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U.S. Women Regroup After Falling Behind Early, Defeat Nigeria 7-1

CHICAGO (Thursday, June 24, 1999) - After some early jitters, the United States settled down to overpower Nigeria, 7-1, and take control of Group A. The Americans can feel very comfortable about their chances of advancing to the quarterfinals with the result. They have not officially wrapped up a spot in the quarterfinals, but their +9 goal differential will be difficult for two teams in the group to overcome.

Nigeria struck early and took a lead in the second minute on a quick goal from Nkiru Okosieme. Standing in front of the goal on the left side, Okosieme took a pass in the box from Mercy Akide and beat U.S. 'keeper Briana Scurry with a shot to the far post. Nigeria was the more composed team in the opening minutes of the match and nearly went ahead 2-0 when two U.S. defenders collided in the box and Scurry was forced to come off of her line unexpectedly. Brandi Chastain covered the net for Scurry and the Falcons' lead stayed at one as the defender guided the shot over the end line at the near post.

"You can never prepare for a team coming out and scoring within the first two minutes, but I think it was a blessing in disguise for us because it made us get angry and alert right away so that we played our game," said U.S. forward Tiffeny Milbrett, who scored two goals on the day.

The U.S. soon found their rhythm and had a great opportunity off a Mia Hamm corner kick from the left side in the 13th minute. Hamm's pass found Chastain at the back side of the goal and Chastain's powerful diving header slammed off the crossbar and back into play.

Another Hamm free kick on the left side - this one in the 19th minute - set up the Americans' first goal. She hooked the ball around the midfield side of the Falcons' defensive wall. A charging Michelle Akers and Nigerian Ifeanyichukwu Chiejene both slid for the ball at the near-post and it went past Nigerian goalkeeper Ann Chiejine to tie the score. The equalizer was credited as an own-goal by Chiejene.

A minute later, Hamm gave the United States their first lead when a through pass from Kristine Lilly freed her on the right side. Hamm advanced on goal alone and unleashed a hard shot in from about 12 yards that beat Chiejine for Hamm's second goal of the tournament to give the U.S. a 2-1 lead.

The United States offense took over from that point as they scored four more goals before the halftime whistle. Tiffeny Milbrett quickly added a third goal for the hosts, in the 23rd minute.

"Three goals in three minutes is very surprising, we had a lot of good chances and we put them away. We were really sharp with our shooting," said Milbrett.

Lilly scored a goal of her own, off an assist from another Hamm free kick in the 32nd to make it 4-1. In the 39th, Akers - the leading scorer in the 1991 FIFA Women's World Cup - scored on a brilliant header after the United States served a pass to her at the far post after taking a short corner. The hosts' sixth goal of the first half was perhaps their most impressive as Milbrett served a pass to Chastain wide of the net near the end line. Chastain's only touch of the ball was a pass from her head to Cindy Parlow in front of the net, who found the goal with a one-touch header.

The physical match saw Nigeria out-foul the United States, 15-1, in the first half. The Falcons finished the match with 29 fouls in all and two yellow cards. U.S. Coach Tony DiCicco substituted out Hamm, who had been marked aggressively all game, early in the second half when the Nigerians began to show their frustrations with rough play.

"I'm really proud of the team for handling the physical nature of the game, which was close to getting out of hand," DiCicco said. "Our team never retaliated - they showed great restraint. Putting the ball in the back of the net is the best way to slow down a team as physical and as strong as Nigeria."

Milbrett added her second goal in the 83rd minute to provide the final score.

"I know we lost to a better side, a very experienced side - a team that has been together even before women's football was introduced in Nigeria," said Falcons coach Ismaila Mabo. "That is why I have no regrets."

The match drew a capacity crowd of 65,080 fans to Soldier Field, marking the second consecutive sell-out the United States has entertained. The hosts now travel to Boston for their third and final match of group play. The United States face Korea DPR on Sunday at Foxboro Stadium (7:00 p.m. ET / espn2). Nigeria faces Denmark in Washington, D.C. on Sunday (4:00 p.m. ET / espn2), hoping to advance to the quarterfinals for the first time in three appearances at the FIFA Women's World Cup.