U.S., China relish week to prepare for World Cup final
Posted: Wednesday July 07, 1999 06:54 PM
PASADENA, Calif. (AP) -- After playing five World Cup games in two weeks, the U.S. and Chinese women won't be complaining about four straight days of practice.
They'll practically relish the break from competition.
The Chinese, who have been the strongest team in the tournament, crisscrossed the country so often they probably have enough frequent flyer miles to get back home for free. The Americans didn't have such travel woes, but they had far more competitive knockout-round games.
Nor are these teams used to such a frenetic playing schedule. Indeed, the women will have played six games in three weeks to decide their title. The men play seven games in more than four weeks in their World Cup.
"We weren't rested very often," China Coach Ma Yuanan said.
But they didn't seem to be dragging in a 5-0 victory over defending champion Norway in the semifinals. That rout was the most impressive in what has been a terrific year for the Chinese.
So they've earned their respite, although Ma has promised their practices "will be like matches."
The Americans, whose advancement to the finals has featured some brilliant play and some very spotty moments, particularly on defense, did look exhausted in their 2-0 win against Brazil on Sunday. Not surprisingly, coach Tony DiCicco canceled Monday's workout.
"We definitely were a little tired, and so was Brazil," U.S. star Mia Hamm said. "We weren't as sharp as we can be, and maybe that was a little fatigue playing a part.
"But we've got five days between games, and we'll be ready by Saturday."
While the Chinese, who also won the prestigious Algarve Cup over the Americans this year before splitting two games in the United States, don't appear to need much work on anything, Ma decided to nitpick.
"After we led 2-0, some of the team members were making constant errors," Ma said. "In the first half, there were two opportunities which the players didn't maximize. If we did, the game would have been easier."
DiCicco won't be nitpicking when he brings up the gaps in the defense that have given all but one U.S. opponent ample opportunity to score. Only the steady and sometimes spectacular work of goalkeeper Briana Scurry has kept the yield down to three goals.
He also will have the Americans working on shooting more quickly when they get into position. Hamm, the international career goals leader who hasn't scored in three games, was especially hesitant about shooting against the Brazilians.
"We have the players who can find the back of the net consistently," DiCicco said. "We'll be calling on them to do it one more time on Saturday."
One aspect in which the Americans have excelled is set pieces such as corner kicks and free kicks. Because of their height advantage over China, look for Michelle Akers and Cindy Parlow, in particular, to be heavily involved in those plays -- throughout the week of practice and in the sold-out Rose Bowl on Saturday.
"We know that by Saturday, we're going to be dying to get out on the field and play," co-captain Julie Foudy said. "By then we'll have had enough practice and will want to get on with what we came for, the chance of winning the World Cup."
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