With the kickoff of the 1999 FIFA Women's World Cup less than a month away, all 16 competing teams in this summer's world championship are heavily involved in pre-tournament preparations, which no doubt will make the battle for the FIFA Women's World Cup Trophy the fiercest ever. Reflecting the increased support by national federations who want their women's teams to have strong showings in what will be the most-watched women's world soccer championship ever, the competing teams are playing more matches, holding more training camps and arriving earlier in the host country than ever before. Following is a synopsis of the preparations for the 15 teams that will try to wrestle the World Cup title away from Norway, as well as the reigning champions themselves: AUSTRALIA Australia is currently in full-time residency camp in Canberra, where the team will train up to and through the Women's World Cup and onto the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney. Australia hosted and won the Australia Cup in January by defeating Italy 1-0 in the final. Australia, nicknamed the Matildas, participated in the Algarve Cup in Portugal in March, finishing 5th after defeating Sweden in penalty kicks in the 5th place match. The two teams will meet again on June 23 in Washington, D.C., in a Women's World Cup Group D first round match-up. The Matildas made a rare trip last year, when they became one of the few teams to play in North Korea, tying twice and winning once in three matches. Australia will arrive in the USA in early June, playing a closed-door match against the USA on June 3 in Portland before taking on Brazil as part of the June 6 "USA Send-Off" doubleheader at Civic Stadium in Portland, Ore. that also features the headline match of the USA vs. Canada. The Australians will travel to Canada following the match to face Canada on June 9 in Etobicoke and on June 12 in Toronto in a match televised live by CTV Sportsnet across Canada. While in Canada, the team will train at the Notsawaga Inn, which will also be used by Canada during its Women's World Cup preparations. The training site also housed the German men's national team prior to 1994 World Cup. The Matildas will arrive in Boston on June 16 to prepare for its Women's World Cup Opener against Ghana at Foxboro Stadium. Australia also recently announced its intentions to bid for the 2003 Women's World Cup. Official team sponsor adidas has specially designed a new jersey for the Matildas to be worn in the Women's World Cup. BRAZIL Brazil recently completed a training camp at the Portuguese Club of Sports in Sao Paulo at which 30 players underwent training and evaluation, including a new player -- Romarinha. Brazil is undergoing the most intensive in-country preparation of any team. The team arrived in the U.S. on May 20, faced the USA at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando on May 22 and then played W-League's Raleigh Wings on May 26 in North Carolina. Brazil also has a match scheduled on May 30 in the Philadelphia area against a team of college all-stars after which they will travel to Portland to face Canada in a closed-door match on June 3. Brazil will then take part in the June 6 doubleheader and "Send-Off" Match for the U.S. team, facing Australia after the USA plays Canada at Civic Stadium. Brazil will then travel to the East Coast and is scheduled to play the Long Island Lady Riders on June 10 in the South American champion's final tune-up before opening the Women's World Cup against Mexico on June 19 at Giants Stadium. Reports out of Brazil are that star forward Roseli, who would have been one of the most dangerous strikers in the tournament, is injured and will not be ready to play in the Women's World Cup. CANADA 1999 FIFA Women's World Stars Game MVP Charmaine Hooper and teammates started final preparations on May 2 as 28 players were called into camp in Victoria, B.C., near Vancouver. The Canadian Soccer Association recently signed an apparel sponsorship with adidas, which will produce a specially designed uniform for the women's national team for Women's World Cup play. It was also announced that all 32 matches of the tournament will be broadcast in Canada, with most matches carried on CTV Sportsnet, but a number of games, including Canada's first-round match vs. Russia televised live by the CTV main network. Canada beat CONCACAF rival Mexico in Vancouver on May 21 and 24 (by 3-0 and 2-0 scores) in rematches of the CONCACAF final last September. Canada will then return to Victoria for more training before dropping down to face Brazil in a closed-door match on June 3 in Portland before facing the USA on June 6 at Civic Stadium in Portland, Oregon, as part of the Americans "Send-Off" match. Canada will then travel to Toronto and open camp at the Nottawasaga Inn. Canada will then face Australia on June 9 in Etobicoke (site of 1998 CONCACAF Championship) and on June 12 in Toronto in a match televised live by CTV Sportsnet across Canada. Canada travels to Northern California on June 13 to prepare for its Women's World Cup opener against Japan on June 19 in San Jose, Calif. The CSA has announced bonus money for the players that ranks easily among the top eight countries in the world in terms of financial commitment to its women's national team, guaranteeing a minimum $130,000 and up to over $500,000 if Canada wins the Women's World Cup. CHINA Outside of the United States, no other team has embarked on as an ambitious of a preparation schedule as China. China won the 1998 Asian Games in December to continue its domination of the region, defeating North Korea in the championship game. China hosted and defeated African runner-up Ghana twice in March, both times by 2-1 scores. China ended a seven-week road trip on April 25, defeating the USA 2-1 at Giants Stadium in New Jersey. China began the odyssey by winning the Algarve Cup in March, going undefeated in group play and beating the USA, 2-1, in the final. The Chinese then traveled to Germany for two matches, splitting the series with the Women's World Cup Group B favorite, winning 3-0 and losing 4-1. The 1996 Olympic silver medalists then traveled to Holland, where they defeated the Dutch, 1-0, before traveling to the USA to prepare for the two matches against the United States, losing 2-1 on April 22 in Hershey, Pa. before avenging the defeat three days later. China finished its 48-day road trip with a 7-2 overall record and a 3-2 record vs. WWC top-seeded teams. China will arrive back in the USA in early June and train at San Jose State University, which they have rented, before opening Women's World Cup play at San Jose's Spartan Stadium against Sweden on June 19th. DENMARK Denmark finished 4th at the Algarve Cup losing to defending Women's World Cup champion Norway in the 3rd place match. In its first round matches it defeated host Porugal, 5-0, tied Australia, 1-1, and lost to eventual champion China, 2-0. The Danes played a friendly with Germany on April 22, losing 3-1 in Germany. On May 19, Denmark traveled to Sweden for a match and lost 4-0 to the hosts. Denmark will open its Women's World Cup play by facing the USA in the Official Opening Match on June 19 at Giants Stadium in New Jersey. Former University of Santa Clara standout Mikka Hansen made the final roster for the Danes. GERMANY Germany recently split a two-match series at home against top seed China losing 3-0 before rebounding to win, 4-1, on March 28. Germany then slammed Denmark, 3-1, at home on April 22. Germany is scheduled to host a three-team tournament with Switzerland and France this week and will host Holland on June 2. Germany will fly to Los Angeles on June 13 and set up camp in preparation for their crucial Women's World Cup opener on June 20 against Italy at the Rose Bowl. National team members continue to play women's Bundesliga matches in Germany to stay in shape. GHANA Ghana earned a measure of respect on the world stage by traveling to China and playing two competitive matches, losing both by 2-1 scores on late penalty kicks. On May 17, Ghana, which is affectionately nicknamed the Black Queens by its fans, traveled to Nigeria for a rematch of last October's African Women's Championship. The match was played at the National Stadium in Lagos and saw Ghana lose, 2-1, to Nigeria. Ghana's lone goal was scored by Vivian Mensah, who represented her country at the FIFA Women's World Stars match last February in San Jose. Head Coach Emmanuel Afrani has stated that the team will concentrate heavily on fitness in its preparations for its first ever appearance in the Women's World Cup. The Ghana Football Association has yet to announce travel plans to the United States for the Women's World Cup. ITALY Italy finished 2nd at the Australia Cup in January in a match marked by rough play from both teams. Italy hosted Sweden on April 21, drawing 1-1, and tied Norway, 2-2, at home on May 12. In the match against the defending Women's World cup champions, Italy was up 2-0 in the first half, giving Head Coach Carlo Facchin a good barometer on his side's readiness for the Women's World Cup. Italy will also host England this week. Facchin organized a three-day training camp in Milan in mid-April, but the highly competitive Serie A play has kept the national team player pool sharp. Star striker Patrizia Panico leads the Seria A in scoring with 41 goals so far. Italy will arrive in the United States on June 14. It will set-up a week long training camp in the Los Angeles area preparing for its opening match June 20 at the Rose Bowl versus Germany. The Italy-Germany game will be a rematch of the 1997 European Championship, which Germany won 2-0. JAPAN Prior to coming to the United States for two matches, Japan toured Europe, defeating France 1-0 on March 24 by a goal from 18 year-old rising star Yayoi Kobayashi. Japan also played games against several Italian club teams including a 2-1 win over Serie A league-leader Lazio and a 3-0 victory over Torres. Japan held a training camp at their national team training center >from April 18-26 before coming to the USA, where they got shellacked twice by the USA, 9-0 and 7-0 on April 29 and May 2. Japan then traveled to the San Francisco Bay Area where they lost to Santa Clara University, which could be the NCAA pre-season #1 team next Fall, 4-1. Japan will host South Korea on May 30 & June 2 as doubleheaders with its men's national team Kirin Cup tournament, including playing May 30 at Tokyo National Stadium. Japan will arrive back in the United States on June 7th and set up camp at the University of the Pacific in Stockton at the same site where the NFL's San Francisco 49ers hold their training camp every summer. Japan will host Sweden in a closed-door scrimmage at UOP on June 12 before beginning Women's World Cup play on June 19 against Canada at Spartan Stadium. MEXICO Mexico earned its Women's World Cup berth with a second place finish at the CONCACAF Championships, and two victories over Argentina in a home-and-home playoff series. Since then, Mexico is a much improved team, having played matches against a slew of Southern California college teams, losing just once and defeating UCLA, 3-0. Mexico held open tryouts in Mexico City and San Diego in mid-March in hopes of discovering new talent, and then held the USA to a respectable 3-0 score at the Rose Bowl on March 28. Mexico held a week-long training camp in Mexico City in mid-May before traveling to the Bay Area to face 1998 NCAA Final Four participant Santa Clara University and Stanford University. Mexico lost twice, 3-0 and 2-0, to Canada in Vancouver May 21 and 24. Mexico will host the U.S. Under-21 Women's National Team in two matches at the end of May from the 27th-31st, one of which could be played as a doubleheader with the Mexican League Cup Final at a stadium to be determined. Mexico's pre-Women's World Cup training camp details have not been announced, but it is expected that they will face the W-League's Central Jersey Splash on June 9 in New Brunswick, N.J. Mexico opens Women's World Cup play on June 19 at Giants Stadium against Brazil in the second game of the Official Opening Doubleheader. NIGERIA Nigeria left their country during the recent Under-20 FIFA World Championships and went to Holland for an extended training camp, playing six matches and finishing 4-1-1. The Super Falcons defeated Holland's U-17 National Team, 6-0, and tied the full Dutch National Team, 1-1. Nigeria was unprepared for the surprisingly cold weather in Holland and needed to have additional equipment shipped overnight so they could train in the adverse conditions. The team recently hosted and defeated fellow African Women's World Cup qualifier Ghana, 2-1, on May 17. The match was played at National Stadium in Lagos and featured both goals by FIFA World Star participant "Marvelous" Mercy Akide. The team is currently training at Ibadan with 26 players, which will be cut down to 20 players before the Women's World Cup. Expectations are high in Nigeria for the Super Falcons' third consecutive Women's World Cup. The Guardian National Newspaper in Nigeria has reported that the team is, "expected to reach the second round, and anything below will not translate to a good outing." Nigeria is scheduled to arrive in the United States in early June to prepare for the Women's World Cup and has scheduled a closed-door match against China for June 14th in Los Angeles. NORTH KOREA While information from Korea DPR is sparse, all an opponent of North Korea needs to know is that they've played China tough the last three times they have met. Korea DPR finished second at the 1998 Asian Games in December of 1997, losing to China, 1-0, on a golden goal, and recently traveled to Bulgaria to participate in the Varna Cup from April 13-18, defeating Belgium 3-0, Ukraine 2-0 and club team FC Varna 3-0. In the semifinals, Korea DPR tied Scotland in regulation and then lost in penalty kicks, but beat Ukraine again in the Third Place match, this time, 2-1. North Korea is scheduled to arrive in the USA on June 6 and will set up camp in Great Gorge, New Jersey. NORWAY The defending Women's World Cup champions finished 3rd at the Algarve Cup last March losing, 2-1, to the USA in group play before defeating Denmark in penalty kicks for 3rd place match. The Norwegians also defeated Finland, 1-0, and Sweden, 2-1, at the Algarve. Norway traveled to Italy on May 12, where it tied 2-2. The Norwegians were set to host Russia this week, but since the two were drawn into the same group, will host Holland instead. The Norwegians will arrive in the USA on June 9th and set up camp in Cape Cod, Mass., before beginning the Women's World Cup on June 20 in Boston. RUSSIA Russia will not undergo additional preparations outside their country until arriving in the USA. Russia participated and won the Varna Cup in Bulgaria held April 13-18, defeating Moldova 7-1 and Romania 4-0, as well as tying Scotland 0-0 in first round play. In the semifinals, Russia then tied Ukraine 0-0 in regulation, but earned a berth in the semifinals through penalty kicks, and then downed Scotland 3-0 for the title. Russia will arrive in the USA on June 10th and set up camp at Franklin Pierce College in Rindge, New Hampshire. The Women's World Cup rookies will also face the U.S. Under-21 Women's national team on June 13 at Franklin Pierce. Russia is expected to travel to North Carolina to face the W-League champion Raleigh Wings on June 16 before opening Women's World Cup play on June 20 against Norway at Foxboro Stadium. SWEDEN Sweden finished 6th at the Algarve Cup losing to fellow Group D member Australia 7-6 on PK's in the 5th place match, but picked up a great result in a 1-1 draw with the USA in group play. The Swedes also tied Finland, 0-0, and lost to Norway, 2-1, at the Algarve Cup. Sweden recently drew 1-1 in Italy on April 21. Sweden registered an impressive result on May 19 against Denmark, winning 4-0 in Sweden. Combine that result with the 1-1 tie against the USA, and Sweden may well be ready for a run to the semifinals. Sweden will set up camp in the United States beginning on June 8th at St. Mary's College in Moraga, just a short drive from Oakland, Calif. Sweden will travel to Stockton, Calif. to face Japan on June 12 in a closed-door match before opening Women's World Cup play against China at Spartan Stadium on June 19. USA The United States is currently continuing its extensive pre-Women's World Cup exhibition tour across the country, which will take the team to four of the seven Women's World Cup venues. The tour continues with the June 6th "Send-Off" Match against Canada at Civic Stadium in Portland, Ore. The USA will also play a closed-door match on June 3 against Australia in Portland. Following the June 6th clash, the USA will take a week off before regrouping in New Jersey on June 13. Starting on June 14, the Americans will train daily at The Pingry School in Bernards Township, N.J., located in the north central part of the state, as it fine tunes the squad that will take on Denmark on June 19th at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. That match will be televised live on ABC (3 p.m. ET). The USA-Denmark clash will be the first match in the Opening Game doubleheader that will also feature the Opening Ceremonies. Tickets for the 1999 FIFA Women's World Cup, which will be played June 19-July 10, can be purchased by calling (800) WWC-TIKS (800-992-8457).
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