US to host women's football World Cup

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src=' ' class='caption'> This year's Women's football World Cup will be played in the United States after it was moved out of China following the SARS threat.

updated: February 25, 2007 09:48 IST
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This year's Women's Football World Cup will be played in the United States, returning to the country that hosted the highly successful event in 1999. World football's governing body said it selected the US bid over one from Sweden, three weeks after moving the tournament from China because of the SARS virus. China will hold the 2007 World Cup. The decision by FIFA's eight-member emergency committee from its Zurich headquarters was widely expected because the United States was considered best equipped to handle the 16-team tournament on such short notice. US Football Federation president Bob Contiguglia said he was notified by fax from FIFA president Sepp Blatter. "There's no sense of relief," Contiguglia said. "There's no time, really". The World Cup will take place in about the same time - September 23-October 11, with only a few minor schedule changes. The tournament will be held in four to seven stadiums, and the sites will be determined by FIFA and US organizers during the next few weeks. The last Women's World Cup was highlighted by a crowd of 90,125 at the Rose Bowl for the final. The Americans beat China in a shootout, making household names of Mia Hamm, Brandi Chastain and Briana Scurry. But the 2003 event probably won't be so grand. Four years ago, games were held in June-July, with little competition from other major US sports. This year, the World Cup will be up against the NFL, college football, the end of the baseball season and beginning of the playoffs, and the NHL openers. "I hope the first-round sites will be closer to each other this time," Swedish coach Marika Domanski Lyfors said. "We had to fly a lot in 1999. But we learned from it. I think the United States will be a great host." The leading contenders are RFK Stadium in Washington; Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts; Crew Stadium in Columbus, Ohio; and Home Depot Stadium in Carson, California, which opens in June. "While it won't duplicate what we did in '99 in terms of the time of the year and the years of preparation that we had, I think it can be special," US coach April Heinrichs said. "There's a buzz about it." Chastain, whose penalty kick gave the Americans the 1999 championship, thinks the tournament can provide a big opportunity. "There's nothing quite like playing in front of 90,000-plus screaming USA fans," she said. "If we could do that again, it would be marvelous, not only for the players on the national team, but for every young girl especially who comes to any WUSA game or hadn't had the opportunity in '99 to come to a game." Swedish football authorities were not surprised by FIFA's decision. Only four cities in Sweden have stadiums with more than 20,000 seats. "We can understand that we have too small stadiums," said Jonas Nystedt, a spokesman for the country's governing football body. Australia, Canada and Italy also had offered to step in as host, FIFA said. FIFA said China will retain its automatic qualification for the tournament. Each confederation will keep the same number of tournament slots. Mexico will compete in a playoff for the final slot. Unlike the men's World Cup, which began in 1930, the women's event is fairly new and is not embraced with the same global fervor as the men's tournament. The first Women's World Cup was held in China in 1991, when the US team won. Norway was the 1995 winner, when Sweden was the host. (AP)