HUADU, China (Wednesday, January 23, 2002) - The U.S. Women's National Soccer Team gave up an early goal and despite numerous scoring chances, could not manufacture an equalizer, falling to Olympic champion Norway, 1-0, in front of 10,000 fans to open the Four Nations Women's Tournament. The U.S. team dominated the last 70 minutes of the match but could not rebound from a 5th minute goal by Norwegian midfielder Unni Lehn.
As in the last meeting between the full squads of these two countries in the 2000 Olympic Final, the U.S. out-shot Norway by a wide-margin, this time 17-7, but it was Norway once again that picked up the victory. The defeat makes it difficult for the U.S. women to win the tournament, as each team must suffer a loss for the Americans to take home first place.
"We are very disappointed in the loss and very disappointed in our performance in the first 20 minutes," said U.S. head coach April Heinrichs. "We were dominant in the air and out-shot them by a wide margin yet we were down 1-0. Norway is a great team and they play smart. They simplify the game and stick to their game plan. Their result puts them in great position to win the tournament."
The U.S. team played without the world's all-time leading scorer in Mia Hamm, who missed the trip with a leg injury, but the scoring chances still came from all angles and players throughout the match.
Norway played a 4-5-1 formation with Boston Breakers forward Dagny Mellgren as the lone player up top, and played low-pressure defense, inviting the Americans into the packed midfield. After a start that was choppy at best for the U.S. team, the Americans settled into an attacking rhythm and took the game to Norway, but by that time, they were down a goal.
Mellgren got behind the U.S. back line as a player held her onside and raced in on goal with a 10-yard head start on the closest U.S. defender. She dribbled to the end line and played a crisp service on the ground back to Lehn, who had time to collect the ball before tucking into the left corner past flying U.S. goalkeeper Lakeysia Beene.
From there, it was pretty much all U.S. as Norway took just five shots over the next 80 minutes. The only real danger came from Mellgren, who lurked on the U.S. restraining line and was dangerous on several counter attacks, one of which had to be cleaned up by the charging Beene, who smothered a ball at Mellgren's feet.
Forwards Cindy Parlow and Tiffeny Milbrett consistently got around the Norwegian defenders on the outskirts of the penalty area, but could not turn the hard work into goals.
In the 11th minute, Parlow worked herself free in the left side of the penalty area and slipped a pass to Milbrett, but her close-range strike from a bad angle was saved by sliding Norway goalkeeper Astrid Johannessen. In the 32nd minute, Parlow once again beat several defenders before slipping the ball to U.S. captain Julie Foudy at the top of the penalty area. Foudy, who was celebrating her 31st birthday, was denied the ultimate gift as her driven shot pounded off the crossbar.
"On the positive side, we created a lot of opportunities and dominated the second half," said Foudy. "But Norway is too good a team and too organized for us to give up an early goal. We came out a bit flat and paid for it."
To Norway's credit, in the first half, they displayed much more possession that usual for the direct team, as captain Hege Riise of the Carolina Courage controlled the midfield. The U.S., however, was ready for Norway's aerial game, winning the vast majority of head balls, lead by defender Danielle Slaton, who was a physical force in the middle for the USA.
One minute before halftime, Parlow danced her way through defenders in the right side of the penalty area, but chipped her shot just wide left of the post. Parlow had a chance earlier in the half when she gained possession six yards out on the elbow of the goal box, then beat a defender to the inside, but couldn't pull the trigger before a Norwegian defender tackled the ball away.
The U.S. came out in the second half with increased sharpness and Shannon MacMillan almost tied the game in the 63rd minute, getting behind the defense to win a bouncing ball, but she sliced her shot wide right of the goal with Johannessen beaten. In the 75th minute, Parlow got around the left side of the Norwegian defense and played a pass back in the slot to Kristine Lilly, but she volleyed her shot high over the goal.
Heinrichs made two substitutes in 66th minute, sending on defender Kylie Bivens and midfielder Aly Wagner, and both almost figured in a goal. Bivens, making her first international appearance, lofted a pass to the top of the penalty area for Parlow to flick on. Wagner ran onto the ball but smacked her volley just wide right of the goal from 16 yards out.
The final two U.S. chances were both courtesy of Wagner, who sprung Milbrett twice in the last five minutes. In the 85th minute, she played a ball to Milbrett in the left side of the penalty area, who crossed to the cutting Parlow at the near post, but she flicked her shot just wide left of the goal. In the 88th minute, Wagner sent a delicate chip to the streaking Milbrett behind the defense, but the final bit of frustration bounced just wide of the right post after Milbrett had beaten Johannessen with a looping shot from just inside the penalty area.
In the other match of the tournament, a 10-woman Chinese team defeated Germany, 2-1, on goals by Zhang Ouying and Pu Wei. American referee Keri Seitz ejected Chinese defender Zhou Xiaoxia with about 10 minutes remaining in the first half for a nasty foul from behind on Birgit Prinz. Still, China scored twice while on the power play, tallying in the 44th and 85th minutes before German defender Ariane Hingst pulled a goal back on a header off a free-kick at the end.
"We think we are still in this thing," said Heinrichs of her team's chances in the tournament. "We need to get a result against Germany, but China and Norway have a storied history of knocking each other off. If China can win that match, it could set up a championship game for us in our last game. It could come down to goal difference."
- U.S. WOMEN'S NATIONAL TEAM GAME REPORT -
Participants: United States vs. Norway
Competition: Four Nations Women's Tournament
Venue: Huadu Stadium (Huadu, China)
Date: January 23, 2002 - Kickoff 1:30 p.m. Local/12:30 a.m. ET
Weather: Chilly, gray - 55 degrees
Scoring Summary: 1st - 2nd - Final
USA 0 - 0 - 0
NOR 1 - 0 - 1
NOR - Unni Lehn (Dagny Mellgren), 5.
USA - 24-Lakeysia Beene, 15-Kate Sobrero (4-Cat Reddick, 46), 14-Joy Fawcett, 19-Danielle Slaton, 6-Brandi Chastain (21-Kylie Bivens, 66), 13-Kristine Lilly, 7-Lorrie Fair (17-Aleisha Cramer, 46), 11-Julie Foudy-Capt., 8-Sannon MacMillan (Aly Wagner, 66), 12-Cindy Parlow, 16-Tiffeny Milbrett.
NOR - 12-Astrid Johannessen, 2-Brit Sandaune, 13-Anne Bugge-Paulsen, 4-Anne Tonnessen, 5-Bente Kvitland, 6-Hege Riise - Capt., 7-Solveig Gulbrandsen (9-Lisa Klaveness, 82), 8-Trine Ronning, 10-Unni Lehn, 11-Linda Ormen (18-Anita Rapp, 87), 14-Dagny Mellgren.
Statistical Summary: USA - NOR
Shots: 17 - 7
Shots on Goal: 5 - 4
Saves: 3 - 5
Corner Kicks: 7 - 1
Fouls: 7 - 9
Offside: 1 - 5
NOR - Bente Kvitland (caution), 80.
Referee: Zhang Dongqing (China)
Assistant Referee: Christine Frai (Germany)
Assistant Referee: Fu Hongjue (China)