- The Washington Times - Friday, September 19, 2003

Hanna Ljungberg’s last World Cup adventure ended earlier than she expected. In group play against Ghana, the Swedish star was hacked down, injuring her right knee six minutes into the match at Soldier Field in Chicago. Ljungberg already had scored two goals, but now she had to watch from the sideline as Sweden fell to Norway in the quarterfinals.

At the time, Ljungberg was heralded as a potential superstar — the next Mia Hamm. Four years later, she has solidified her reputation as one of the most lethal strikers in the world. American coach April Heinrichs said if there was one player in the world she could add to her team, it would be Ljungberg.

Tomorrow Heinrich’s defense will get to face the speedy 5-foot-3 forward when the U.S. team takes on Sweden in Group A’s opening game in the Women’s World Cup at RFK Stadium.

“I don’t fear them, but I have great respect for the American team,” said Ljungberg, who scored a goal when the two nations last met (a 1-1 tie at the Algarve Cup in Portugal in May). “The Americans have so many good players. We have a good team. It’s just that we have to get out of group play.”

Getting out of Group A, which includes seventh-ranked North Korea and Nigeria, won’t be easy. Former U.S. coach Tony DiCicco believes if Sweden and the Americans advance from what has been dubbed the “Group of Death,” the teams could meet in the final.

America has been eager to see Ljungberg play. The WUSA, which folded Monday, was begging her to come to the United States, and she did have talks with the San Jose CyberRays. Instead, Ljungberg — who is the only player in Sweden paid enough to be a full-time professional — decided to stay with her club team, Umea IK in the north of Sweden, and focus on her play with the national team.

Just this month, the 24-year-old was linked to a move to Italian Series A team Perugia — a men’s team. Whether the reports were part of a publicity stunt it reflected the respect out there for the Swedish star.

“Hanna really is that good,” said Sweden coach Marika Domanski-Lyfors. “She’s a formidable player. She’s very explosive and she has good balance, so she’s hard to take and she is technical and has a good nose for scoring goals.”

Ljungberg plays at the tip of the spear of Sweden’s 4-4-2 formation. The 2002 Swedish Player of the Year, she has scored 50 goals in 89 games for Sweden. She is known as a typical goal poacher and concedes she is good at scoring “ugly goals.”

“It means I’ve scored a lot of goals that no one really thought I could score,” Ljungberg said. “I will never give up, and I work hard on each ball.”

Earlier this year she scored four goals at the Algarve Cup, where Sweden played Norway, Canada, and the United States, and was the top scorer after notching a goal in all four games.

“We have to play very, very good to get a point from the U.S.,” Domanski-Lyfors said. “If we manage to get through the group, we will be very strong and perhaps we will meet the U.S. in the final.”

On Monday, Ljungberg warmed up for the American game, scoring a goal on a header in a 2-2 draw with China at American University. Although the Chinese tied the game on a late penalty kick, Sweden played well.

Sadly, there have been off-field distractions in recent days for the Swedes. The nation’s popular foreign minister, Anna Lindh, was stabbed to death two weeks ago.

“We will play in her honor and play for her,” said Domanski-Lyfors.

Ronaldo’s girl — She’s listed as playing one game for Brazil, but Milene Domingues is grabbing all the attention. The 24-year-old former model is the wife of Brazil’s 2002 World Cup-winning striker, Ronaldo. Domingues is on Brazil’s roster for a game against South Korea at RFK Stadium tomorrow.

Nicknamed “Barbie” by some of her teammates, Domingues knows how to kick a ball. She holds the world record for “keepie-uppies” — juggling a soccer ball — of nine hours and six minutes, a record she set when she was 17.

“She’s made the women’s national team more visible and that’s very important,” said Luiz Miguel de Oliveira, head of Brazil’s delegation.

The stunning blond plays her club soccer in Italy with Fiamma Monza.

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