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Independence Day, the Sequel

Soccer: This time, U.S. and Brazil women meet at Stanford Stadium on Fourth of July, with the winner reaching the World Cup final.

July 04, 1999|GRAHAME L. JONES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

PALO ALTO — Five years ago today, Brandi Chastain eased her car off the freeway and pointed it in the direction of Stanford Stadium.

It was a hot afternoon, typical for a Fourth of July, and the U.S. flag that adorned the top of Chastain's car hung limp as she inched her way through bumper-to-bumper traffic.

"It took me an hour to get from the 101 to the stadium," she said, adding that the memory made her realize "how exciting it's going to be this Fourth of July, when people are driving down that same street to come and watch us play."

Well, that day has arrived and history is about to repeat itself, although not necessarily in every detail.

The day is the same, the weather will be the same, and once again it will be the United States and Brazil lining up on opposite sides of the Stanford Stadium field for a World Cup soccer match.

But that was men and this is women, and therein lies all the difference.

"I think it is going to be a very difficult game for both teams," U.S. Coach Tony DiCicco said of the semifinal matchup. "I think it's going to be a very exciting game. It's the type of game that promotes soccer and, for sure, promotes women's soccer. Having Brazilian fans in the stadium only enhances the event because of their passion.

"Do I think the result is going to be the same as in 1994? No, I don't."

Five years ago, the underdog U.S. men's team surprised almost everyone, including itself, by reaching the second round of the World Cup before bowing, 1-0, to eventual champion Brazil.

Like Chastain, Julie Foudy, a Stanford graduate, was there to see it happen.

"It was very hot," she said. "That's what I remember. The U.S. men did very well. They kind of went into a bunker and held on for a while. I just remember the [fans'] enthusiasm. They were such a great crowd, very patriotic.

"We're hoping for the same type of atmosphere. . . . I have a ton of Stanford hooligan buddies of mine coming to the game."

There will be flags flying, certainly, but none of them will be white. DiCicco's team will not be doing any bunkering. It will take the fight to the Brazilians all over the field.

This, after all, is a semifinal, with a place in next Saturday's championship game at the Rose Bowl at stake.

"It [1994] was a historic game, for sure," DiCicco said. "I thought the men played a very honorable game. It was in the balance for a long time.

"I think Americans love that challenge, to play a team of that quality on the Fourth of July. It's just what we're looking forward to also."

The off-field contrast between the teams could not be greater, although on the field, the similarities outnumber the differences.

"I know that many of the Brazilian women have come from lower economic situations," DiCicco said, "but now with a league in Brazil they are making some decent salaries.

"Soccer, and especially women's soccer, in America is pretty much a middle class and upper middle class sport.

"So they [the players] probably come from quite different places, but once they're on the field they're very similar. Both groups of women have a lot of pride and a lot of heart and a lot of talent, and both teams play to win.

"The field is kind of the common ground where they can test each other even though they come from such different environments."

One certainty today is that it will be an attacking game. Brazil has scored 16 goals in its four games, with Sissi netting a tournament-high seven and Katia and Pretinha chipping in three each.

The U.S. attack has been more balanced. Of its 16 goals, Tiffeny Milbrett has scored three and Mia Hamm and Tisha Venturini two apiece.

Wilson de Oliveira Rica, Brazil's coach, already has achieved more than any of his predecessors. The Brazilians finished ninth in the China '91 and Sweden '95 tournaments but are assured of finishing no worse than fourth in USA '99.

"The United States is a team with no weaknesses," de Oliveira Rica said. "But we are certain this game is going to be the best of the championship."

That's quite possible. Right now, by popular opinion, Germany-Brazil and Brazil-Nigeria hold down the Nos. 1 and 2 spots, respectively, with USA-Germany at No. 3.

Thursday's Brazil-Nigeria quarterfinal, won, 4-3, by the Brazilians in overtime, exposed some flaws in the South American champion's game, DiCicco noted.

"Brazil unraveled a bit under pressure and we felt that they lost some focus, they had trouble stringing their passes together," he said. "I think Brazil [leading, 3-0] pretty much felt that the game was in hand and rightfully so, but at this level any of these teams can turn it around, the margin is so thin.

"We saw a Brazil that we hadn't seen earlier in the World Cup, [a team] that was a little bit showing its nerves."

Still, it is far cry from the Brazil of the 1991 world championship in China, where the U.S. shut it out, 5-0, in the first round.

"In 1991, they weren't a very strong team," DiCicco said. "We beat them fairly easily. But their development has been incredible.

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