Held annually in Northern Europe, the eight-team Nordic Cup brings together the world's best under-21 women's national teams for the most important women's youth tournament in this age group. The USA defeated Norway in the championship game in 1997 and 1999, both on golden goals in sudden death overtime.
The Americans would not need extra time this year as midfielder Jena Kluegel (Mahtomedi, Minn./UNC) provided the lone goal with a bending drive from just outside the penalty box in the 63rd minute. The match was a physical battle for 90 minutes as each 50/50 ball was contested with rock-hard tackles from both sides, but USA finally got its deserved goal midway through the second half.
The attack developed as Aleisha Cramer (Lakewood, Colo./BYU) scooped the ball over the German defense on the left flank to the cutting Kim Patrick (Pleasanton, Calif./UNC), who pivoted to hit a high cross into the middle. German goalkeeper Corinna Ernst came out hard to punch the ball, but it bounced to the top of the penalty box just right of center and Kluegel hit it first time with her left foot, sticking the rising shot it into the left corner.
"I'm so proud of this team," said U.S U-21 head coach Jillian Ellis, whose team featured 13 players competing in the Nordic Cup for the first time. "They overcame tremendous adversity in this tournament and showed exceptional mental toughness to play four draining games in seven days. The Final today was the kind of match that prepares our players to step into the full national team environment."
The end-to-end match was combative all over the field, but it was the U.S. back line of Nandi Pryce (Casselberry, Fla./UCLA), Danielle Borgman (Cincinnati, Ohio/UNC) and Anna Kraus (Mountain View, Calif./Santa Clara) which won ball after ball, and repeatedly found midfielders, often with just one touch, to start the U.S. attacks. Kraus, especially, was superb in winning her one-on-one duels.
Kluegel played a world-class match at right midfield, dominating her area at both ends of the field, while producing some dynamic dribbling which earned cheers from the crowd. Forward Susan Bush (Houston, Tex./UNC) also played an inspired game, showing mobility that stretched the German defense all match long and playing defense on the forward line that set the tone for the team.
"It was a game worthy of a Final," said Kluegel. "They put a lot of pressure on us at the end, but everyone held tough. We took this tournament game by game and that worked for us. This is a great group of girls and they deserve to be champions."
Both teams played attractive soccer at pace in a match that did not slow down despite a combined 40 fouls. The USA compiled a 21-6 shot margin, but that proved a bit deceptive, as the Germans were dangerous inside the U.S. penalty box for the entire match, especially when the Americans gave up too much space in the midfield in the first half.
U.S. goalkeeper Jenni Branam (Placentia, Calif./UNC) got a hand on a German header in the 12th minute to push it off the crossbar and she was forced to dive to her right to make a save off a volley in the 27th minute. The U.S. had several free-kicks from just outside the penalty box in the first half, but couldn't capitalize. Bush almost created a goal just before halftime when she sliced her way around the right side of the German defense, but her probing cross was cleared away.
The center midfield of Cramer and Aly Wagner (San Jose, Calif./Santa Clara) proved too skillful and clever for the Germans as they repeatedly won balls and knifed open the defense with penetrating passes. The U.S. almost went ahead just two minutes into the second half off a free-kick close to the left sideline. Team captain Michelle French (Kent, Wash./Portland) drove the ball across the face of the goal and it slid just wide of the right post.
In the 60th minute, Bush ran onto a flick from Alyssa Ramsey's head and raced in on goal, but Ernst closed hard and knocked down Bush's shot. Three minutes later, Kluegel finally broke through.
Germany pushed hard for the equalizer at the end of the match, but by that time the USA had switched from a 3-4-3 formation to a 4-4-2 and refused to break. In the 71st minute, Conny Pohlers got on the end of a long ball to send a diving header just past Branam's left post. Branam came up huge in the 82nd minute, coming out hard to punch away a cross, and paid for it, as a German crashed into her chest, but Pryce was on the spot to clear the ball away.
A banged-up U.S. team, without starter Mary Frances Monroe (East Northport, N.Y./UConn), who was serving a suspension after being ejected in the USA's last group game against Finland, played with heart the entire match. Forwards Christie Welsh (Massapequa, N.Y./Penn State) and Ramsey (Charlotte, N.C./UNC), both carrying nicks and bruises, gave every ounce of energy before coming out in the 59th and 70th minutes respectively.
"Germany matched us all over the field," added Ellis. "We have great respect for them and they have so many talented players. I think everyone saw an impressive show of how tough, strong and physical the women's game can be, while at the same time being attractive and attacking."
The win marked the fourth Nordic Cup title for the U.S. Women's National Team programs, having also won in 1993. French, Cramer, Wagner, Bush and Veronica Zepeda (Riverside, Calif./Santa Clara), all members of last year's Nordic Cup championship team, become the only players to win back-to-back titles. Seventeen of the 18 players on the U.S. roster will begin pre-season training camp with their college teams next week.
In the other matches, Norway defeated Finland, 2-1, for third place. Sweden defeated Iceland, 1-0, for 5th placed and Denmark took 7th place, winning 5-3 on penalty kicks after tying Switzerland, 1-1, in regulation.
2000 U.S. UNDER-21 WOMEN'S NATIONAL TEAM GAME REPORT
|Participants:||U.S. U-21 Women's National Team vs. Germany U-21 National Team|
|Competition:||2000 Under-21 Nordic Cup - Championship Game|
|Venue:||Wald Stadium (Weismain, Germany)|
|Date:||August 3, 2000 - Kickoff 5:30 p.m. local (10:30 a.m. ET)|
|Weather:||65 degrees - Overcast, cool|
USA - Jena Kluegel (unassisted), 63.
USA - 24-Jenni Branam, 4-Anna Kraus, 2-Nandi Pryce, 15-Danielle Borgman, 11-Michelle French (Capt.), 17-Aleisha Cramer, 7-Aly Wagner, 9-Jena Kluegel, 13-Christie Welsh (10-Kim Patrick, 59th), 23-Susan Bush, 12-Alyssa Ramsey (14-Marcia Wallis, 70th, 8-Catherine Reddick, 82nd).
GER - 12-Corinna Ernst, 3-Ines Fellmann (Sonia Fuss, 64th), 4-Nia Kunzer, 5-Christina Zerbe, 15-Mareike Prior (6-Nicole Muller, 86th), 14-Madleen Wilder, 10-Katharina Lindner (16-Tanja Worle, 73rd), 8-Jeanette Gotte, 7-Susanne Eigner, 11-Martina Muller, 9-Conny Pohlers (2-Antje Meier, 80th).
|Jeanette Gotte (caution)||32,|
|Susan Bush (caution)||93+.|