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U.S. Cup Streak on the Line Against Brazil

Women's soccer: Unbeaten in tournament--and last 41 home games--Americans roll into today's final.

September 20, 1998|GRAHAME L. JONES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

RICHMOND, Va. — Jose Duarte was leaning against a wall, trapped there by a trio of reporters but apparently willing to answer questions all night long, if that's what it took.

As coach of the Brazilian women's national soccer team, Duarte realizes that times have changed. Until recently, no one was interested in his team, either in Brazil or abroad.

Now, it is becoming a force. Through the exploits of such players as Roseli and Sissi and Pretinha, it has emerged as a legitimate contender for international honors.

Duarte's team proved that twice last week, first tying Russia, 2-2, in Oneonta, N.Y., and then trouncing Mexico, 11-0, in Rochester, N.Y.

But today provides the real test. Today, Brazil will play the United States in the championship game of the Nike U.S. Women's Cup '98 tournament.

Coach Tony DiCicco's U.S. team has never lost a U.S. Cup game. It won the first four editions of the tournament by going 12-0. It is unbeaten this time around after a 9-0 thumping of Mexico and 4-0 victory over Russia.

But today Brazil awaits.

That would not have been cause for alarm but for one thing--Brazil's 1-0 upset victory over the United States on a damp and steamy night in Sao Paulo last December.

"Now, they know it can be done," DiCicco said at the time. "And that's dangerous for the future."

The future is today, and the American defense, which has shut out its last five opponents, is going to find it difficult to keep that streak alive.

The Brazilians, who play an all-out attacking game, qualified for next summer's FIFA Women's World Cup in the United States by crushing six South American foes by a combined 66-3.

Roseli scored 15 of those goals. Her fellow striker, Pretinha, scored 10. Sissi, Brazil's midfield captain who is sitting out this tournament because of ankle surgery, scored an even dozen.

Roseli, a diminutive striker from Sao Paulo, has been playing for the national team for "about 10 years," Duarte said, and she also has played professionally for a club team in Japan. She first attracted attention at the 1995 Women's World Cup in Sweden, where her goal defeated the host nation.

"She has improved considerably since then, and especially since she came to play in Sao Paulo, which is the center for women's soccer in Brazil," Duarte said. "She has improved physically, her speed and everything. She is a much better player."

And so is Brazil as a team. It finished ninth in each of the first two world championships, but surprised many by finishing fourth in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, losing to world champion Norway in the bronze medal game.

Today, it takes on the gold medal U.S. team, whose unbeaten streak at home is 41 . . . and counting.

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