Saturday, October 4, 2003

Polar opposites set to square off


Germany's offense concerns Americans

The Associated Press

BEAVERTON, Ore. - The U.S. women have allowed one goal in four World Cup games. Germany has scored 20.

"I guess something has got to give," forward Abby Wambach said after the Americans worked out at the Nike World Campus on Friday.

Germany, ranked No. 3 in the world, faces the defending World Cup champions, No. 1 USA, in a semifinal showdown Sunday at Portland's PGE Park. Surprising Canada plays Sweden in the other semifinal.

Don't ask the U.S. players what they thought of Germany's 7-1 quarterfinal rout of Russia on Thursday night. They weren't allowed to watch it.

"The one thing our coaching staff really believes is the next opponent should be off limits," coach April Heinrichs said. "Let's just go in focusing on us, not thinking about what we just saw on television."

Heinrichs was at PGE Park to watch the five-time European champions score six second-half goals against the Russians, and if Sunday's game boils down to Germany's offense against the U.S. defense, that's fine with her.

"I think our defense is ready," she said. "I like that challenge."

Forward Joy Fawcett, the 35-year-old mother of three and former UCLA women's coach, anchors a defense that limited Norway to one shot on goal in the Americans' 1-0 quarterfinal victory.

"I trust every decision she makes," Heinrichs said.

Goalkeeper Briana Scurry has handled what few shots opponents have managed, and she relishes going against Germany's great forward Birgit Prinz, who leads the World Cup in scoring with six goals, two against Russia.

"I try to play big. I try to be somewhat intimidating out there," she said. "I love big games. Germany is an incredible team. We've had good competitions against them in the past."

In the quarterfinals of the 1999 World Cup, the United States had to come from behind twice before escaping with a 4-3 victory. The teams last met in January, with the Americans winning 1-0.

While Prinz gets most of the goals, the maestro of the German attack is forward Maren Meinert, the MVP of the now-defunct WUSA for the Boston Breakers last season.

"Brigit Prinz is big time, very good in the air, very good on the ground, very strong and a lot faster than people give her credit for," Scurry said. "Maren Meinert is the wizard out there, though. She has incredible ability with the ball, great vision. Both of them are going to be very difficult to stop."

Germany has had an undeniably easier route to the semifinals, beating Canada, Argentina and Japan in its group, then facing outmatched Russia in the quarterfinals.

The Americans survived what they call the "group of death" that included Sweden and North Korea, then faced a quarterfinal against Norway, one of the pre-tournament favorites.

"I hope our difficult road, the 'group of death' that we played and the quality of opponents that we played, pays off for us," Heinrichs said, "because I think it has sharpened us. It's certainly challenged us, and it's made us a better team."

While the attention focuses on the German offense versus U.S. defense, the other end of the field is crucial to the Americans' hopes. Germany will be without its best defender, Steffi Jones, who tore a ligament in her right knee last weekend against Argentina.

"Germany and the U.S. seemed to have performed the best in the tournament thus far," Scurry said. "I think we're both playing excellent soccer and it's going to be a very good game. A lot of people are going to say it is the final, but it's not."

Despite the recent statistics, the Americans do not consider themselves defensive-oriented.

"That's not our mainstay. That's not our bread and butter," Heinrichs said. "Our bread and butter is the pride we've taken in attacking play, and personalities up top. Some of the world's most famous players have come through our system."

The biggest of those names, Mia Hamm, was signing autographs and videotaping others doing the same after Friday's workout.

"They are a tremendous team, and they're probably playing the best I've ever seen them," she said of the Germans.

In the cozy confines of PGE Park, where the capacity is about 25,000, the Americans like their chances.

"We've got a lot of good players they're going to have to contend with," Fawcett said. "It's not just one player. It's going to be a great game to watch."




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