ejected, and another pick up her second yellow card.

"I ... told my players to move the ball quickly to avoid the reckless play so they could avoid potential injuries," China coach Ma Yuanan said.

Hamm should expect attention, double-teams, jersey-grabbing, knockdowns from the front - but Thursday was a disgrace to soccer, female or male - both in Soldier Field, Chicago, and Civic Stadium, Portland (Ore.).

The Americans showed poise by not panicking after falling behind in the second minute and after nearly allowing a second goal when two defenders collided in the box, leaving Nigeria with an open shot that was barely wide right. That's what fielding a lineup averaging 121 international appearances per player will do.

Youth and exhuberance is great. But experience and patience has its merits.

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

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