U.S. Women Tie Norway, 1-1, in First Leg of Two-Game Set; Nikki Serlenga Scores Equalizer in Second Half
Coming off a triumph at the DFB Jubilee Tournament in Germany that included wins over Norway and Germany, and a tie with China, the U.S. team showed energy and commitment against the always-difficult Norwegian attack of long balls and counter-attacks.
U.S. head coach April Heinrichs chose to rest five regular starters, leaving three of the USA's most dynamic attackers, Mia Hamm, Tiffeny Milbrett and Kristine Lilly on the bench to start the game, while pairing Cindy Parlow and Sara Whalen on the forward line for the first time. Kate Sobrero, still recovering from the concussion suffered against Germany on July 22, was not slated to play.
Briana Scurry started in place of Siri Mullinix, and became the first goalkeeper in U.S. history to play 100 matches. It was just Scurry's second match of 2000 after recovering from several injuries. She last played in February in Florida, also against Norway, a game in which she gave up a goal to Marianne Pettersen. History repeated itself in Tromso¸, a charming fjord-side city located 120 miles north of the arctic circle that was bathed in a warm "Midnight Sun" for the match, as Pettersen tallied just three minutes into the game.
Norway actually scored on its first shot when Monica Knudsen's toe-poked pass put Pettersen in a footrace with the U.S. defense. With Christie Pearce in tow, Pettersen did well to dribble around Scurry, taking a touch as the U.S. goalkeeper dove at her feet, and somehow snuck the ball between the recovering Pearce and the near post from eight yards out for her 60th international goal.
"Every single player that started for us had an impact on the game," said Heinrichs. "There was great intensity in the first half, but we made one mistake and it cost us. And aside from one mistake in the second half, we played very well. We possessed the ball well and we're just an inch away from getting in behind them more consistently."
It was a match short on dangerous chances, and in a rare occurrence, the U.S. team was out-shot, 7-6. Norway perhaps had a slight edge in real scoring opportunities, but the tie was well deserved as Serlenga brought out the canon in the 63rd minute.
Hamm entered the match just four minutes before the goal and brought a spark to the U.S. attack. The Americans earned a corner-kick from the left side that Hamm drilled to the near post. Joy Fawcett kept the ball alive with a deft flick into the middle and Norwegian goalkeeper Bente Nordby had to punch the ball away. It dropped in the middle of the penalty box where defender Anne Tonnesson tried to clear it with her heel, but the ball fell into the path of the onrushing Serlenga, who cracked her shot first time on frame. The ball whizzed by Nordby, but defender Goril Kringen lunged to block the rocket shot with her foot, only to see it hit the diving Nordby in the back and roll slowly across the goal line as Kringen and Nordby lay sprawled on the ground.
"You always talk about getting the shot on frame and it has a chance to go in," said Hamm. "Nikki did that and it was an important goal for us."
The match was the first-ever for the USA against Norway in Norway, as a pumped up home side took the game to the Americans in the early going in front of a boisterous crowd. Norway played with a lone attacker in the 4-5-1 system, but that "1" gave the USA problems all game as Pettersen took four of Norway's seven shots.
The U.S. team struggled in a tightly cramped midfield, giving away numerous balls, but rallied to play some quality possession against a Norway defense content to sit back and clog the middle of the pitch.
"It was really crowded in there, really all you could do was get the ball and play it back," said Serlenga, who played a splendid game in the maelstrom of center-midfield. "When you turned to goal, they closed the space quickly. You saw gaps and then they just weren't there. When they take that away from us, we just have to get better at playing long balls over the top to stretch the defense."
The USA had its best chance to take the lead in the 65th minute when Hamm left Kringen in her wake on a breakaway, but Nordby came up huge, diving to her right to slap Hamm's shot away.
"Our team came with energy," added Heinrichs. "I expected them to be a little tired coming off the tournament in Germany, but what we found is that after two or three days of rest and relaxation, of taking care of the soul, that we came to play again today."
Both teams avoided potential disaster late in the game as the U.S. escaped punishment when a ball inadvertently hit Shannon MacMillan on the hand inside the penalty box in the 74th minute. Gro Espeseth, who played her 100th game for Norway, received just a yellow card when she cut down Hamm just beyond midfield a minute later, putting an abrupt end to a clear run at goal for the U.S. forward.
"Norway has a good variety of young players and veterans and they always seem to capitalize on their chances," said Hamm. "They're organized in the back and they have a very good goalkeeper."
Norway made a run for the winner in the last 10 minutes and almost got it in the 81st minute, but for a huge save from Scurry. A series of miscues in the U.S. defense allowed Dagny Mellgren to get in on goal, but Scurry flew to her right to knock down Mellgren's drive and the USA cleared the ball away. In the 85th minute, Pettersen got behind the U.S. defense, but Danielle Slaton guided her off ball and Scurry kicked it away for a corner kick.
Michelle Akers played in her second match since coming back from shoulder surgery, coming on for Julie Foudy in the 61st minute, and played a solid game in center-midfield, testing Nordby with a drive from 30 yards that was snagged by the Norwegian goalkeeper.
The draw was the fifth of 2000 for the U.S. women who sit at 20-3-5, by far the most ever ties in a calendar year, and kept Norway's edge in the all-time series alive. The match was just the second tie between the long-time rivals as the all-time series stands at 12-13-2 with the USA getting a chance to pull even on Sunday in Oslo at Ullevaal Stadium. A sell-out crowd of 25,000 is expected at Norway's national stadium for the match. Norway remains the only team in the world with an all-time winning record against the U.S. women. The match from Olso will be televised live on Pay-Per-View (Kickoff: 8:00 p.m. local/2 p.m. ET) as the Americans look to stay unbeaten on their final overseas tour before the Olympics.
2000 U.S. WOMEN'S NATIONAL TEAM GAME REPORT
|Participants:||U.S. Women's National Team vs. Norway National Team|
|Venue:||Alfheim Stadium (Tromso, Norway)|
|Date:||July 27, 2000 - Kickoff 7:30 p.m. local (1:30 p.m. ET)|
|Weather:||76 degrees - Bright "Midnight" Sunshine, Warm|
NOR - Marianne Pettersen, (Monica Knudsen), 3,
USA - Nikki Serlenga (unassisted), 63.
USA - 1-Briana Scurry (Capt.), 3-Christie Pearce (13-Kristine Lilly, 46th), 14-Joy Fawcett, 6-Brandi Chastain, 19-Danielle Slaton, 8-Shannon MacMillan (16-Tiffeny Milbrett, 80th), 2-Lorrie Fair, 5-Nikki Serlenga, 11-Julie Foudy (10-Michelle Akers, 61st), 12-Cindy Parlow (9-Mia Hamm, 59th), 7-Sara Whalen.
NOR - 1-Bente Nordby, 17-Gro Espeseth (5-Bente Kvitland, 76th), 3-Goril Kringen (Capt.), 2-Brit Sanduane, 4-Anne Tonnessen, 7-Solveig Gulbrandsen (18-Ragnild Gulbrandsen, 82nd), 8-Monica Knudsen (14-Dagny Mellgren, 55th), 6-Hege Riise, 10-Unni Lehn (9-Anita Rapp, 46th), 16-Margunn Haugenes (19-Christine Boe Jensen, 46th), 11-Marianne Pettersen.
|Gro Espeseth (caution)||75.|