Germans rest, U.S. works to get ready

Women's Cup foes take different tacks

July 01, 1999|By Lowell E. Sunderland | Lowell E. Sunderland,SUN STAFF

CRYSTAL CITY, Va. -- The Americans worked out and then were to watch some foreign films together -- of German women playing soccer.

The Germans took yesterday off, some sleeping into the afternoon. They had a date for dinner across the Potomac River and exploring Georgetown.

Thus two teams prepared for tonight's 7 o'clock Women's World Cup quarterfinal at Jack Kent Cooke Stadium in Landover between the favored, 3-0-0 U.S. team and Germany, generally considered Europe's second best despite its hardly fearsome 1-0-2 group-play finish.

Walking away from a spirited, no-contact practice yesterday, the Americans displayed a half-dozen or so ice-packed ankles, knees, calves, thighs and one shoulder.

But coach Tony DiCicco declared his team healthy and ready. "There are bumps and bruises you accumulate, so it's precautionary," he said of the ice. In fact, all the iced-down players had participated in practice.

DiCicco had to be heartened to see Mia Hamm, the world's most prolific scorer, male or female, have a smooth practice. Fouled often and nastily against Nigeria and North Korea, and pulled early in both games, she winced through some of Monday's workout at George Mason University with an obviously tender right leg. But she and DiCicco both played it down then.

The Germans also are healthy, except for having lost captain Martina Voss to a right hamstring injury, coach Tina Theune-Meyer said at a news conference here in the same hotel Nigeria's quarterfinalists are using.

The Nigerians play Brazil at Jack Kent Cooke tonight, as well, with kickoff at 9: 35 for a crowd expected to approach 50,000 after "about 4,000" upper deck tickets that were only added on Tuesday sold yesterday. Ticket sales resume at 8 a.m. today.

Theune-Meyer said she gave her players a break yesterday, because "in this tournament, we have to travel a lot, so we don't have time for [ourselves]. They can have a rest from the team, from football, and everything."

The Germans, who openly wanted to avoid the U.S. team in the quarterfinals and came literally within seconds of doing so only to be tied at game's end by Brazil Sunday, were upbeat yesterday.

"I think our chance will be to play a very fast pace. We expect a powerful match. We had a good time here and want to stay another day," Theune-Meyer said, adding that a large, pro-American crowd is "not a problem. It makes it more exciting for us. We play in Germany before 250 people."

Tall, talented central defender Steffi Jones said that "our team is good enough to beat the U.S. -- maybe, if we play our best. We have to do not as many fouls, though."

Jones' interest in having her father, a former GI who lives in Texas and with whom she talks but has seen once in 20 years, watch her play has drawn a lot of media interest. She spoke with him again yesterday, she said, and he could not leave his job.

Earlier in Landover, DiCicco said: "We know the Germans pretty well. They're an outstanding team. In my mind, tomorrow's game is the equivalent of a final. With [different tournament brackets], Germany and the U.S. are good enough to be meeting in the final."

He has one conversation-maker of a decision to make, whether to start Shannon MacMillan at forward after her dramatic, one-goal, two-assist, total-hustle start on Sunday against North Korea. She was an Olympic team star in 1996 but, off the national team awhile, had been on the bench in this Cup.

"I'm still comfortable with the lineup we started in the first two games," DiCicco said, meaning MacMillan would sit again.

But because the German central defense is tall and skilled, he also said he is mulling an altered formation that would add MacMillan as an attacking midfielder.

U.S. captain Carla Overbeck, the veteran defender who keeps the American back line organized, predicted "a tough game," explaining: "We know the Germans play very good, organized soccer, and their team speed is very good. They've scored against us in the past, and they're going to come after us."

Assistant coach Lauren Gregg, respected as a tactician, said that pressuring the Germans defensively will be a U.S. key to the game, "because if you give them time to play, they can combine around you in a heartbeat."

U.S. players, she said, must beware 20-year-old Birgit Prinz, a quick, physical forward "who is having a career tournament," and shut down playmaker Bettina Weigmann, "who can kill you with her distribution."

NOTE: The Women's World Cup has been around for less than two weeks and its television ratings are already better than the NHL's. ESPN has a .82 cable rating in five World Cup games so far compared with a .59 mark on its NHL regular-season games this past season.

The cable network also has broadcast 17 Women's World Cup games on ESPN2, with a .51 mark. ESPN's game last Thursday between the United States and Nigeria drew a 1.85 rating and was seen in 1.4 million homes.

ESPN's average for 41 men's games in 1994, when the tournament was also held in the United States, was 1.8.

U.S. vs. Germany

What: Women's World Cup quarterfinal

When: 7 tonight

Where: Jack Kent Cooke Stadium, Landover, TV: ESPN

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