ROAD TO THE FINAL
Here's an analysis of the 16 World Cup teams and SI's predictions
for the knockout phase
Winner A Vs. Second B
Oct. 1--Foxboro, Mass.
Winner C Vs. Second D
Oct. 2--Portland, Ore.
Winner B Vs. Second A
Oct. 1--Foxboro, Mass.
Winner D Vs. Second C
Oct. 2--Portland, Ore.
Oct. 5--Portland, Ore.
Oct. 5--Portland, Ore.
WORLD CUP FINAL
Oct. 12--Carson, Calif.
THE AMERICANS SHOULD CRUISE--BUT WATCH OUT FOR NORTH KOREA
Nine of the 11 starters from '99 are back; Mia Hamm is playing
her best soccer since '98; the teamwork is first rate; and the
home field edge is big. But victory isn't guaranteed. Can
midfielder Aly Wagner, 23, handle the pressure? And will the
Greatest Generation (Hamm, Kristine Lilly, Julie Foudy, Joy
Fawcett and Brandi Chastain) start to show its age?
Forward Hanna Ljungberg may be the Cup's most fearsome striker,
and the midfield, featuring the talented Malin Mostrom, prefers a
slow buildup that will pressure opponents. But the Swedes have
been bounced in the quarterfinals of the past two Cups, and their
draw into the Group of Death will make advancing even harder this
The class of Africa, Nigeria came within a hair of reaching the
'99 semis, losing to Brazil 4-3. Many of the same faces return,
including forwards Mercy Akide and Patience Avre. The Nigerians'
explosive attack shows no signs of slowing, but poor defensive
organization is a liability, and Nigeria wins few friends with
its overly rough play.
Since 1999 North Korea has become the new Asian tiger of women's
soccer, beating China for each of the last three continental
titles. Featuring a lethal counterattack, relentless speed and
loads of endurance, the North Koreans are adept at pushing the
ball ahead to front-runners Ri Kum Suk and Jin Pyol Hui.
GROUP A SCHEDULE Top two teams advance
Sept. 20 Nigeria vs. North Korea Philadelphia
Sept. 21 U.S. vs. Sweden Washington, D.C.
Sept. 25 Sweden vs. North Korea Philadelphia
Sept. 25 U.S. vs. Nigeria Philadelphia
Sept. 28 Sweden vs. Nigeria Columbus, Ohio
Sept. 28 North Korea vs. U.S. Columbus, Ohio
NO CLEAR FAVORITE, BUT THIS QUARTET PROMISES ENTERTAINING SOCCER
Les Bleues have an ace in the hole in forward Marinette Pichon,
the 2002 WUSA MVP. All too often, though, France's all-out attack
leaves nobody home on defense, which will put the organizing
pressure on defender Corinne Diacre and midfielder Stephanie
Mugneret-Beghe. Don't count on seeing scoreless draws with this
One of a handful of teams that could win the Cup, Brazil will
rely on forward Katia (who led the WUSA in goals two seasons ago)
and a cast of youngsters led by 17-year-old midfielder Marta. But
which Brazil will show up: the team that plays the Beautiful Game
with breathtaking imagination or the one plagued by dodgy defense
and short tempers?
This World Cup debutante will be ecstatic to gain anything more
than a single point, from a tie with fellow newcomer France, in
its three first-round games. Blessed with speed, the Koreans look
to counter and put the ball on the foot of skilled forward Lee Ji
Eun, but their lack of experience will hurt against battle-tested
Norway and Brazil.
Forward Dagny Mellgren is the focal point up front, and
goalkeeper Bente Nordby and midfielder Marianne Pettersen have
come out of retirement for Norway, the only team with a winning
record against the U.S. But none of that will matter much if
playmaker Hege Riise, who's recovering from May knee surgery,
can't go at full speed.
GROUP B SCHEDULE Top two teams advance
Sept. 20 Norway vs. France Philadelphia
Sept. 21 Brazil vs. South Korea Washington, D.C.
Sept. 24 Norway vs. Brazil Washington, D.C.
Sept. 24 France vs. South Korea Washington, D.C.
Sept. 27 South Korea vs. Norway Foxboro, Mass.
Sept. 27 France vs. Brazil Washington, D.C.
POWERFUL GERMANY IS ON COURSE FOR A SEMI SHOWDOWN WITH THE U.S.
With a favorable draw, this may be the year this underachiever
makes its mark. Coach Even Pellerud, who guided Norway to the '95
title, has instilled first-rate tactics in a team known for a
ferocious attack led by veteran forward Charmaine Hooper. Forward
Christine Sinclair and keeper Karina LeBlanc are ready to show
that the future is now.
Brazil aside, South American women's soccer is still in its
infancy, and the final score of Argentina-Germany might not be
pretty. Then again, the Argies did bang in two goals against
Brazil in qualifying, and forward Marisol Medina shows promise up
front. The Argentines are looking for respect--and, if lucky, a
point from a tie with Japan.
Midfielder Homare Sawa will be playing in her third Cup, and her
ball movement and leadership will be essential if Japan hopes to
advance. But if an underwhelming performance in Asian qualifying
is any indication, that will be difficult. Lack of conditioning
compared with other top Asian teams may mean Japan is being
passed by in the international game.
Germany's already imposing lineup only got better when coach Tina
Theune-Meyer persuaded forward Maren Meinert and defender Steffi
Jones to come out of international retirement for the World Cup.
The attack is athletic and big, the midfield skilled and
experienced. The only question is a D that would be put to the
test in a showdown with the U.S.
GROUP C SCHEDULE Top two teams advance
Sept. 20 Germany vs. Canada Columbus, Ohio
Sept. 20 Japan vs. Argentina Columbus, Ohio
Sept. 24 Germany vs. Japan Columbus, Ohio
Sept. 24 Canada vs. Argentina Columbus, Ohio
Sept. 27 Canada vs. Japan Foxboro, Mass.
Sept. 27 Argentina vs. Germany Washington, D.C.
CHINA'S THE HEAVYWEIGHT; AFTER THAT IT'S A SCRAMBLE FOR SECOND
Until now the Matildas have been better known for their nude
calendars than their World Cup showings. With goal-scorer Julie
Murray retired, the onus falls on forward Kelly Golebiowski to
put the ball in the net. If the Aussies are to advance, though,
it will be thanks to a stalwart back line led by Dianne Alagich
and Cheryl Salisbury.
The Russians were surprise quarterfinalists four years ago, and
their helpful draw means they could go that far again. They're
confident on the ball and poised in attack, but can their three
best players--forward Alexandra Svetslikaia, midfielder Irina
Grigorieva and goalkeeper Svetlana Petko, all over 30--handle the
demands of a grueling tournament?
After losing to the U.S. on the roulette wheel of penalty kicks
in '99, the Steel Roses figured to have home field
advantage--until SARS forced the Cup to be moved. China is again
on a collision course with the U.S. Forward Sun Wen is in form,
and the teamwork and technique of forward Bai Jie and midfielders
Zhao Lihong and Liu Ying are unsurpassed.
Fearless going forward, the Black Queens won over fans in '99;
now the challenge is to win some games. Midfielder Alberta Sackey
brings class to the attack for Ghana (the first African team to
beat continental power Nigeria), but whether her teammates can
avoid the concentration lapses that doomed them four years ago
will determine their fate this time around.
GROUP D SCHEDULE Top two teams advance
Sept. 21 Australia vs. Russia Carson, Calif.
Sept. 21 China vs. Ghana Carson, Calif.
Sept. 25 Ghana vs. Russia Carson, Calif.
Sept. 25 China vs. Australia Carson, Calif.
Sept. 28 Ghana vs. Australia Portland, Ore.
Sept. 28 China vs. Russia Portland, Ore.
THE HISTORY OF THE CUP
Unlike their male counterparts, the U.S. women have dominated
soccer on the world stage
BEFORE 65,000 FANS in Guangzhou, China, striker Michelle Akers
scored both U.S. goals to beat Norway 2-1 in the inaugural World
Cup final. The Triple-Edged Sword of forwards Akers, April
Heinrichs and Carin Jennings provided 20 of the U.S.'s 25
IN SWEDEN, Akers was slowed by injury, and the favored U.S. was
beaten 1-0 in the semifinals by Norway (still the Americans' only
World Cup loss). In the final in Stockholm, Norway rode goals
from Hege Riise and Marianne Pettersen to a 2-0 win over Germany.
IN FRONT of a Rose Bowl crowd of 90,185, the largest ever to
attend a women's sporting event, Brandi Chastain banged home the
game-winner in the penalty-kick shootout to defeat China--and
land the U.S. women on the covers of SI, PEOPLE and TIME.
COLOR PHOTO: BRAD SMITH/ICON SMI (LILLY) LILLY
COLOR PHOTO: JED JACOBSOHN/ALLSPORT/GETTY IMAGES (MOSTROM) MOSTROM
COLOR PHOTO: APICHAT WEERAWONG/AP (RI) PLAYER TO WATCH A major reason for the U.S. to be wary of its first-round clash with North Korea on Sept. 28 is RI KUM SUK, 25, the smiling striker who led Asian qualifying with 15 goals as her team upset China for the third straight year.
COLOR PHOTO: LAURENT BAHEUX/DPPI/ICON (PICHON) PICHON
COLOR PHOTO: PILAR OLIVARES/REUTERS (KATIA) KATIA
COLOR PHOTO: SCOTT BARBOUR/GETTY IMAGES (MELLGREN) PLAYER TO WATCH Norway's cold-blooded finisher, DAGNY MELLGREN, 25, scored the deciding goal in a 3-2 victory over the U.S. in the 2000 Olympic final, and her 14 strikes last season for the Boston Breakers tied her for the most in the WUSA.
COLOR PHOTO: AP (TROPHY)
COLOR PHOTO: PHIL STEPHENS (AKERS) AKERS (10) HERALDED A NEW AGE
COLOR PHOTO: J. BRETT WHITESELL/ISI (NORWAY) NORWAY CELEBRATED A SURPRISE WIN
COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT BECK (CHASTAIN) GAME-WINNER CHASTAIN BARED HER EMOTIONS
COLOR PHOTO: PATRICK KOVARIK/AFP/GETTY IMAGES (MEINERT) PLAYER TO WATCH Germany got an unexpected boost when MAREN MEINERT--the WUSA's2003 MVP with the Boston Breakers--came out of internationalretirement to play in the World Cup. Look for the 30-year-oldplaymaker to spring forward Birgit Prinz with precisethrough-balls.
COLOR PHOTO: FRANK GUNN/CP (LEBLANC) LEBLANC
COLOR PHOTO: JOE CAVARETTA/AP (MEDINA) MEDINA
COLOR PHOTO: ADAM PRETTY/GETTY IMAGES (SUN WEN) PLAYER TO WATCHShe was FIFA's co-Player of the Century (with Michelle Akers) andMVP of the '99 World Cup. But with her retirement from theinternational game looming, China forward SUN WEN, 30, wants onething: to win her country's first major title in women'ssoccer.
COLOR PHOTO: AP (SALISBURY) SALISBURY
COLOR PHOTO: MATT CAMPBELL/AFP/GETTY IMAGES (PETKO) PETKO
SEVENTEEN COLOR ILLUSTRATIONS