A day after the U.S. national soccer team defeated Nigeria, 7-1, in a first-round Women's World Cup game, U.S. Coach Tony DiCicco railed against the officiating in the match and called upon the international soccer federation -- FIFA -- to take steps to ensure that Women's World Cup games do not turn into "a bloodfest."
DiCicco said he removed star forward Mia Hamm in the game's 51st minute not because the U.S. team had a five-goal lead but because of the Nigerians' hard-play tactics, which seemed directed largely toward Hamm. Hamm was leveled several times by Nigeria's Kikelomo Ajaya, who received a yellow card.
"I got her out of there before she got injured," DiCicco said. "The referee wasn't protecting her. She wasn't protecting anybody. . . . It's one way to stop a creative player, if you foul. People want to see creative players, they don't want to see blunt instruments out there.
"I hope something is said to the referee corps. . . . I think [Thursday], for whatever reason, the game was allowed to be played with the type of fouls that have basically been banned by FIFA."
DiCicco was referring in particular to tackles from behind, which FIFA ruled last year would result in automatic red cards during the men's World Cup in France. No such dictum was made regarding the Women's World Cup. DiCicco said he spoke personally to the referee, Nicole Mouidi-Petignat of Switzerland, during halftime of the game at Chicago's Soldier Field. "Cordially, I just said, `Please protect the players,' " DiCicco said.
FIFA President Sepp Blatter, who attended Thursday's match, could not be reached to comment.
U.S. assistant Lauren Gregg said the U.S. side did not object to hard play -- just uncalled fouls. In fact, Nigeria was whistled for 29 fouls, compared to three by the United States. Two yellow cards were issued; one to Ajaya and another to Nigerian Patience Avre. Gregg said more yellow and red cards were warranted.
"The professional foul is part of the tactical evolution in women's soccer," said Gregg, formerly the head women's soccer coach at the University of Virginia. "But when people's careers are in jeopardy is when you draw the line."
DiCicco said Hamm, Brandi Chastain and Michelle Akers were "all pretty well knocked up" from the match, but none received serious injuries.
DiCicco said he would start all of the 1996 Olympic team gold medalists who currently are bench players -- that includes Shannon MacMillan, Tisha Venturini and Tiffany Roberts -- as part of a lineup shake-up for Sunday's final first-round game against North Korea. The moves will allow DiCicco to rest several starters in advance of Thursday's quarterfinal match at Jack Kent Cooke Stadium -- assuming the U.S. team advances.
The United States has not mathematically clinched a quarterfinal berth, but only an improbable series of events -- which includes a loss Sunday -- could prevent the U.S. team from moving into the second round. If the United States defeats or ties North Korea, it will finish at the top of its four-team group.
"I do feel some ease here," DiCicco said. "We're in good shape to go through here. It isn't a win at all costs game."
DiCicco said 33-year-old midfielder Michelle Akers, who suffers from chronic fatigue syndrome, likely would be one of the players he rested Sunday. DiCicco said, however, that he removed Akers at halftime of Thursday's game not because she felt excessively fatigued, but because of the U.S. team's lead and the hard hits she had taken.
"I thought it would be a good idea to pull her out," DiCicco said. "She didn't ask to come out but, unlike Michelle [usually does], she didn't argue with it."
Notes: Only reserve players worked out today in front of a crowd of about 100 fans on the Babson College campus, as the U.S. team flew from Chicago to Boston. All of the starters were given the day off.
CAPTION: U.S. Coach Tony DiCicco said he took Mia Hamm out of Thursday's win over Nigeria because "the referee wasn't protecting her." Nigeria had 29 fouls.