The explosive U.S. women's soccer team will have the nation's attention, of course, as it plays hush-hush North Korea at Foxboro (Mass.) Stadium tonight, ending group play, the first phase of competition in the Women's World Cup.
While the Americans try to finish 3-0-0 in Group A -- and a North Korean win or even tie would rank among the decade's biggest sports shocks -- two other games with ramifications for advancing into knockout play for all four teams are today's attraction at Jack Kent Cooke Stadium in Landover.
There, top seed Germany (1-0-1) and Brazil (2-0-0) open play at 1: 30 p.m. in a battle of Group B leaders that is the most competitively promising out of today's four games.
Brazil is unseeded but respected for its flair, not to mention nine goals in two Cup wins. By winning, the Brazilians would take first and conceivably oust the Germans.
Plus, the game has a sweetener, and it's not the ubiquitous samba music heard whenever Brazil plays. The last time the two met in the United States, Brazil knocked the Germans out of the 1996 Olympics. Germany remembers.
Today's second Landover game, a 4 p.m. Group A finale between Nigeria (1-1-0) and Denmark (0-2-0), carries less glamour and sizzle. But given the arithmetic of tiebreakers to decide group-standing ties, either team could advance to the quarterfinals with a win -- and mathematically, at least, could affect even the seemingly safe, 2-0-0 United States, should it be upset by North Korea.
At 7 p.m. in Massachusetts, the Americans face a team with virtually no international pedigree, one that can be analyzed mainly off its first two Cup games -- that and knowing it has twice played powerful China competitively.
The North Koreans, a military-trained team that has rarely played away and has allowed virtually no press contact here, have shown themselves to be fit, rough, fast and -- being relatively new to the sport -- mechanistic in style.
They lost their opener, 2-1, to free-wheeling Nigeria, which the U.S. team routed, 7-1. But on a rain-slick field in Portland, Ore., the North Koreans, despite being outshot, surprised flat Denmark, 3-1. A well-organized back line seems to be the North Koreans' forte, and they'll need it.
The Americans are on an uncommon emotional high, having won big at two sold-out stadiums thus far and could find another in New England. Surviving early jitters in both their wins, they've outscored opponents, 10-1.
"We have threats from all over the field," forward Kristine Lilly said after the Nigeria rout. "If you noticed, we had five players score. We work for each other."
U.S. coach Tony DiCicco, complaining publicly about Cup referees ignoring dirty tackles and, contrary to last year's men's World Cup in France, FIFA's silence on the subject, is expected to rest some starters, such as Kate Sobrero, who has a tender ankle, and Michelle Akers.
"It's not a win-at-all-costs, but it's important that we win," he said of a game that his team would have to lose by nine goals before facing a chance of elimination.
Here's how the teams in today's Landover games sort out:
Germany: Essentially, Germany will have to defend like crazy to beat Brazil. But then, led by Doris Fitschen and Steffi Jones, an American soldier's daughter, as well as the athletic Silke Rottenberg in goal, defense is a German strength. Offensively, watch out for forward Birgit Prinz, just 21.
The Germans and Italy tied in the group's first match, but Germany came back to rout Mexico, 6-0, on Thursday in Portland.
If Brazil wins, Germany could face elimination if Italy defeats already-ousted Mexico big in Foxboro Stadium's other game today. "How" has to do with goal differential between Germany and Italy after today's games; going in, though, Germany leads by a pretty-much safe eight.
Brazil: Fast and improvisational, the ever-improving Brazilians provide the female version of "jogo bonito," Portuguese for the "beautiful game." They thrashed Mexico, 7-1, at Giants Stadium on the Cup's opening day and got past defense-minded Italy, 2-0, Thursday night in Chicago.
Pretinha (all of the Brazilians use one name) got the early headlines and still scores often. But center-midfielder Sissi, who like Pretinha had a hat trick against Mexico, is getting a name. Katia is a threat. And defender Elane scored seven times in qualifying.
A victory over Germany would get the Brazilians into the quarterfinals, which also is to say next year's Olympics, their first appearance so deep in a World Cup. But to win, Brazil will have to be patient, especially on defense, never its strongest trait.
Nigeria: Roughed up 7-1 by the United States despite scoring first just 1: 13 into Thursday's game in Chicago, the Nigerians (1-1-0) still can make the quarterfinals by beating Denmark (0-2-0).
But midfielder Mercy Akide and the tall, flamboyant Ann Agumanu-Chiejine in goal notwithstanding, the Nigerians -- several displaying green hair as a "team thing" -- leave space all over the field for quick-thinking, skilled opponents to exploit.
Denmark: Today's big question is whether Denmark, facing an unexpected three-and-done Cup, is capable of exploiting Nigeria's open spaces. On paper, yes.
Pub Date: 6/27/99