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Germany Leaves the U.S. at a Loss

Defending champions fall, 3-0, in Women's World Cup semifinal. A first-half goal is the difference.

October 06, 2003|Grahame L. Jones | Times Staff Writer

PORTLAND, Ore. — At the final whistle, Mia Hamm pulled her red United States jersey up over her face, wiping away perspiration and tears.

It was a far cry from the final scene four years ago, when Brandi Chastain pulled her own jersey off altogether, in celebration, not in anguish.

But today, the world champions are world champions no more.

Germany saw to that on Sunday afternoon, defeating the U.S., 3-0, in front of 27,623 at PGE Park in the semifinals of the fourth FIFA Women's World Cup.

The German goals were scored by Kerstin Garefrekes in the first half, and by Maren Meinert and Birgit Prinz in stoppage time.

It was only the second time in Women's World Cup history that the U.S. has been beaten.

In the Oct. 12 final at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Germany will play Sweden, a 2-1 winner in the other semifinal. The U.S. will play Canada in the third-place game on Saturday, also at Carson.

On Sunday, Germany was the more organized team, the more disciplined team, perhaps even the hungrier team, and although its play was not as adventurous as that of the U.S., it seldom made a mistake.

That did not make the loss any easier for the Americans to accept.

"That was perhaps the greatest game ever played in women's soccer," said U.S. Coach April Heinrichs. "Our hearts ache."

None more so than those of the youngsters on the American team, youngsters such as midfielder Shannon Boxx of Redondo Beach, who was asked about the five veterans on the U.S. squad -- Hamm, Brandi Chastain, Joy Fawcett, Julie Foudy and Kristine Lilly.

"I couldn't look at them," Boxx said. "I wanted to win this so badly. I know this may be their last World Cup, and it's really hard because I know that they worked [very hard] for this and we couldn't win it for them."

Another youngster, midfielder Aly Wagner, said it would serve as inspiration for next year, when the U.S. will seek to win the Olympic gold medal in Athens.

"I already have some fire burning in me, if I can get on that team and maybe make a difference," she said.

That's how it was in 1995, when the defending champion U.S. lost to Norway in the semifinals. It came back the next year to win the Olympic gold in another Athens (Athens, Ga.) and then won back the Women's World Cup in 1999.

For the moment, however, there is Sunday's loss to overcome.

The Americans were always chasing the game. Germany opened scoring 14:41 into the match after a U.S. miscue in the midfield. Kylie Bivens, a surprise starter at right back in place of Christie Pearce, slipped and fell, allowing Prinz to send a pass to Pia Wunderlich in the left corner.

Fawcett closed Wunderlich down quickly, directing the ball out for a corner kick, which was taken by Renate Lingor.

Lingor's corner fell into a pack of players in front of the U.S. net, where Garefrekes out-jumped Julie Foudy and sent a header into the U.S. net off the underside of the crossbar.

Goalkeeper Briana Scurry and two U.S. defenders standing on the goal line had no chance to stop the ball. The goal marked the first time the U.S. has trailed in a World Cup game since July 1, 1999, when it twice had to come from behind to defeat Germany, 3-2, in the quarterfinals of that year's Women's World Cup.

Down a goal, Scurry was not overly concerned.

"They got the corner and their girl [Garefrekes] nipped in front of whoever and it went off the crossbar and it went in," she said. "Other than that, they really didn't have a whole lot going, especially in the first half.

"We were at them the whole time. I never once thought that we weren't going to score. In the second half, we had great chances and their goalkeeper [Silke Rottenberg] came up big. We were unlucky on some.

"I still honestly feel that we're the better team, but sometimes the better team doesn't win."

The late goals by Meinert and Prinz only served as exclamation points for Germany, which has the opportunity to become the first country to win the men's World Cup and the Women's World Cup, having won the former three times.

At the end, the crowd was on its feet, chanting "USA, USA" as the American players left the field, some crying, all looking drained.

It was left to Hamm to sum up what it all meant.

"We're not in the final," she said, wiping away tears while answering questions after her next-to-last appearance on a World Cup playing field.

"And that's where my head and my heart are right now."

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