"It was the best performance, against the best opponent of any opening game in world championship," said U.S. head coach April Heinrichs. "But it's our focus to remind the team that is not where you start, it's where you finish. It was just the first step in our climb up the mountain."
Norway had the first chance just two minutes into the game as Monica Knudsen ran onto a square pass from Dagny Mellgren for a strike on goal, but miss-hit the ball and it rolled wide left. The USA took over from there, earning three corner kicks in the first three minutes while establishing an attacking rhythm on the wide expanses of the MCG pitch that kept the Norwegians on the defensive the entire match.
The win was a dream start for the U.S. women, who scored two goals in the first 24 minutes, but they still face two excruciatingly difficult first-round matches against China and Nigeria before they can book passage to the semifinals.
Milbrett resembled the Tasmanian Devil of cartoon fame as she terrorized the Norwegian defense for 90 minutes, and somehow managed to hit left post, the crossbar and the right post all in the same match. The combination of Milbrett's speed and goalkeeper Siri Mullinix's powerful right leg created the first goal in the 18th minute. Mullinix came 35 yards out of her net to clear a rolling ball and sent a booming kick 50 yards up the field, putting Milbrett in a footrace with the last two Norwegian defenders.
Milbrett, who has won more than a few footraces in her career, was the victor in this one as well, pushing her way between Anne Tonnesson and Brit Sandaune on a full sprint as she headed the bouncing ball toward goal. Milbrett's fifth gear separated her from the defenders at the top of the penalty box, but the sliding Bente Nordby got a piece of her first shot from 15 yards out. The ball slipped under the Norwegian goalkeeper and perpetually moving Milbrett ran down the deflection to shoot again from seven yards, tucking the ball into the open net from a sharp angle.
The USA got a scare in the 23rd minute when Mullinix fully extended in an attempt to punch away a cross, but missed the ball as she flew through the air. U.S. defender Christie Pearce was in good position and cleared the ball away from danger.
One minute later, the Americans added a second goal. Kristine Lilly sent a short chipped pass from the top of the penalty box over the Norwegian defense to Hamm, who had perfectly timed her run to avoid being offside. Lilly's deft touch put Hamm free on goal in the left side of the penalty box and the world's all-time leading scorer lashed her shot into the left corner from 10 yards out.
"Obviously, we're very exited with the victory, but this was just one," said Hamm, who scored her 126th career goal. "We knew that in order to win this game we had to play hard from the opening whistle and I think we did that. There were definitely nerves on both sides, and every time we play them both teams have chances, but we finished two. I think that took some of their confidence away in the first half."
The 22-year old Mullinix, playing her first match in a world championship event, was solid in the back, easily handling all the Norwegian shots that came her way, most from distance. The U.S. back line of Brandi Chastain, Joy Fawcett, Kate Sobrero and Christie Pearce did a fantastic job of shutting down Norway's two main attacking threats, forward Marianne Pettersen and Mellgren, as well as dominating the air battles to negate Norway's direct style. Pettersen, a scorer of 60 international goals, including one in each game against the USA during its Norwegian tour last July, was taken out of the match in the 55th minute by head coach Per-Mathias Hogmo.
"Our defense played so great tonight," added Hamm. "They rotated behind each other, they stepped up to win the initial pass and their tackling was great. Our midfield did a really good job finding an attacking seam in their defensive and midfield lines that enabled us to go forward and attack in numbers."
The USA almost extended its lead in the 30th minute as Hamm released Milbrett behind the Norway defense with a perfectly-weighted long ball. Off to the races again, Milbrett touched the ball around Nordby, but took it too wide, and her shot from a stiff angle sailed far right of the net.
In the 40th minute, Milbrett started her woodwork hat trick, hammering the right post from 18 yards out. Just before halftime, she hit a blistering drive from 20 yards that struck the underside of the crossbar and ricocheted down, hitting the inside of the right post before bouncing away.
With midfielders Julie Foudy and Lorrie Fair taking charge in the center and flank midfielders Shannon MacMillan and Lilly repeatedly causing danger down the wings, the U.S. totally controlled the second half while still attacking with urgency, but mixing it with smart possession as Norway could find no answers to solve the U.S. back line. Despite several dangerous services into the U.S. penalty box, Norway's only real chance of the second half came when substitute Christine Boe Jensen shook free for a shot from 14 yards out, but the ball slid wide right as Mullinix dove to cover her post.
Heinrichs made just one substitute in the match, inserting Cindy Parlow for Hamm in the 70th minute. Parlow played a quality 20 minutes, creating several dangerous chances while also holding possession well as the Americans worked the clocked at the end of the game.
"I'm marvelously proud and pleased with the team's performance tonight," added Heinrichs. "It was a great way to start a tough tournament like this and really gives us a boost of confidence. We have the ultimate respect for Norway and the way we went after goals in the second half was a testament to that."
The match was another classic battle in the long history between the teams that includes U.S. victories in the 1991 Women's World Cup Final and semifinal of the 1996 Olympics, and a Norway win in the semifinal of the 1995 Women's World Cup. The match was the amazing seventh meeting between the two teams in 2000 and the win evened the record at 3-3-1 this year. Milbrett's goal was the 80th of her career, making her just the seventh woman in history to reach that mark.
After a light jog and stretch tomorrow morning, the U.S. women will travel to Sydney to march in the Opening Ceremonies at Olympic Stadium, then return to Melbourne during the morning of Saturday, Sept. 16, and will likely train in the afternoon, where they will be available to the media. In their next group E match, the Americans face China, a 3-1 winner over Nigeria, in a rematch of the 1999 Women's World Cup Final. The USA and China will clash in front of an expected crowd of 40,000-50,000 on Sunday, Sept. 17 at the MCG (Kickoff 5:30 p.m. Local).
2000 U.S. WOMEN'S OLYMPIC TEAM GAME REPORT
|Participants:||U.S. Women's Olympic Team vs. Norway|
|Competition:||2000 Olympic Games - Opening Round, Group F|
|Venue:||Melbourne Cricket Ground (Melbourne, Australia)|
|Date:||September 14, 2000 - Kickoff 5:30 p.m. (local)|
|Weather:||61 degrees - Cool, Overcast|
USA - Tiffeny Milbrett, (Siri Mullinix), 18,
USA - Mia Hamm, (Kristine Lilly), 24.
USA - 18-Siri Mullinix, 3-Christie Pearce, 14-Joy Fawcett, 15-Kate Sobrero, 6-Brandi Chastain, 13-Kristine Lilly, 11-Julie Foudy, 2-Lorrie Fair, 8-Shannon MacMillan, 16-Tiffeny Milbrett, 9-Mia Hamm (12-Cindy Parlow, 70th).
NOR - 1-Bente Nordby, 2-Brit Sandaune, 3-Goril Kringen, 4-Anne Tonnessen, 5-Gro Espeseth, 6-Hege Riise, 8-Monica Knudsen (7-Solveig Guldrandsen, 46th), 9-Anita Rapp (16-Ragnhild Gulbrandsen, 71st), 10-Unni Lehn, 11-Marianne Pettersen (17-Christine Boe Jensen, 55th), 14-Dagny Mellgren.
|Goril Kringen (caution)||52,|
|Gro Espeseth (caution)||75.|
|September 14||Melbourne||United States vs. Norway||USA 2, NOR 0|
|September 14||Canberra||China PR vs. Nigeria||CHN 3, NGA 1|
|September 17||Melbourne||United States vs. China PR|
|September 17||Canberra||Norway vs. Nigeria|
|September 20||Melbourne||United States vs. Nigeria|
|September 20||Canberra||Norway vs. China PR|