General Mills Inc. is working on a deal to bring the U.S. women's soccer team to a breakfast table near you.

The maker of Wheaties is talking with the team and its players about an appearance on the cereal box, company spokesman Greg Zimprich said.

"We are definitely interested in the Women's World Cup team," Zimprich said.

There had been confusion about whether the company thought the team worthy of its orange cardboard pedestal. Team star Mia Hamm got the impression that General Mills wasn't interested, prompting Hamm to say that her squad preferred sweeter cereal anyway.

"Unfortunately, because we were not an official World Cup sponsor we did not have access to the players prior to the games," Zimprich said.

Mark Noonan, chief marketing officer for U.S. Soccer, said discussions with the cereal maker "started long before the tournament and have been ongoing." He said U.S. Soccer is trying to establish long-term ties with General Mills, including a team sponsorship.

"We're hoping to do something that's not a one-time hit," Noonan said.

General Mills has been inundated with calls from people wondering if they would find the country's soccer sensations on supermarket shelves.

If General Mills goes ahead with the Wheaties box, it's unclear whether select players or the entire team would appear. A 1998 box honored the U.S. women's hockey team, which brought home a gold medal from the Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan.

Five of the 20 hockey players still had college eligibility and were not pictured on the box because NCAA rules prohibit athletes from participating in any marketing that would imply they endorse a product. Lorrie Fair, a reserve on the U.S. soccer team, still has eligibility to play at North Carolina. . . .

U.S. goalkeeper Briana Scurry admits she may have bent the rules in making the lunging save on a penalty kick that helped her teammates beat China for the Women's World Cup.

"Everybody does it," Scurry told the Los Angeles Times. "It's only cheating if you get caught."

After China and the United States made their first two penalty kicks, Scurry took a few steps forward before Liu Ying struck the ball. That gave Scurry the angle she needed to dive to her left and block the shot.

That was the only penalty kick missed in Saturday's championship game at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., and that was enough to give the United States the title.

Technically, a goalkeeper can move only laterally along the goal line before a penalty kick is attempted, but that's the strictest interpretation of the rules. Virtually all goalies inch forward, and such a violation is rarely called. . . .

Chinese forward Sun Wen, who scored seven goals in the Women's World Cup, yesterday was named the winner of the Golden Ball Award as the tournament's most outstanding player. It is the first time a player who did not play for the winning team was so honored. Journalists elected Sun in a landslide over Sissi of Brazil and Michelle Akers of the United States. Scurry and Hamm rounded out the top five.

Basketball

Recker Recovering

Former Indiana basketball star Luke Recker remained in good condition at a southwestern Colorado hospital recovering from injuries received in a weekend car crash allegedly caused by a drunken driver.

In Durango, Mercy Hospital spokesman Joe Wade Plunk said Recker might leave the hospital today.

Recker suffered a severe laceration on his left ear and a head laceration.

"He's getting better," Recker's father, Clair Recker, said. "There's no reason to believe he won't make a full recovery."

Recker and four friends were injured in the three-car accident Saturday night on County Road 240 near Durango in southwestern Colorado. He was a passenger in a vehicle driven by John Hollberg, 23, of Senoia, Ga., who was killed.

Auto Racing

Salo Is Substitute

Ferrari signed Finland's Mika Salo to substitute for the injured Michael Schumacher in the Formula One championship. Salo, 32, will drive the No. 3 Ferrari car beginning with the next Grand Prix of Austria on July 25.

Schumacher, a two-time world champion, broke his right leg in two places in a high-speed crash during the British Grand Prix on Sunday.

The 30-year-old German may race again before the end of the season but is likely to miss at least five races.

CAPTION: Finn Mika Salo will replace Michael Schumacher, who broke his leg, on the Ferrari Formula One racing team.