Sunday, September 28, 2003

Politics, mystery envelop Americans' next match



The Associated Press

COLUMBUS - Hamm. Foudy. Lilly. Fawcett. Scurry. The United States' biggest stars are playing up to their reputations in the Women's World Cup, reinforcing their status as the team to beat.

No one would love to beat them more than their next opponent.

North Korea is one of the tournament's biggest unknowns - and might also carry one of the biggest grudges. The nation that President Bush singled out as part of an "axis of evil" has no shortage of motivation in its final first-round game.

"They're fully aware of the political ramifications," U.S. coach April Heinrichs said Saturday after her team worked out. "But generally speaking, it is just a game."

The Koreans have generally kept to themselves during the tournament, except to complain about the officiating and the field conditions.

A victory or a tie today would send the undefeated United States into the quarterfinals. Mia Hamm, who has re-emerged as one of the world's top players in the opening round, understands how much an upset would mean in the bigger context.

"From my perspective, I'm not going to stand next to somebody and ask them, 'So, what's going on in North Korea?' " Hamm said. "I think all players are proud of who and what they represent, and the opportunity to represent your country means a lot to all of us. If that's a political statement, then yeah, it is."

North Korea's low-key approach has made it hard for the Americans to scout their next opponent.

"It's very difficult to get your hands on the North Korean videotapes," Heinrichs said. "The benefit of our draw is that North Korea is the team we know least, but we've been able to see them play twice."

The Americans know what to expect - a team that makes precise passes, keeps its composure and will probably play its best game of the tournament in front of a capacity crowd at Crew Stadium.

Cup doubleheader in Columbus

What: Sweden (1-1) vs. Nigeria (1-1), 1 p.m., ESPN; United States (2-0) vs. North Korea (1-1), 3:45 p.m., Ch. 9, 2.

Tickets: $45-$100, available at www.fifaworldcup.com, Ticketmaster.com or (614) 447-2739.

Venue: Crew Stadium.

Directions to the stadium: Take I-71 north to the 17th Avenue exit. Go west on 17th Avenue to Velma Avenue.

Parking fee: $7.




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