Big U.S. numbers: 78,972, then 3-0

Record crowd sees host top Denmark in World Cup opener

June 20, 1999|By Lowell E. Sunderland | Lowell E. Sunderland,SUN STAFF

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- It took them awhile to get over jitters of playing before a record-breaking 78,972 fans, but the U.S. national team opened the 1999 Women's World Cup yesterday with an emphatically punctuated 3-0 win over Denmark.

"One down," U.S. midfielder Julie Foudy said.

The Danes, 6-0-0 in their European qualifying group, made sure it wasn't easy, packing eight and sometimes nine field players into defense at Giants Stadium. Though outmanned and outshot, 24-9, they repeatedly frustrated American attackers and hung close on the scoreboard, hoping for a tying break, after the storied Mia Hamm put the U.S. squad up 1-0 in the 17th minute.

But steadied by its experience, dictating play, and besieging the Danes with nine shots in 13 minutes in the second half, the United States clinched victory on Foudy's 73rd-minute goal and decorated it with forward Kristine Lilly's shot in the 89th.

The win put the favored Americans atop Group A on a day that saw this third, quadrennial women's world title tournament open with four games, two here and two in San Jose, Calif. This year's champion will be decided July 10 at the Rose Bowl.

"We're delighted with the three points [in the standings]," U.S. coach Tony DiCicco said. "But it's just a beginning. We can't get too overjoyed here. We're going to enjoy this moment, but then we have to get back to business."

"I'm satisfied," said his counterpart, Jorgen Hvidemose, who last week wondered if his team could beat the Americans. "We were glad to be part of the party. It was the first time our team has played before more than 30,000 people. But we should have scored a goal or two, especially early."

Later, repeating a comment he made Wednesday, he told a group of mainly Danish reporters the U.S. team can be beaten. "Just ask China," he said, referring to the Americans' two, 2-1 losses to the Chinese in the past four months, one in a tournament championship final in Portugal.

Denmark forward Gitte Krogh got the Americans' hearts pumping, missing scantly left on a fast break in the second minute -- her team's best chance, as things turned out.

U.S. flank defender Brandi Chastain, on the 1991 U.S. team that won the first world title but left off the 1995 squad, said her teammates were relieved "to get the first game over with, just because the nerves and emotions have been building so long.

"To have walked out, felt the energy from the crowd, it brought tears to your eyes," she said, choking up for an instant. "I was having a flashback to 1994 and how [that World Cup in the United States] was like for the men, and now we have it for the women. It's a great testament to what we've been working on for the past few years."

Hamm called the crowd "unbelievable," explaining that "we couldn't hear from one side to the other [although] that's the good kind of noise. I can't tell you how proud it makes you feel, to be wearing this jersey and representing this great country."

The first goal was classic Hamm, a demonstration of why with 110 goals now she is soccer's all-time leading international scorer, male or female.

Deep on the right flank, she settled a long, diagonal pass from defender Chastain just outside the box. When her first touch rebounded off a charging defender's chest, Hamm recaptured the ball, pulled it around the defender, surged goalward and from about 9 yards crushed a left-footed shot high into the net over Danish goalkeeper Dorthe Larsen.

"The whole time I was running [after scoring]," Hamm said, "all I kept saying was, `Are you kidding?' I don't score goals like that."

Moments later, as she answered questions from dozens of reporters, DiCicco, not usually given to such outbursts, loudly interjected: "Mia was awesome!" She grinned. Named the game's MVP, Hamm also had an assist and set up teammates at least six other times with passes into the penalty box before leaving with leg cramps with two minutes left.

Just as the game looked as if it might be a 1-0 affair despite relentless U.S. pressure, Foudy -- not a big scorer in her 156-match, 11-year national team career but hot recently -- exploded an 11-yard shot high through Larsen's hands following a low, right-to-left cross atop the box from Hamm.

Though window dressing, Lilly's goal was justice, in a way. For she, Hamm and young Cindy Parlow combined well and often, especially in the second half, when DiCicco moved her up front. Twice, the tireless, super-fit Lilly came close, brushing the crossbar in the 56th minute and barely missing the left post in the 69th. On her goal, taking defender Joy Fawcett's feed in traffic, Lilly dribbled laterally left past two defenders at the top-right of the box and shot hard into the net's left side from 16 yards.

The crowd was the largest to see a women's sports event, topping the Atlanta Olympics soccer final by 2,293. And it was a stadium record for a sports event, topping January's Jets-Jacksonville NFL playoff game by 155 and a 1994 men's World Cup game between Italy and Ireland by 4,146. Pope John Paul II's 1995 visit drew the all-time stadium high, 82,948.

NOTE: About noon in Lot 13B, White Marsh artist Leo Kahl sat in the shade of a tree, painting faces of a short line of young girls, all strangers who'd parked nearby. He already had done those of his daughter, Leah, 12, and her cousin, Shelby Larkin, 12, of Aberdeen. The Kahls, including mom, Robin, left home at 7 a.m. in a Jeep Cherokee emblazoned with Hamm's name and number, 9. "She's my idol," said Shelby, her face disguised as arty U.S. flag. Shelby and Leah play for the White Marsh Wildcats, which Leo Kahl coaches.

Pub Date: 6/20/99

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