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FLASH FLOOD; WNY players dot World Cup rosters

When Marta came to the Western New York Flash, the club inherited one of the most heralded and talented women's soccer players ever. The 25-year old has been named the sport's best player for five straight years and has a long list of awards and statistical accomplishments to her credit.

But she's missing one key piece: a major championship.

Marta hopes to lead Brazil to its first international title at the FIFA Women's World Cup, which runs in Germany from Sunday through the championship game July 17 with 16 teams entered. Brazil has played the role of runner-up for the last three major events, finishing second in the 2004 and 2008 Olympics and second in the 2007 World Cup in China.

While Marta hopes to be one of the two Brazilians on the Flash celebrating a World Cup victory, there are teammates playing for four other nations in the world's most prestigious soccer tournament.

Joining Marta on Brazil is Maurine, a midfielder who was part of the 2008 silver medal team in Beijing.

Christine Sinclair and Candace Chapman are part of Team Canada, Caroline Seger is the Swedish captain, Ali Riley is part of the New Zealand team while rookie Alex Morgan is part of the next generation of U.S. soccer stars.

Of that group, the United States and Sweden have had the most success and they are in the same qualifying group.

Sweden took third place in the 1991 World Cup then reached the quarterfinals in 1995 and 1999 before losing to Germany on a golden goal in the 2003 final. But in 2007, the Swedes failed to advance past the group phase and the team is looking for better results this year.

"Hopefully we have more experience and players who are hungry," Seger said. "I think Sweden needs to take it to a different level. Soccer in big tournaments is all about having every player perform at the top level and giving 100 percent. You have no time to spend energy on different things. You also need to understand that you need some luck and it might sound cliche but it's about that also because you don't get a lot of opportunities. When you get them, you need to score."

The United States is ranked first in the world standings and is among the favorites in the tournament. Still, the U.S. has not won a World Cup since its dramatic win over China in 1999. Since then, the Americans have finished third twice, although they did win Olympic Gold in Athens in 2004 and in Beijing in 2008.

Rochester native Abby Wambach remains the key component for the squad. The 30-year-old forward has been a mainstay on the national team since 2003, scoring 109 goals in 142 appearances.

The future lies with the likes of Morgan, who starred for the University of California before the Flash made her the No. 1 draft pick in Women's Professional Soccer. Morgan, who turns 22 on July 2, has seven goals in her first 16 games with the U.S. national team.

"I've just been enjoying the journey," Morgan said. "I've looked forward to this since high school, since college, so it's been a long process to get where I am right now. I'm very happy where I stand right now with the national team and I'm looking forward to getting to Germany and seeing how all our preparation results hopefully in World Cup gold."

In four World Cup appearances, Canada has advanced past the group phase just once. But the Canadians are making their case as a contender this year, coming out on top of the CONCACAF Women's World Cup Qualifying competition for the first time. Sinclair, who leads WPS in goals with five in six games, feels confident heading to the World Cup, even with opening against host Germany.

"Playing Germany in the opening game of the World Cup is pretty exciting to think about," Sinclair said. "We're ranked sixth in the world and that's the best we've ever been ranked. We've played very well over the last year and a half, so I think for the first time, we're heading into a World Cup with very high expectations. We look to do pretty well at this year's tournament."

Riley, a talented defender who was the WPS Rookie of the Year last year, is part of a New Zealand program that is appearing in just its third World Cup.

e-mail: amoritz@buffnews.com

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World Cup

    June 26 in Germany    

Group A--Germany, Canada, Nigeria, France    

Group B--Japan, New Zealand, Mexico, England    

Group C--U.S., North Korea, Colombia, Sweden    

Group D--Brazil, Australia, Norway, Equatorial Guinea  

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Team USA group schedule    

Vs. North Korea at Dresden, June 28    

Vs. Colombia at Sinsheim, July 2    

Vs. Sweden at Wolfsburg, July 6

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