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Situation With Olympics Qualifies as Real Problem for Quarterfinalists

July 03, 1999|MIKE PENNER

One question about the 1999 Women's World Cup that has yet to be sufficiently answered:

Is this a world championship event, or just a qualifying tournament?

FIFA may have put the proverbial cart before the horse when it announced that the top seven finishers in this World Cup, plus host Australia, would comprise the eight-team field for the women's Olympic soccer tournament next year in Sydney.

That meant the four quarterfinal winners would automatically qualify--that foursome being the United States, Brazil, China and Norway--along with three of the four losing teams, depending on comparative goal differential in their quarterfinal defeats.

Wednesday, Russia and Sweden each lost by two goals--the edge going to Sweden because the Swedes managed to score once in a 3-1 loss to Norway whereas Russia was shut out by China, 2-0.

That presented a dilemma for Thursday night's underdogs, Nigeria and Germany: Do they go all out and attack and play to win the World Cup quarterfinal at the risk of a lopsided defeat that could knock them out of the Olympics? Or do they pack it in and play to lose by less than two goals, thereby ensuring passage to Sydney?

Nigeria took care of the matter by scoring three second-half goals before losing to Brazil in overtime, 4-3.

Once Germany fell behind the United States, 3-2, however, German Coach Tina Theune-Meyer had to make a decision: Keep pushing forward for the equalizer and risk the Americans counterattacking for a couple of goals, or play to protect the one-goal defeat and the automatic Olympic berth.

To her credit, Theune-Meyer kept the Germans attacking until the end, but the should-they-or-shouldn't-they scenario cast a pall over the quarterfinal competition--and created some odd postmatch scenes. Losing teams rejoiced because they had lost respectably enough to qualify for the Olympics, while winning teams celebrated the guaranteed trip to Sydney with more passion than their guaranteed trip to the World Cup semifinals.

"The World Cup should be its own event, not a qualifying event," U.S. Coach Tony DiCicco said. "As it's set up now, you can almost make the World Cup look as if it's a lesser event than the Olympics. I'm not in favor of that."

For the record, the eight-team Olympic field is: Australia, Brazil, China, Germany, Nigeria, Norway, Sweden and the United States.

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