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SYDNEY 2000 / SUMMER OLYMPIC GAMES | SOCCER

Germany Learns Its Lessons Well

Women's soccer: With two impressive victories, Germans could be Americans' top challenger.

September 19, 2000|GRAHAME L. JONES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MELBOURNE, Australia — Once it was Julie Foudy carrying the video camera and recording every highlight.

Now it's Nadine Angerer.

Once it was the U.S. women's soccer team that ran to all corners of the stadium after games, applauding fans and thanking them.

Now it's the German women who are winning the neutral fans by their exuberant behavior, not to mention their play.

German Coach Tina Theune-Meyer has watched the Americans closely and has learned well. If any team looks likely to upset the defending gold medalists in these Olympic Games, it's Germany.

The Germans have the look of a champion. They are not the most technically skilled women's team at the Olympics, but they are the most confident, the most organized and the most resilient.

Birgit Prinz, a 22-year-old from Frankfurt, is powerful and fast and is scoring goals at the rate of one every other game--34 in 74 international games, three in these Games. A former striker converted to left-sided midfielder, she poses a threat by running at defenses from deep-lying positions.

Steffi Jones, the daughter of an American serviceman, is one of the top defenders in the world, a player every bit the equal of, say, U.S. standout Joy Fawcett or Norwegian star Gro Espeseth.

Throw in such experienced veterans as no-nonsense defender Doris Fitschen, goal-scoring midfielder Bettina Wiegmann and flashy forward Maren Meinert and Germany can quite easily cast off the international also-ran tag it has carried for so long.

Germany, the European champion in 1997, finished second to Norway in the final of the 1995 Women's World Cup and was barely beaten, 3-2, by the U.S. in the quarterfinals of the 1999 World Cup.

In these Games it has disposed of host Australia, 2-0, and 1999 World Cup bronze-medalist Brazil, 2-1, becoming the first team to clinch a place in the semifinals.

"It's a very good start," Theune-Meyer said after the Brazilians had been outplayed in Canberra. "Today we were more dangerous [than against Australia].

"In 1999, we were not so [tactically] clever as we are today. It is one area where we have improved."

Prinz has learned what the U.S. women learned long ago.

"Only when you are successful is there public interest," she said, "so we need to have more success."

If, as seems likely, Germany finishes first in its group, ahead of Brazil, and the U.S. wins in its group, finishing ahead of China or Norway, the teams will avoid each other until the gold-medal game, assuming both advance to the championship match Sept. 27.

That's what Theune-Meyer wants, saying she did not relish playing the Americans in the semifinals.

The U.S., meanwhile, needs to get past Nigeria, which it routed, 7-1, in Chicago in last year's World Cup, on Wednesday night before it contemplates its next opponent.

"Right now we have to get to the second round and that's what we need to concentrate on," forward Mia Hamm said. "If we can get three points against Nigeria, we'll assure ourselves of that, and that's our focus right now.

"We can't even begin to look past Nigeria. If we do, we're going to struggle."

Brazil's Coach, Ze Duarte, said he is not concerned at the prospect of playing the U.S. in the semifinals, even though Brazil suffered a 4-0 loss to the Americans as recently as Sept. 1 in San Jose.

"We all know, like I do, that the United States is considered the best team in the world in women's football," he said. "But in football there is no unbeatable team. A team that might be inferior can overcome those difficulties in a game and prove to be the winner."

Duarte pointed out that Brazil had played the U.S. twice during the CONCACAF Gold Cup tournament in July and had tied, 0-0, and lost by only 1-0.

Still, in their loss to Germany, the Brazilians' weaknesses were exposed.

"There was a lack of calmness, of tranquillity," Duarte said. "We needed to be more calm and more collected. We were a bit nervous in the first half."

Putting style over substance cost it the game against Germany, he said.

"The team was playing too attractively, too romantically," he said. "It needs to be more direct and more result-oriented. More robust."

In other words, more like Germany.

Meanwhile, the Germans are becoming more like the U.S.

Angerer, a 21-year-old backup goalkeeper from Lohr am Main, plans a career as a television camerawoman. To that end, she was conspicuous on the German bench, her video camera recording the Germans' celebratory dances after each goal.

Unless the U.S. lifts its game in the coming week, she might be doing the same thing when the gold medals are handed out.

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