GENEVA — The Women's World Cup will be played in the United States in the fall, returning to the country that hosted the highly successful event in 1999 when the Americans won the championship.

World soccer's governing body said Monday it selected the U.S. bid over one from Sweden, three weeks after moving the tournament from China because of the SARS virus. China will hold the 2007 World Cup.

The decision by FIFA's eight-member emergency committee from its Zurich headquarters was widely expected because the United States was considered best equipped to handle the 16-team tournament on such short notice.

U.S. Soccer Federation president Bob Contiguglia said he was notified by fax from FIFA president Sepp Blatter.

"There's no sense of relief," Contiguglia said. "There's no time, really."

The World Cup will take place in about the same time — Sept. 23-Oct. 11 — with only a few minor schedule changes, FIFA said. The exact schedule will be announced soon.

The tournament will be held in four to seven stadiums, and the sites will be determined by FIFA and U.S. organizers during the next few weeks.

The last Women's World Cup was highlighted by a crowd of 90,125 at the Rose Bowl for the final. The Americans beat China in a shootout, making household names of Mia Hamm, Brandi Chastain and Briana Scurry.

But the 2003 event most likely won't be so grand. Four years ago, games were held in June and July, with little competition from other major U.S. sports. This year, the World Cup will be up against the NFL, college football, the end of the baseball season and beginning of the playoffs, and the NHL openers.

"It will make it more difficult with these dates," said Alan Rothenberg, who organized the 1994 men's World Cup in the United States. "Ultimately it is tougher to nail down the stadiums we need to use because of possible football commitments. It's a lot easier when you have the summer all to yourself."

Unlike the men's World Cup, which began in 1930, the women's event is fairly new and is not embraced with the same global fervor as the men's tournament. The first Women's World Cup was held in China in 1991, when the U.S. team won. Norway was the 1995 winner, when Sweden was the host.

Contiguglia, speaking from Washington, said he talked to the U.S. players by conference call and, "They're all very excited."

The leading contenders to hold the U.S. games are RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C.; Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Mass.; Crew Stadium in Columbus, Ohio; and Home Depot Stadium in Carson, Calif., which opens in June.

Other cities interested include East Rutherford, N.J.; Atlanta; Philadelphia; and Pasadena, Calif.

"While it won't duplicate what we did in '99 in terms of the time of the year and the years of preparation that we had, I think it can be special," U.S. coach April Heinrichs said. "There's a buzz about it."

Chastain, whose penalty kick gave the Americans the 1999 championship, thinks the tournament can provide a big opportunity.

"There's nothing quite like playing in front of 90,000-plus screaming USA fans," she said. "If we could do that again, it would be marvelous — not only for the players on the national team, but for every young girl especially who comes to any WUSA game or hadn't had the opportunity in '99 to come to a game."

Swedish soccer authorities were not surprised by FIFA's decision. Only four cities in Sweden have stadiums with more than 20,000 seats.

"We can understand that we have too small stadiums," said Jonas Nystedt, for Sweden's governing soccer body.

Australia, Canada and Italy also had offered to step in as host, FIFA said.

U.S. Soccer plans to use staffers from Major League Soccer and the Women's United Soccer Association to run the World Cup.

FIFA said China will retain its automatic qualification for the tournament. Each confederation will keep the same number of tournament slots. Mexico will compete in a playoff for the final slot.