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Heinrichs Discusses Group A, Women's World Cup Draw

Conference Call Quote-Sheet
July 17, 2003
April Heinrichs, U.S. WNT Head Coach
FIFA Women’s World Cup USA 2003 Final Draw.

The U.S. Women’s National Team was drawn into Group A for the FIFA Women’s World Cup USA 2003. Already dubbed the “Group of Death” for this year’s tournament, the U.S. will face off against two of the Top 10 teams in the FIFA Women’s World Rankings in North Korea and Sweden, and will also face African Champion Nigeria. This is what head coach April Heinrichs had to say in a media teleconference Thursday evening.

General reaction to the draw:
After letting it set in, I actually feel like it’s a draw much more similar to the 2000 Olympics where we’ve got four of the best seven or eight teams in the world in our group. It’s a very challenging group. One of the things I like about the draw is that we don’t play these teams regularly. I like facing some teams we haven’t played. If you look at the other three groups, this is probably the toughest. 

There is a lot of evidence to suggest that our group is very tough and difficult. Having said that and having been through the draw in 2000, none of us on the U.S. team expect to have an easy time of it. There’s a lot of expectations on our team. We are the home team now. There is a lot of demand of our team. We are the team in the world that tries to carry the torch in the women’s game. If we want to win a World Cup, we have to be able to beat any team.

On Sweden:
Sweden we played as recently as the Algarve Cup. We tied them 1-1 in a game where either team really could have won. Sweden also advanced to the European Championships two summers ago and won the Algarve Cup, which is a tournament that we have come to regard as one of the most difficult to win because of the days rest and the opponents that you are playing. For about two years now, the U.S. team has been saying that this is a team that is on the rise. We’ve had Sweden in our top five or six teams in the world for the last two or three years.

On Nigeria:
Nigeria is a team that we have played in 1999 and 2000. A team that is radically different from 90 percent of the games we’ll play. We’ll play European teams. We play China quite a bit who plays more similar to a European team. Nigeria is a team that has athleticism that is unheard of in the women’s game – you just don’t see it very regularly. It’s unsettling to play against their athleticism and against their different style. We haven’t seen them in almost three years. They are a very strong and powerful team.

On North Korea:
North Korea is a team that we know very little about and have not seen for many years. Whenever you are playing a team that is unknown, it’s a little bit more concerning. The Sweden coach said that they had scrimmaged North Korea in October. She said that North Korea was very strong. She thought they were tougher to beat than China.

On any advantage that the U.S. has from drawing a similar schedule to 1999:
I think our players are very well versed that the game is much further along then four years ago. Take for example Denmark – Denmark is not even in this World Cup and that was the opener in 1999. Since the 1999 World Cup, North Korea has beat China twice. If it was a one-goal, one-time thing I would say maybe it is a fluke. But North Korea has beat China twice. North Korea beating China twice in their World Cup qualifying tournament is the equivalent of Canada or any other CONCACAF team beating the U.S. twice.

On the possible quarterfinal opponents from Group B:
When you are around long enough you realize that the speculation before the draw is just fun. But at the end of the day, Group A & B are probably the toughest two groups. It means that we all know that in our quarterfinal game we are going to face an outstanding team, if we get there. Gone are the days that we might have a fluffy third game. In 1999, we were in a position to rest some players. That might not be the case anymore. It wasn’t in the 2000 Olympics.

On perhaps not being able to rest players in the final Group play game:
It’s really more a reflection of parity in the women’s game than anything else, including the age of our team. I am watching some of the WUSA games and some of our senior players are absolutely the fittest players. I have seen games in 85-90 degree temperatures. I have seen games where players have played 48 hours beforehand. Last night I watched a 93-minute game between Washington and San Diego and all those players played on Sunday in New Orleans in unbelievable heat. They then had to travel back.

On what she has learned after coaching in the Olympics:
I have learned that being the coach of this team, being in this difficult group just means that the team is all the more aware of the challenges in front of us. If you look back at the Olympics, we were in the “Group of Death” and we played Norway and played extremely well, played China well and played Nigeria well. We played Norway again in the finals. What that group did for us was raise all of our players’ standards, and helped motivate them prior to the games.

On how the tough group will motivate the team:
I understand that this group that we will now face for the World Cup is going to a great challenge for our players. But, I also know that this challenge is what motivates them. That challenge is what gets the fire in their belly going. Going into this World Cup, I feel that the fire in our belly is as important as anything else.

On the team’s record heading into the World Cup:
If you look back at our last 12 months, we’ve done very well and I am proud of the team. We’ve played Norway on several occasions and done well against them. We went to the Four Nations Cup and played three of the top four teams in the world, Norway, Germany and China, and we won. We went to the difficult Algarve Cup. We played four games in seven days. Winning the Algarve Cup is a great accomplishment, having gone through teams like Sweden, Canada, Norway and China.

On expectations of the team going into the tournament:
Expectations are something that you can’t put your finger on. That is other people’s opinions, statements and bold comments that we don’t really address much. Our goal is to win the World Cup. We don’t expect to win the World Cup, we know that there are going to be a lot of great challenges ahead of us. Expectations can be undue burdens, so our goal is to take one step at a time and find a way to get points off of Sweden, and after that we will focus on Nigeria and then North Korea.