The USA will probably have to win both of its remaining matches during group play -- against Finland on Tuesday and Norway on Thursday -- in order to make the championship game. The USA has never won the Algarve Cup in four attempts.
"We put ourselves in a tough position to win the group right off the start," said U.S. Head Coach Tony DiCicco. "Now, we're going to need help from other teams. It might come down to goal difference, but if Norway wins big in their game against Sweden, it will make our task very difficult."
The two group winners in the eight-team tournament will meet in the championship game on March 20. Norway almost dug a hole it its own in the other Group A match, and needed an 85th minute goal from Marianne Pettersen to defeat Finland, 1-0. Norway dominated, but could not break through the packed Finland defense until Pettersen slammed her shot of the underside of the crossbar five minutes from time. The ball bounced down and the referee signaled a goal, much to the chagrin of the Fins, who claimed it never crossed the line.
The USA had defeated Sweden nine consecutive times dating back to November of 1991. The Americans did accomplish what they could not do in the match vs. the FIFA World Stars on Feb. 14 -- score against Sweden's world class goalkeeper Ulrika Karlsson -- but they could only get one past the 5-foot-10 net-minder, who made six saves.
"We played a solid game, but we made some mistakes, mostly because we were forcing play and trying to do too much," said U.S. midfielder Michelle Akers. "We need to be a more composed and finish our chances, but Sweden played very well."
Sweden opened the game with high-pressure defense against the Olympic champions, and produced a dangerous chance just two minutes into the game, as forward Victoria Svensson skimmed her shot off the top of the cross bar from 16 yards out.
But after a rocky start, the USA finally caught a rhythm and started stringing passes together. Julie Foudy, who played a slick and creative match in midfield, authored the first goal when she sliced open Sweden's defense with a perfect pass to Hamm on the right flank. Hamm drove to the net and sent a hard cross on the ground through the goal-mouth. Shannon MacMillan had the first swing at the ball, but only caught a small piece, and Milbrett cleaned it up, slicing her shot into the left corner from eight yards out to give the USA the lead after 15 minutes.
The goal was Milbrett's first of 1999 and 48th of her career. The Americans played exciting attacking soccer until the final whistle, but despite more than doubling Sweden's shot total, 19-8, could not punch in another goal. The U.S. came close to adding to their lead on several occasions, mostly at the expense of Sweden right fullback Cecilia Sandell. In the 30th minute, Milbrett beat Sandell to the end line on the left wing and crossed to Kristine Lilly, but her sliding shot from close range flew over the crossbar.
In the 36th minute, Milbrett abused Sandell again before crossing to Foudy, but her driven shot from eight yards out was turned away by a brilliant reaction save from Karlsson. In the 37th minute, it was Lilly's turn to roast Sandell, rounding her on the left wing and sending a cross that created a mad goal line scramble before Sweden managed to clear the ball.
Akers came on at halftime, marking her first action since she broke her left cheekbone against the FIFA World Stars, and played 15 minutes at forward before moving back to the midfield when DiCicco pushed Kristine Lilly to striker. In the 69th minute, Hamm's cross on the ground from the right wing was met on the full sprint by Milbrett, but Karlsson somehow pushed the point-blank shot over the top of the goal.
The U.S. paid for its inability to finish in the 76th minute when Sweden equalized against the run of play. Malin Mostrom got loose on the right flank and crossed to the far post where unmarked substitute Linda Fagerstrom volleyed the ball in from four yards out, giving Sweden a goal on the second of just three shots in the second half.
"We did a lot of things well and we were unfortunate to give up that goal on what was really just one of two half chances they got in the second half," added DiCicco. "But we didn't finish our chances and I'm disappointed at that. But Ulrika Karlsson once again made several world-class saves and I think she was responsible for the result that they were able to get. Her two point-blank saves inside the six yard box were fantastic."
The Americans had several chances to win at the end, but Brandi Chastain's free-kick from 19 yards out sailed just over the goal and several U.S. crosses failed to meet their mark.
"I'm most satisfied with the draw," said Sweden Head Coach Marika Domanski Lyfors, whose husband Ulf was the coach of the only Sweden team to defeat the USA, back in 1987 at the first meeting between the two countries. "My team was more consistent than in the past, better prepared and certainly more aggressive."
The USA faces Finland on Tues., March 16 in Quarteira (Kickoff: 4:30 local/11:30 a.m. ET) before finishing group play with Norway on Thurs., March 18 in Albufeira (Kickoff: 2:30 p.m. Local/9:30 a.m. ET).
In the Group B matches, Denmark tied Australia 1-1 as Louise Hansen scored for the Danes and Julie Murray for the Matlidas, while China defeated host Portugal, 4-0, getting two goals from forward Jin Yan.
1999 U.S. WOMEN'S NATIONAL TEAM GAME REPORT
|Participants:||United States National Team vs. Sweden National Team|
|Competition:||6th Algarve Cup|
|Venue:||Francisco Viera Stadium (Silves, Portugal)|
|Date:||March 14, 1999; Kickoff 2:30 p.m. local (9:30 a.m. ET)|
|Weather:||Sunny and Clear -- 76 degrees|
USA - Tiffeny Milbrett, (Mia Hamm), 15,
SWE - Linda Fagerstrom, (Malin Mostrom), 76.
USA - 18-Saskia Webber, 4-Carla Overbeck, 20-Kate Sobrero, 2-Lorrie Fair, 14-Joy Fawcett, 6-Brandi Chastain (15-Tisha Venturini, 89th), 11-Julie Foudy, 13-Kristine Lilly, 8-Shannon MacMillan (10-Michelle Akers, 46th), 16-Tiffeny Milbrett (7-Sara Whalen, 76th), 9-Mia Hamm.
SWE - 1-Ulrika Karlsson, 7-Cecilia Sandell, 2-Karolina Westberg, 3-Jane Tornquist, 16-Jessica Sundh, 6-Malin Mostrom, 9-Malin Andersson, 8-Sara Call, 5-Kristin Bengtsson (15-Salina Olsson, 55th), 11-Victoria Svensson (14-Linda Fagerstrom, 63rd), 10-Hanna Ljungberg (18-Malin Gustafsson, 85th).
|Salina Olsson (caution)||86.|
|Group A - Team||GP||W||L||T||GF||GA||PTS|
|Sunday, March 14||Tuesday, March 16||Thursday, March 18|
|USA 1, Sweden 1||Sweden v. Norway||USA v. Norway|
|Norway 1, Finland 1||USA v. Finland||Sweden v. Finland|
|Group B - Team||GP||W||L||T||GF||GA||PTS|
|Sunday, March 14||Tuesday, March 16||Thursday, March 18|
|Denmark 1, Australia 1||Denmark v. China||Denmark v. Portugal|
|China 4, Portugal 0||Portugal v. Australia||Australia v. China|
|Match for 7th and 8th||Montechoro|
|Match for 5th and 6th||Loulè|
|Match for 3rd and 4th||Quarteira|
|Algarve Cup Goal Scoring Leaders|