Today's semifinals

July 04, 1999|By LOWELL SUNDERLAND

United States vs. Brazil

Where: Stanford Stadium, Palo Alto, Calif.

When: 4: 30 p.m.

TV: ESPN

The skinny: Thursday night's tough, nerve-racking quarterfinal wins by both teams -- Brazil's on a 104th-minute golden goal -- at Jack Kent Cooke Stadium mean starters' energy and, by extension, benches could be factors.

Another huge, loud crowd will be on hand to cheer the Americans, now two wins from their goal of regaining the world championship.

Brazil: The world's most improved team over the past four or five years, the Brazilians are bidding to join the world's elite and could do so by upsetting the Americans. The Brazilians did it once, at home, 1-0, in 1997. Billed as this tournament's best unseeded team, Brazil is the only tournament entry not to lose to its group's top seed -- Germany, which it shocked in Landover, achieving a 3-3 tie on the game's last touch. Defense? The Brazilians blew a three-goal lead Thursday night.

Players to watch: Sissi. You'll recognize her by the buzz haircut, somewhere, anywhere, around the offensive penalty area. All the tournament's top scorer (seven goals) did in Thursday night's 4-3 defeat of Nigeria was set up her side's first three goals and score the game-winner on a 25-yard free kick. Without knowing that, you might easily overlook her, she's so slight.

Like speed? Pretinha up top. Like variety? Sissi has fleet, talented company; three other Brazilians have scored two or more times in this tournament for a coach with a light touch who keeps telling his team, "Let's take this one game at a time."

United States: A study in pressure management. Jittery at the start of all four wins to the point of giving up two early goals, the Americans talk endlessly about how they play together, for one another, in quest of a common objective. They're experienced, motivated, fit, creative, deep, favored.

But games are won on the field. Everyone wants to beat America. But this studiously think-positive team, having been discombobulated in the first half by the assertive Germans, does not want this tournament to end, as the players also showed the Germans in the second half.

Players to watch: Pick 'em. Mia Hamm has been scoreless in two games, so that can't last. Midfielder Julie Foudy, subbed out early against Germany but so solid, plays today where she starred in college. Forward Cindy Parlow will tower over Brazilian defenders.

And holding midfielder Michelle Akers, has she energy left after leaving everything on the field at the Big Jack? And how's her right shoulder, wrenched by a fan who grabbed her wrist, plopping her awkwardly to the ground, as she and her teammates high-fived around Foxboro Stadium after beating North Korea?

Norway vs. China

Where: Foxboro (Mass.) Stadium

When: 7: 30 p.m.

TV: ESPN2

The skinny: A matchup of two of the world's elite teams at the moment, this game should be excellent.

If brackets had been different, this game could have been for the world title and is one of two all interested in the women's game have been eagerly anticipating. (The other with comparable expectations is the United States vs. the winner of this game in the final Saturday.)

Norway: The Norwegians have been a 500-pound canary in women's soccer since the beginning, losing the first title game in 1991 to the Americans and winning in 1995 over Germany. Like China, Norway is 4-0-0 in this tournament and playing well.

Players to watch: The defense, centered by currently black-eyed veteran Linda Medalen, who does everything well but run fast, can take your heart away.

Relentlessly straight up or over the middle, the Norwegian offense can take your breath away. Tall, great-in-the-air Ann Kristin Aarones and quicker, endlessly mobile Marianne Pettersen are up there with Americans Hamm and Kristine Lilly as the tournament's deadliest, most creative, most consistent pair of forwards.

The other Norwegian you dare not take your eyes off is center-midfielder Hege Riise. With 360-degree vision, experience and all the touches to match, the aggressive Riise is Norway's playmaker. Everything goes through her. Which -- the one hesitation about this team -- makes Norway predictable but no less fun to watch.

China: The Chinese can match Norway in punch and get to goal more varied ways, but have a history of losing big games. Well-coordinated and "technical" -- playing more by textbook than intuition -- China uses the width of the field to create space, control pace and spring shooters loose off the ball to receive deft passes.

Players to watch: The Chinese offense evolves around midfielder Sun Wen, who is as skilled a passer as you'll see, not to mention the tournament's second-highest scorer. Forward Jin Yan scored China's goal last January, when it beat Norway, 1-0, in a friendly. And defensively, goalkeeper Gao Hong is fronted with three players who total more than 200 international caps.

Pub Date: 7/03/99

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