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WOMEN'S WORLD CUP AT A GLANCE

Host U.S. Team Is the Clear Favorite

September 19, 2003|Jerry Trecker | Hartford Courant

The fourth Women's World Cup returns to the United States for a three-week run in six venues. The final is Oct. 12 at the Home Depot Center in Carson.

U.S. Soccer stepped in as a last-minute host in May when the SARS epidemic forced FIFA to move the event from China, which was then designated as host for the 2007 finals.

Tickets: Information and links for purchasing tickets can be found at www.fifa.com by clicking on Women's World Cup. Complete ticket information, including individual stadium information, is available at www.ussoccer.com.

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Tournament outlook: Top-ranked United States is the clear favorite. The strongest challenge may come from Germany, which has a favorable draw, while Norway is also considered a threat. Injuries have reduced Brazil's depth, while emerging teams Canada and Sweden have been rebuilt since the last World Cup.

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Television: ESPN, ESPN2 and ABC will offer live coverage of 18 games, including the U.S. opener against Sweden on Sunday, (9:30 a.m., Channel 7) U.S.-Nigeria on Thursday (4:15 p.m., ESPN2) and U.S.-North Korea on Sept. 28 (12:30 p.m., Channel 7). ESPN2 will carry 14 games, including the quarterfinals and semifinals. ABC will televise the championship game Oct. 12.

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Venues: Home Depot Center, Carson, capacity 27,500; PGE Park Portland, Ore., 28,359; Columbus Crew Stadium, Ohio, 22,555; RFK Stadium, Washington, 53,000; Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia, 70,000; Gillette Stadium, Foxboro, Mass., 68,000.

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PLAYERS TO WATCH

Mia Hamm, U.S.: The world's all-time scoring leader. Still the most dangerous attacking threat on a deep, veteran U.S. team. This will be her final World Cup, although Hamm has not ruled out an appearance at next summer's Olympics.

Brandi Chastain, U.S.: Famous for removing her shirt after scoring the decisive penalty kick in the 1999 World Cup final at the Rose Bowl. Despite a new FIFA edict banning such actions, Chastain says she may perform an encore if the Americans can repeat as champions.

Hanna Ljunberg, Sweden: Regarded as one of the world's great young attacking players. She will face the U.S. defense in the opening game at RFK Stadium.

Marinette Pichon, France: Signed by former University of Hartford coach Mark Krikorian for the Philadelphia Charge and became one of the most consistent scorers in WUSA.

Katia, Brazil: The lone big name left on a team that narrowly lost the 1999 semifinal to the United States. Somebody must step up to support her to keep the Brazilian women on course.

Maren Meinert, Germany: Had brilliant, MVP year for the Boston Breakers, then changed her mind about retiring from the international game. With her playmaking skills, the Germans become a real championship threat.

Christine Sinclair, Canada: Scored the winning goal in last year's NCAA Division I final to make the late Clive Charles a title winner in his final season at Portland. The loss of Candace Chapman to a knee injury means Sinclair's most consistent attack partner could be veteran Charmaine Hooper.

Dagny Mellgren, Norway: Led the Breakers' attack all season, often profiting from Meinert's passes. She can be a handful for defenses but must get consistent service.

Hege Riise, Norway: On the roster despite recovering from a knee injury that sidelined her much of the WUSA season. At her best, Riise is capable of changing a game with her passing skills.

Sun Wen, China: Begins Cup play as a true unknown. Having never hit the heights in WUSA, the veteran striker has everyone's respect, but she will need to put the ball in the back of the net to convince doubters.

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WOMEN'S WORLD CUP RESULTS

*--* Year Host Winner 1991 China United States 1995 Sweden Norway 1999 United States United States

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GROUP A

Teams: United States (FIFA rank, No. 1); Sweden (5); Nigeria (23); North Korea (7).

Schedule: SATURDAY -- Nigeria vs. North Korea at Philadelphia, 11:45 a.m.; SUNDAY -- U.S. vs. Sweden at Washington, 9:30 a.m.; THURSDAY -- Sweden vs. North Korea, 1:45 p.m.; U.S. vs. Nigeria, 4:30 p.m., at Philadelphia; SEPT. 28 -- Sweden vs. Nigeria, 10 a.m.; U.S. vs. North Korea, 12:45 p.m., at Columbus, Ohio (all times Pacific).

Outlook: It's being called the toughest group because of the presence of three top-10 teams, but unless Nigeria and North Korea have dramatically closed the gap on the rest of the world, the Americans and Swedes should advance. The United States should not be severely troubled. Sweden is much improved and could test the Americans on opening day. Neither Nigeria nor the North Koreans play enough internationally for anyone to have a true sense of their strength. The Nigerians reached the second round last time but were routed by the United States, 6-1, when the teams met in a first-round game. North Korea is the reigning Asian champ.

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GROUP B

Teams: Norway (2); France (9); Brazil (6); South Korea (25).

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