Table set for Cup games in Maryland

Champion Norway opens doubleheader in Landover tonight

June 23, 1999|By Lowell E. Sunderland | Lowell E. Sunderland,SUN STAFF

Middle Atlantic fans get introduced to Women's World Cup play tonight with a doubleheader at Jack Kent Cooke Stadium in Landover featuring one of the world's great teams and a number of other widely known players.

The defending-champion Norwegians (1-0-0), top seed in Group C, take on Canada (0-0-1) in the 6 p.m. opener. An 8: 30 game pits Australia (0-0-1) against Sweden (0-1-0), both of which need wins if they are to advance from Group D. Four other teams play tonight in Portland, Ore.

Unlike Saturday's United States-Denmark Cup opener at Giants Stadium, which drew a record 78,972 spectators, tonight's games -- first of three doubleheaders in nine days at the "Big Jack" -- can been seen by walk-up ticket-buyers. Tickets range from $20 to $48.

Richard Finn, the Cup's public relations director, said: "About 17,000" had been sold by midafternoon yesterday, "pretty good for a Wednesday night for teams without much of a base in this area."

But that trailed the 22,200 national average for doubleheaders not involving the U.S. team, he acknowledged. Other Cup officials announced yesterday that total sales have passed 500,000 tickets for the 16-team tourney, which ends at the Rose Bowl July 10.

Tonight's competitors in Landover at a glance:

Norway: Despite being the 1996 Olympic bronze medalist, defending World Cup champion and runner-up in the first World Cup final in 1991, Norway has been overlooked as Cup publicity has focused heavily on the Americans.

"That's OK," star forward Marianne Pettersen told reporters on Sunday. "The Americans have the pressure. We're the [underdogs]. We like ourselves in that position."

Pettersen, 24, is a big-game, big-time finisher who had 47 goals in 62 international matches through last year and scored four times in leading Norway to a first-place, 4-1-1 record in a difficult European qualifying group.

She's helped by two attacking veterans, midfielder Hege Riise and forward Ann Kristin Aarones, with whom she pairs well. Defender Linda Medalen and goalkeeper Bente Nordby are among the world's best at those positions.

The Norwegians field eight players from the 1995 championship team. Thus, soccer insiders give them a very real chance to make their third straight Cup final, if, most likely, they can get past China in knockout play. As a measure of their talent, Norway is the only national team with a lifetime edge (11-10-1) over the Americans.

Norway defends ruggedly, ceaselessly pressuring the ball, and loves attacking directly with long balls to Pettersen and others in the front. It won its Cup opener over Russia, 2-1, in Foxborough, Mass., on Sunday, a more one-sided game than the score indicated. Pettersen alone outshot the Russians 11-6, scored once and assisted on the other goal.

Canada: Watch Charmaine Hooper, 31, Guyanan by birth, Canadian by citizenship and Chicagoan by residence. She, fellow forward Silvana Burtini and goalkeeper Nicole Wright about sum up this team, which includes four U.S. college players.

Burtini appears as the team's main threat, having scored 14 goals in a remarkably weak qualifying group, eight in a 21-0 demolition of Puerto Rico.

But Hooper, an experienced international and former pro in Japan, is a thriller whose breathtaking acceleration and skills got her four goals in two exhibitions against the U.S. team in the past four months.

The Canadians, tied 1-1 by lightly regarded Japan on Saturday in San Jose, Calif., aspire to second place in Group C, thus qualifying for next year's Olympics.

Sweden: Fifth in 1991 and third while hosting the 1995 Cup, the Swedes went 6-0-0 to qualify this time. They feature Ulrika Karlsson, 28, the world's best goalkeeper, some contend. But the fast, young, skilled Swedes' bench is suspect.

Sweden's second-minute goal Saturday against China, one of the tournament's three best teams, was second-fastest in Cup history, although the Chinese rallied to win, 2-1, in San Jose, Calif.

Australia: The Matildas, improving with a $1.3 million government budget, want a second-place group finish here to earn an Olympic berth next year instead of getting it just because the games are in their country. Watch forward Julie Murray, 29, as they try for prime time.

Tonight's game against Sweden is important, given Australia's disappointing, 1-1 tie Sunday with Ghana at the Rose Bowl. Plus the Matildas lost a penalty-kick shootout to Sweden in a tournament in Portugal in March after an injury-related sportsmanship breach set up the Swedes' tying goal.

Pub Date: 6/23/99

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