U.S. women blank dive-happy Brazil, but Germany still looms
Updated: Saturday August 14, 2004 2:55PM
ATHENS -- The other day I ran into Sun Wen, the recently retired Chinese legend who may be the most skilled player in the history of women's soccer. She's working as a journalist/pundit these days, and she didn't hesitate when I asked her who would win the Olympic gold medal.
"Oh, the United States," she said. "They're so good, and they've won before. I believe in them."
Keep in mind, this was right after Sun Wen had seen Germany dismantle the Chinese 8-0. (What's more, her friend Silke Rottenberg, the German goalie, was sitting five feet away from us.) "But Germany has two key players retired," Sun Wen explained, referring to Maren Meinert and Bettina Wiegmann. "They're still a little bit down, even though they beat China 8-0."
Four more games stand between the U.S.and a gold medal, but we did learn a few things from the Yanks' 2-0 win against Brazil on Saturday:
The U.S. can still grit out a victory when it's not playing its best soccer.
Brazil had the best chances in a scoreless first half, hitting the woodwork twice and showing more inspiration on the ball than the Americans. But an enterprising run by veteran Julie Foudy in the 58th minute sprung Abby Wambach, who drew a penalty kick that Mia Hamm converted for a 1-0 lead.
Wambach scored a marvelous goal of her own in the 78th minute, cutting inside Juliana with her right foot and sending a left-footed screamer between goalie Andreia and the near-post. For a big bruiser, Wambach has some eye-catching footskills befitting the golden shoes she wears.
The rules for calling a penalty need to be changed.
The game-breaking penalty earned by the U.S. was technically correct, since Brazil's Monica did foul Wambach in the box. But it's high time that FIFA followed the NFL, which doesn't award a pass-interference call if the pass isn't catchable. Wambach had no chance to reach the ball, which was headed out of bounds.
Brazil's got skillz.
The Brazilian women play "the Beautiful Game" with more panache than any other nation, displaying an imagination on the ball that we just don't see with the U.S. or even Germany. Once the Brazilians learn how to finish consistently and not to lash out in frustration (or take so many maddening dives), they may be unstoppable.
The U.S. needs to make a statement Tuesday against Australia.
This Brazil game was eerily reminiscent of the 2000 Olympic semifinal, a dreary 1-0 U.S. victory over the Brazilians that made the Americans look vulnerable heading into the final (which Norway won 3-2). The Yanks don't need an 8-0 thrashing to match Germany's win against China, but a good butt-kicking of the Aussies would steal some of the wow factor from Germany.
One-on-One with Sun Wen
Here are some other snippets from my chat with Sun Wen:
Q: So what was the response in China to Germany's 8-0 opening-game win?
A: Wow. Crap. Very upset. They say the Steel Roses have cracked. They had a lot of questions about the coach, the players, the strategy. But if they win the next game, they can still go to the next round. (China tied Mexico on Saturday, helping their cause for a knockout-round berth.)
Q: China is hosting the 2007 World Cup and 2008 Olympics. Do you think the Chinese team will be ready by then?
A: I'm not sure. They're too young right now. The big problem is we don't have enough players. In the U.S. you can pick from 20,000 players. In China there's only 200, so it's hard. Men's soccer is very big, but not women's soccer.
Q: Do you miss playing?
A: A little bit. Before I came here, I spent some time with the under-19 team, so I started some training. Training is ... wow. I can't believe I ever played for 90 minutes. I just ran for five minutes, and I was breathing hard.
Q: What are you up to now?
A: First, I am a student in Shanghai. My major is international relations. But I want to go to the United States to study sports marketing or communications. I'm pretty busy. I went to the (men's) European Championship as a journalist. I also want to be a coach in the U.S., maybe in the WUSA or at a university.
Q: Do you want to be the Chinese national team coach someday?
A: I hope so. First I want to be more experienced, more professional. That's why I want to go to the United States. I want to see a different mindset.
Q: Any particular city you want to live in?
A: Boston. Mark (Krikorian), the head coach of the (U.S.) under-19's, suggested I go to Boston. It's very beautiful. And I like snow. (laughs)