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THE INSIDE TRACK | PAGE TWO / RANDY HARVEY

World Cup Finals Lose Their Bloom at Rose Bowl

July 11, 1999|RANDY HARVEY

While wondering what would happen if they held the greatest spectacle in the history of women's sports and a soccer game broke out, I was thinking:

Great tournament, not so great final. . . .

It must be the Rose Bowl. . . .

In the last two World Cup championship games played in Pasadena, Brazil vs. Italy in the 1994 men's game and the United States vs. China in Saturday's women's game, none of the teams scored in either regulation or overtime. . . .

Mix in Saturday's third-place game, which Brazil won against Norway on penalty kicks after a scoreless tie (but no overtime), and that's 330 minutes--5 1/2 hours--without a goal. . . .

At least Andres (GOOOOOOOAAAAAL!) Cantor wasn't missed Saturday. . . .

The disappointing thing about this championship game is that it promised so much more, two attacking teams that had combined for 37 goals in 10 games before the final. . . .

In 21 previous games against each other dating to 1986, they had played only two scoreless ties. . . .

Who would have guessed after a 5-0 victory over Norway in the semifinal that China Coach Ma Yuanen would choose to play such cynical, negative soccer? . . .

Those are soccer synonyms for defensive that I've learned from reading the British newspapers about most men's championship games. . . .

Ma did something no one else in the tournament has been able to do, take Sun Wen, who had scored seven goals before Saturday, out of the game.

*

Of course, the U.S. defense also deserves credit. . . .

Center midfielder Michelle Akers, who had been criticized in previous games for not getting back fast enough on defense, was brilliant at both ends of the field. . . .

It's no coincidence that China's most serious offensive surges came in the first overtime after Akers had left the game late in the second half because of dehydration and exhaustion. . . .

She won every 50-50 ball. . . .

The other two midfielders, Kristine Lilly and Julie Foudy, were also effective in preventing China's wings from advancing. . . .

For her efforts, especially her game-saving header off the line on a shot by Fan Yunjie in the first overtime, Lilly was named the game's most valuable player. . . .

I would have voted for Akers. Maybe she'll win the Golden Ball as the tournament's MVP. . . .

But the fear that the United States would lose with her sitting out the penalty kicks, at which she excels, proved unfounded when all five Americans converted. . . .

That includes Mia Hamm, the leading women's goal scorer of all time but not one of the team's best at penalty kicks. That's not as odd as it sounds. Wayne Gretzky was no better than average on penalty shots. . . .

Brandi Chastain scored the fifth and decisive one Saturday, then whipped her jersey over her head. . . .

Those among the crowd of 90,185 who expected to see Lynda Carter's Wonder Woman outfit underneath were disappointed to see merely a black sports bra. . . .

"Momentary insanity," Chastain said. . . .

If that didn't send soccer moms scurrying to turn off the television, then Chastain's salty description of Akers in an ABC interview afterward probably did.

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As dramatic as the penalty kicks were, that's no way to decide a championship game. . . .

Even Tony DiCicco, the winning coach, agreed, although he added, "I don't know of a better way unless we do a replay." . . .

I would suggest unlimited substitutions during the two 15-minute overtime periods so that at least a good number of players on the field would have fresh legs. . . .

The U.S. offense picked up when DiCicco finally inserted Tisha Venturini with five minutes left. . . .

But although the game dragged at times, it didn't appear as if any fans left early. . . .

It wasn't a typical L.A. crowd. No one arrived late, either, except for President Clinton. . . .

While waiting for him, several dignitaries, such as Marla Messing, Women's World Cup president, and Sepp Blatter, president of the international soccer federation (FIFA), missed the opening ceremony. . . .

"I'd rather have seen Jennifer Lopez than President Clinton," WWC spokesman Steve Vanderpool said. "I've already met him." . . .

The media was forced to wait several minutes for both teams to reach the interview tent because Clinton was congratulating each of them in their locker rooms. . . .

He visited the Chinese first, probably still collecting contributions to the Democratic Party. . . .

"Right now, they're a little thorn in the side," FIFA spokesman Keith Cooper said of Clinton and his entourage. "There is another expression." . . .

C'mon, Keith, you can say it. Brandi Chastain would have.

Randy Harvey can be reached at his e-mail address: randy.harvey@latimes.com.

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