A little bit of history repeating?

August 20, 2004
By Michael Lewis

THESSALONIKI, Greece -- The U.S. loses in the semifinal of the Women's World Cup and gets an opportunity to avenge itself a year later in the Olympic semifinal.

Let's see, where did we hear that before?

Oh yeah - it happened in 1995 and 1996.

The Americans dropped an excruciating 1-0 defeat to eventual world champion Norway in the 1995 WWC semifinals. They finished third. A year later, the Americans exacted revenge with a thrilling 2-1 extra-time victory in the semifinals over the Norwegians before securing the very first women's soccer gold medal in Athens, Ga.

Fast forward to 2003, when the U.S. dropped yet another excruciating loss to eventual world champion Germany in the WWC, 3-0. The host U.S. finished third. A year later the Americans can exact revenge over the Germans in the Olympic women's semifinals in Heraklio on Monday en route to the gold-medal match in another Athens a world away - Athens, Greece.

Tony DiCicco, who coached those teams almost a decade ago, wouldn't be surprised if history repeats itself.

"I would love to see that scenario play itself out again," DiCicco said via a trans-Atlantic phone call from Connecticut on Friday. "These players have been waiting a year for this. I would like to think we're a better team this year and we can turn the tables on them.

"Right now, it's anyone's tournament."

Anyone's tournament, even with big, bad Germany supposedly being the favorite?

According to DiCicco's sources and grapevine, the Germans aren't as imposing as their 8-0 shellacking of China made them out to be. In fact, they allowed Nigeria to take the early lead before finding the back of the net with a pair of late goals to secure a 2-1 quarterfinal win on Friday night.

Add to the fact the Germans are missing two key players from last year's championship team - midfielders Maren Meinert, then the best women's player in the world, and veteran Bettina Wiegmann, and there are some holes to fill.

"Having said that, Germany obviously is a very capable team," DiCicco said.

DiCicco felt that the 1995 loss to Norway motivated his team on its quest for a gold medal.

"The Norwegians did a train crawl, which linked ankles with hands during their celebration," he said. "The players didn't like that. The players reflected how strong they were and made sure they were better in the 1996 Olympics."

The Norway defeat was the topic of many a conversation back then.

"The last three things I said to the team: Remember how it felt to be Olympic champions in 1996, remember how it felt to be world champions in 1999 and remember how it felt to lose in 1995," DiCicco said.

"All three of them are great motivators. Losing last year is an outstanding motivator."

DiCicco, who was a commentator with ABC and ESPN during last year's tournament, is at home watching the Olympics with his family.

He has noticed that even though the U.S. improved in its 2-1 quarterfinal victory over Japan on Friday, but the Americans need to create more scoring chances.

"We have to play better," DiCicco said. "Japan made a couple of mistakes and we capitalized on them. We do need to create more good scoring opportunities. It was probably their most consistent effort. They're going to need a very consistent game against Germany and not let down their guard. ... They have to be more solid against Germany in the penalty area.

"They have to understand it will be decided by a set piece or one goal, things that you train for all year."

DiCicco's other observations:

  • Defender and 1999 WWC penalty-kick shootout hero Brandi Chastain played in her first game in the tournament in the quarters. "It was a good move to have Brandi Chastain in. There was more attacking from the left back position."

  • Lindsay Tarpley replaced the struggling Aly Wagner at offensive midfield. It was an improvement, but still lacking what the U.S. needs. "The attacking midfield position has to be more productive."

  • Coach April Heinrichs did not use a single substitution vs. Japan, which is extremely rare for teams vying for a major international title and a bit surprising for a team that had six over-30 players go the entire 90 minutes. "I saw some tired players on the field today. You've got to do what you need to win. You have to rely on your bench. But if you don't, it may hurt their confidence when they're called on later."

  • Abby Wambach's performance. "Abby Wambach is having an outstanding Olympics."

    In fact, the key to the Germany game will be how the teams can contain each other's power forward. The U.S. has Wambach, while the Germans boast WWC MVP Birgit Prinz.

    "That's an important point for the game against Germany," DiCicco said, "and how Germany matches up with Wambach. They did a pretty good job with Abby last year. The same goes for the U.S. against Birgit Prinz.

    "The team that does the better job there, the balance of power shifts to that team."

    DiCicco's prediction?

    "The USA, 2-1," he said. "It's very difficult to defeat the USA in games of this magnitude twice in a row.

    "Whatever the reasons - the intangibles. We have some of our great players retiring after the Olympics. I don't think they can be beat."

    Michael Lewis, soccer columnist for the New York Daily News, will provide commentary about the U.S. women's Olympic team and other soccer matches at the Summer Games in Athens for ESPN.com. He is the only journalist to have covered 21 of 22 U.S. Women's National Team games in the last two Olympics (1996 and 2000) and Women's World Cup (1999 and 2003). He can be reached at SoccerWriter516@aol.com