Team-by-team glance

June 18, 1999

Team-by-team glance

Arranged by opening-round group, top seed in each group first, then alphabetically by country. Teams will play their first three World Cup games within their respective groups, with the top two finishers in each group advancing to the quarterfinals, where knock-out play begins.

Group A

United States

Outlook: This group's top seed is certainly one of the world's best three teams and consensus favorite to win the Cup. But take away the huge home-crowd advantage, that consensus would shrink, though not go away. The world's most powerful offensive team, led by all-time international scorer Mia Hamm, outscored 19 pre-Cup opponents this spring, 68-12, but lost three of those matches, the first time that's happened in one year since 1993. This is an active, veteran-led but not old team, winner of the first Women's World Cup, as the title is now called, in China in 1991; third in Sweden in 1995; gold medalist in 1996's Atlanta Olympics.

Key players: F Mia Hamm, F Tiffeny Milbrett, M Julie Foudy, D Brandi Chastain. Beware veteran D Michelle Akers getting hurt.

Denmark

Outlook: The poor Danes. They were placed in the United States' group in the 1995 World Cup and were blanked, 2-0, then drew Team USA in the Olympic opener and fell, 3-0. Now they open this World Cup, their third, at Giants Stadium tomorrow -- against the United States, which they trail all-time, 6-3-1. Denmark wants to finish at least second in Group A and, thus, qualify for next year's Olympics.

Key players: D Lene Terp, F Gitte Krogh, F Lene Jensen.

Nigeria

Outlook: Just when you thought you could dismiss the Super Falcons, who have made the last two Cups as Africa's most powerful team but haven't won once there, they beat China, of all teams, 4-3, in a scrimmage last Saturday in California. They are the U.S. opponent Thursday at Chicago's Soldier Field.

Key players: F Mercy Akide, GK Ann Agumanu-Chiejinei.

North Korea

Outlook: This mystery team, in its first Cup, rarely plays outside its country and has never competed in the United States. For its first U.S. practice in California, the bus didn't show. But the military-trained players are known to be fit, rough and technical in style. North Korea finished a close second to seeded, formidable China in qualifying from Asia -- no mean feat -- but has lost to several non-Cup qualifiers since. It is the U.S. opponent June 27 at Foxboro, Mass.

Key players: F Kim Kum Sil, F Kim Sun Hui.

Group B

Germany

Outlook: Second in European qualifying but only to another top Cup seed, Norway. The Germans benefit from a strong women's club program that feeds players to the national side. Coaches require club teams to play the same formations and systems as the national team, plus the country has a rich soccer history. Germany, top seed in this group, third in 1991 and runner-up in 1995, split a pair of games with China earlier this year, losing, 3-0, then winning, 4-1.

Key players: M Bettina Wiegmann, F Birgit Prinz, D Steffi Jones.

Brazil

Outlook: Unseeded, but no one wants to play this team. Like Brazil's men, the women -- who also opt for single names in sports -- play a skillful game based on short, one-touch passing. This team can put it in the net despite the loss of its top scorer to a serious knee injury in the U.S. last fall. This team also can unravel when things don't go its way. Though ninth in the past two World Cups, the much-improved team from the world's biggest soccer-loving nation, should not be taken lightly.

Key players: F Pretinha, M Sissi, D Nene.

Italy

Outlook: Same mental approach as Italy's men -- defend first, then counterattack. Same love for the sport, too, and an effective feeder system. Italy, sixth in the 1991 Cup, is trying to come back after failing to qualify for the last World Cup and the Olympics. The Italians drew into this tournament's "Group of Death," the tag reserved for what fans regard as the most competitive group.

Key players: F Patrizia Panico, M Antonella Carta, GK Giorgia Brenzan.

Mexico

Outlook: A U.S. "B" team, in a sense, because many players are Americans with dual-citizenship, several whose longest visits to Mexico have been for team practices. Top scorer Monica Gerardo, for example, led Notre Dame to an NCAA title. Coach Leonardo Cuellar has been a widely respected California college coach for years. Even so, this young, internationally green squad figures to go three-and-out in its first Cup.

Key players: F Maribel Dominguez, Gerardo, M Laurie Hill.

Group C

Norway

Outlook: Defending Cup champion, No. 1 in European qualifying, this group's top seed, and the only team in the world with the United States' number, having an 11-10-1 edge all-time. Norway-U.S. matches are usually punishing physically. But Cup brackets mean another such match-up can't occur until the final -- but that happening wouldn't surprise anyone. Norway was second in 1991.

Key players: F Marianne Pettersen, F Ann Kristin Aarones, M Hege Riise, D Linda Medalen, GK Bente Nordby.

Canada

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