Sept. 18, 2007
By Michael Lewis
CAN THEY AVOID GERMANY?
Americans can qualify for WCC quarterfinals by tying Nigeria
No one might say it out loud, but the unofficial mantra for the U.S. and North Korea teams at the Women's World Cup is: Avoid Germany in the quarterfinals at all costs.
The second place team in Group B will meet Germany in the quarterfinals in Tianjin. Germany advanced after defeating Japan, 2-0.
While the Germans' 11-0 demolition of Argentina in the WWC opener was an aberration -- Germany looked much more mortal in its scoreless tie against England on Friday, U.S. and Korea would rather take on England or Japan in the quarterfinals.
While Germany hasn't been the same since the international retirement of marvelous midfielder Maren Meinert in 2003, the Germans still are a formidable side (remember, the Germans eliminated the U.S. from the 2003 WWC in the semifinals and battled the eventual gold-medal winning Americans even in the 2004 Olympic semifinals).
The Americans and Koreans are tied for the group lead, so even a goal either way in their Tuesday matches -- the U.S. plays Nigeria in Shanghai and Korea takes on Sweden in Tianjin -- could prove to be the determining factor on who gets Germany.
U.S. coach Greg Ryan said he is focusing on Nigeria.
"The one thing that matters is our result against Nigeria," he said during a press conference in Shanghai, China. "That's the one thing we can control.
"Right now, we've got to take care of business."
So Ryan refuses to look beyond Nigeria.
"This team has done well and has had a lot of success because we've never gotten ahead of ourselves," he said. "I don't dwell on what happens later on."
The U.S. and Korea are tied for the group lead with identical 1-0-1 record. Both teams have scored four goals and allowed two goals after playing to a 2-2 draw in their opening game Tuesday. If both teams get the same result Tuesday -- then the first criteria of tie-breakers is thrown out the window.
Here is the criteria:
* The greatest number of points obtained in the group matches between the teams
* Goal difference resulting from the group matches between the teams
* The greater number of goals scored in all group matches between the teams
* The Fair Play point system in which the number of yellow and red cards are evaluated (the U.S. has one yellow card, North Korea and Nigeria two apiece and Sweden three)
* The drawing of lots by the FIFA organizing committee, which is something to be avoided at all costs
If there are lots, a drawing will be held in the press conference room of the Shanghai Hongkou Stadium 15 minutes after both matches.
Saying that, the U.S. will have someone at the Korea-Sweden match.
"We will know what's going on in that game," he said. "We have to know."
But the players don't have to know.
"Our players have to focus on the game at hand and don't need to know anything on that other game," he said. "As a player, you don't need to know what's happening. You need to focus on your game."
"As a player, you don't want to know what's going on. There's enough to do right there out there."
Three teams, three different styles
Without leaving China, the Americans are getting a tour of the world from their opponents -- Asia (Korea), Europe (Sweden) and Africa (Nigeria).
"Every team in our group is so different," Ryan said, "and thatís what makes it difficult to prepare in a certain specific style.
"North Korea is so mobile, quick, skillful.
"Sweden is so direct, skillful, strong, aggressive in the air.
"And you've got Nigeria. They've got a lot of skill and speed in addition to great athleticism. In addition to being a very good soccer team, they'd make a great track team. They can run.
"As long as we don't concede a goal, we'll be just fine."
Because of all of the rain Shanghai has received, the U.S. hasn't been able to practice on it on. The team has taken a walk on the field. "They're protecting the field," Ryan said.
U.S. fall-off? No way
Ryan was taken aback a bit when a foreign reporter mentioned that there was talk that the U.S. fell off from the 1999 team.
Under Ryan, this American side hasn't lost in 32 consecutive matches and is unbeaten on the field in 49 games.
"What people say hasn't influenced me one way or another," he said. "This is a team that hasn't lost a game in over two years.
"If you want to compare notes with some other countries, I think you'd say we're still the strongest country in the world. You see Germany beat Argentina by 11 goals. You might think Germany is a good team. You've got to look beyond the situation.
"We've played two great teams -- the No. 3 and No. 5 teams in the world. I think they're wrong."