By Steven Goff
How qualified: Won European Group 3 with 4-1-1 record.
Previous World Cups: Second in '91, champion in '95.
Top Players: D Linda Medalen, MF Hega Riise, F Marianne Pettersen, F Ann Kristin Aarones, GK Bente Nordby. Roster
Of Note: Gro Espeseth, a starter in the '91 and '95 Cups and still one of the best defenders in the world, seriously injured her knee in April and is out.
Outlook: Defending champion has a good shot to repeat. First-round opponents probably won't be much of an obstacle and experience and talent should get Norwegians to third consecutive final. Aarones, who beat U.S. in '95 semis with header, is one of best in front of goal.
How qualified: Finished third in Asian tournament.
Previous World Cups: 12th in '91, eighth in '95.
Top Players: MF Homare Sawa, F Nami Otake, F Tamaki Uchiyama, GK Nozomi Yamago, F Mito Isaka. Roster
Of Note: Japan outscored opponents 33-1 in qualifying tournament, but one goal allowed came in 1-0 semifinal loss to North Korea.
Outlook: Japan advanced to quarterfinals in '95 (and was eliminated by U.S., 4-0), but squad this year doesn't appear as talented. Sawa is one of best in world, and is only 20. She was youngest player at '95 tournament in Sweden and scored 12 goals in five qualifiers last year, including seven against Guam.
How qualified: Won CONCACAF championship.
Previous World Cups: Tenth in '95.
Top Players: F Charmaine Hooper, F Silvana Burtini, F Shannon Rosenow, MF Liz Smith, GK Nicole Wright. Roster
Of Note: Assistant coach John Walker is coach at University of Nebraska, where several Canadian players have played in recent years.
Outlook: In a weak group (other than Norway), Canada has chance to get to quarterfinals. Hooper, a deadly scorer in college at N.C. State and at international level (30 goals), must be on target. Canadians have dominated non-U.S. opponents in region, but struggle against rest of world.
How qualified: Defeated Finland in European playoff.
Previous World Cups: First appearance.
Top Players: MF Irina Grigorieva, F Natalia Barbashina, GK Svetlana Petko, D Marina Burakova, MF Tatiana Egorova. Roster
Of Note: Russian women's league has 17 teams in two divisions and 20 indoor teams in two divisions during winter. Bistritsky is former player for famed Spartak Moscow club.
Outlook: Women's soccer is growing in Russia and national team is beginning to emerge internationally. Second-place finish is distinct possibility. Showed promise with 2-2 tie against Brazil at U.S. Cup '98 and stayed close with Denmark in two qualifying matches.
© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company