Mia Hamm, Sissi and Dr. Kwak
Posted: Thursday June 24, 1999 12:59 PM
Sports Illustrated's Grant Wahl will answer your Women's World Cup questions weekly. Click here to send a question.
I wasn't trying to be rude, of course, but perhaps that was the impression I gave last Friday when I ambushed the North Korean women's soccer team after it arrived at Newark (N.J.) International Airport. North Korea is the most mysterious team (and country) in the world, after all, and it plays the U.S. on June 27, so I thought I'd satisfy my curiosity and do my part for international relations.
I failed miserably at both, but at least things got off to a good start. Since I was an unexpected visitor, I brought a motherlode of free SI stuff (hats, sweatshirts, sports bags), and the North Koreans gladly accepted. (Actually, the man who hoarded all the graft was the head of the North Korean Olympic Committee, so he probably knows the drill well.) It all went downhill from there, though. I wanted to ask Coach Dong Chan Myong if he hopes to repeat North Korea's shocking upset of Italy in the 1966 men's World Cup, when a Korean dentist named Pak Doo Ik scored the goal that eliminated the Italians. But Myong waved me off, and when I tried to talk to one of the athletes, the Olympic committee honcho told me, in effect, to get lost. Enjoy those SI sweatshirts, big guy.
So here's what I do know about the North Koreans: They're training for the next week at the site of a former Playboy Club in northern Jersey. Their liaison is a fellow named Dr. Kwak , a nice man with a bad name for a physician. Their players all wear matching double-breasted navy blazers with their country's flag embroidered on the left pocket, right below a pin bearing the likeness of Great Leader Kim Jong Il . (Who happens to be a much better golfer than scratch-handicapper Mia Hamm . In 1994, according to the golf pro at Pyongyang Country Club, the Great Leader shot a 38-under 34 and had five holes-in-one in the same round. His partner, presumably, was former Toronto Blue Jays manager Tim Johnson , but I digress ...)
I'll keep you posted on my misadventures as the Cup gets rolling. On to the 'bag.
With the wealth of talent on the U.S women's roster, it's recognizable that
a couple of great players are destined to ride the pine. But I'm somewhat
baffled at the absence of Tisha Venturini on the starting squad. She has a
wealth of ability and experience from consistent starts as late as last year.
Lately, however, she has been relegated to appearing after the 80th minute, and,
on several occasions, not appearing at all. Yet even with such limited time,
Tisha has produced. Is there something I've missed regarding this fabulous
talent? What variety of factors have moved Tisha from starter to bench-warmer?
Good question, Gregg. You probably know that Venturini, 26, has been one of the U.S.'s money players over the years, scoring two goals in the 1996 Olympics and three in the '95 World Cup. But after starting 83 of 88 matches between 1992 and '97, she has made the starting lineup in only 12 of the U.S.'s 38 games ever since.
The main reasons: in 1997 coach Tony DiCicco switched from a 3-4-3 to a 4-3-3 alignment, which meant taking one midfielder out of the equation. Then Michelle Akers moved from the withdrawn forward position she played during the Olympics to the holding midfielder spot. As a result, you now have Akers, Kristine Lilly and Julie Foudy comprising the midfield, and Venturini getting shut out. Venturini is still a good player off the bench, but she doesn't cover a ton of ground (which is necessary in a three-person midfield) and her skills don't match those of the starters. What's more, with DiCicco needing to give younger players a chance and 18-year-old midfielder Aly Wagner nearly making the World Cup team, it's possible that Venturini could be nearing the end of her fine career.
I am interested in the schedule for this year's Women's World Cup Soccer
competition, and also how can I get tickets for the games?
I am a huge follower of soccer and because I've been exposed to women's
soccer I watched the Canada-U.S. warmup. The U.S. superstar, Mia Hamm, is a
great player. But to me instead of creating opportunities she is just very quick
to jump on lackadaisical defense. I believe a strong fast shadow can shut her
down for a game.
I disagree. What you may think is lazy defense is usually Hamm blowing by decent defenders. True, it's not often that you'll see her dribble past four defenders and juke the keeper before scoring, but how often do you ever see that? Hamm can be kept from scoring (notice I didn't say "shut down" -- she's a great passer), but it usually takes two or even three defenders to do it. That allows other U.S. players (forward Tiffeny Milbrett and Lilly) to do the damage instead.
I haven't seen or heard much about women's soccer until about the last six
or eight months and I watched four or five U.S. matches in that span. I know the
sport has never taken off here, especially on the men's side. But the ladies are
fantastic! I'm an old American football kind of guy but they sure have me paying
attention to soccer now. How did they become so good in a country that doesn't
pay close attention to the sport?
One wonderful thing you may have noticed about women's soccer is that the hacking and tripping and feigned injuries that are so common to the men's game are largely absent. Anyway, the U.S. women are the best in the world for a couple of reasons. They started playing at about the same time as the rest of the world. They live in a country that views women playing sports more favorably than anywhere else. And they've had the same core lineup of committed, talented players for a decade. That's a recipe for a champion, even if nobody pays attention in your own country.
How many countries in the World Cup have professional women's leagues? Is
Italy's professional league the tops among all?
Several countries have professional leagues, but don't take "professional" to mean that the players are millionaires. In Germany, Norway, Sweden, Italy and Denmark, women's soccer players can get as much as a car, an apartment and enough salary to cover expenses and little else. Japan used to have a thriving league (Milbrett made as much as $4,000 a month), but the Asian financial crisis hit the league hard, and it now bars foreigners from playing.
Nigeria has a developing league, as does Brazil, where the rumor is that star midfielder Sissi is pulling down $6,000 a month.
Of course, the U.S. still lacks a top-flight professional league, though there are hopes that a league will debut after the 2000 Olympics.
Over and out. Keep the questions coming.
Send a question to Grant Wahl, and check back every week to read more of his answers.
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