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Five players to watch
by Paul Kennedy, August 5th, 2008 7AM

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[OLYMPIC WOMEN] Only five countries have won medals in Olympic women's soccer: the USA, Brazil, Germany, Norway and China. It would be a surprise if the medalists at the Beijing Olympics don't come from this quintet of women's soccer powers. Here's a look at key players from each of these five teams.

NATASHA KAI. Kai was 5 years old when she watched her first Olympics. She didn't know what the Olympics was about, but she told her father that she'd play in the Olympics one day. That was 20 years ago. Kai went on to become one of the greatest athletes Hawaii has ever produced, and she now plays a key role on the U.S. women's team that is undefeated in 22 games this year but will be playing without star Abby Wambach in China. Kai has scored 12 goals in 2008 -- more than double the number of goals he scored since making her debut at the 2006 Algarve Cup.

MARTA. The USA beat Brazil, 1-0, in all three meetings in 2008, but the Brazilians were without the 21-year-old Marta, who won the 2007 FIFA World Player of the Year award after leading Brazil to second place at the 2007 Women's World Cup. She returns to China in search of gold. "The team is certainly stronger now and better prepared psychologically to play in a final," she told Reuters. "I attach more value to something I have won in a group than an individual award."

BRIGIT PRINZ. The 30-year-old German has won back-to-back world championships, but this should be the last chance for Prinz and the golden generation of German stars that also includes Ariane Hingst and playmaker Renate Lingor to win Olympic gold. Prinz has only two bronze medals in three Olympics. She holds the Women's World Cup record with 14 goals and is tied with Brazilian Pretinha for the Olympic women's record with eight goals.

SOLVEIG GULBRANDSEN. The 27-year-old Gulbrandsen is the only holdover from the Norway team that beat the USA, 3-2, in the thrilling 2000 gold-medal game in Sydney. She has scored 39 goals in 123 games since making her debut as a 15-year-old in 1996 and will be a key player on the team following the retirement of Ragnhild Gulbrandsen (no relation), Lise Klaveness, Camilla Huse and goalkeeper Bente Nordby.

XU YUAN. With Chinese star Ma Xiaoxu out of the Olympics with a knee injury suffered in a scrimmage against the USA last week, fellow striker Xu Yuan will have to come through if the Chinese are to contend for a medal. Praised by former Chinese star Sun Wen for her tricky play in the penalty area, the 22-year-old Xu was a key to China's second-place finish at the 2008 AFC Women's Championship in June.



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