Which team will raise the $30,000 Women's World Cup trophy this Saturday at the Rose Bowl? These questions will determine the answer:
Can Michelle Akers continue playing magnificent two-way soccer?
If not for goalkeeper Briana Scurry, the 33-year-old Akers would have been the player of the game in the U.S.'s 2-0 semifinal win over Brazil. Akers won nearly every ball in the midfield, sprung forward Mia Hamm with a header on Hamm's penalty-drawing dash, drilled home the ensuing penalty kick for the Americans' second goal and raced 60 yards to make a goal-saving clearance. Most important, she shut down Brazil's Sissi, who entered the game with a tournament-leading seven goals. Akers will face a similar challenge playing against nonpareil Chinese midfielder Sun Wen, who scored her sixth and seventh goals in a 5-0 semifinal win over Norway.
Can the American defense handle China's speed and overlapping runs?
During their 2-1 victory in April, the fleet Chinese beat U.S. defenders on long runs to score both of their goals. The full-field defensive pressure the Americans applied to bottle up Brazil might not be so effective against China, which has midfield general Liu Ailing in charge of its more fluid distribution. " China has a lot of off-the-ball movement," says U.S. defender Brandi Chastain. "The key is going to be team defending. We have to put them under pressure and not allow them to play it out of the back easily."
Can Hamm and Kristine Lilly regain their scoring touch?
The most surprising aspect of the elimination-round wins over Germany and Brazil was the bit part played by Hamm and Lilly, two of the U.S.'s primary offensive threats. Neither player has scored a goal in the last three games. Hamm has been the object of extra defensive attention, and Lilly for some reason has yet to put on a full display of her unsurpassed ball skills. If the Americans are to have any chance of winning, one or both will have to make a greater impact than in recent games.
Can Scurry outduel Chinese goalkeeper Gao Hong?
Ultimately, the World Cup title could come down to the performance of the players between the posts. China's Gao has allowed only two goals in the tournament, Scurry three. Says Sun, in what amounts to no-holds-barred trash-talking for the Chinese, "We will bombard Scurry with all kinds of shots. She had better be prepared."