Denied the trophy in five previous trips to the eight-team tournament including two losses in the Final, the U.S. women played a match that was equal parts sophistication and sweat to break the Algarve Cup curse and defeat their long-time nemesis. The win also avenged two losses to Norway in the United States in early February, but the two world powers will meet several more times before the Olympic Games in September.
"Norway is playing as good a soccer as I've ever seen them play, so for us to win this game and this tournament was a tremendous result," said U.S. Head Coach April Heinrichs. "China only beat Sweden, 1-0 (for third place), and it shows that the parity is here. We're very pleased about this win and I think the players really wanted this tournament."
It was the closing speed of Mia Hamm that created the U.S. goal when Norwegian defender Bente Kvitland tried to head a bouncing ball back to goalkeeper Bente Nordby, but didn't get enough on the pass. Hamm raced into the penalty box, beat Nordby to the ball and touched it around her. A half-step late, Nordby cut Hamm's legs out from under her and sent the U.S. forward sprawling. Swedish referee Ingrid Johnsson did not hesitate in awarding the USA a penalty kick. Brandi Chastain, whose last penalty kick will forever go down in history as the Women's World Cup winner, stepped up and nailed her shot into the left corner to give the USA an early 1-0 lead.
With the early goal, the U.S. protected the lead with grit and superb defense that didn't allow Norway a shot until the 33rd minute, and that was a slow roller from distance that gave Siri Mullinix no trouble.
Appearing in just her fifth international match, Mullinix was outstanding in the nets and her superior reading of the game was a major factor in the USA's victory, as she came out to snag about a dozen long services and crosses to defuse Norway's direct attacks.
"April talked about this game being basically about rolling up your sleeves, getting your fingernails dirty and getting the job done and I think that's what you saw today," said Hamm. "I think everyone played extremely well. The back line along with Julie Foudy and Lorrie Fair was tremendous and they were all so organized."
The USA's best chance of the first half came in the 43rd minute as Fair laced a beautiful pass to Tiffeny Milbrett down the right flank. The pass was just a bit long and the Norwegian defender tried to guide the ball out of bounds. Not giving up, Milbrett won the ball with a slide, popped up with ball, blew past Goril Kringen and cut the ball back to Shannon MacMillan, but her shot from close range was deflected for a corner kick.
In the 63rd minute, Milbrett nutmeged Kvitland and raced in at Nordby, but the 'keeper closed the angle and got a hand on the shot to knock it down.
In the 79th minute, a long cross from Hamm on the right wing flew over Milbrett at near post to Kristine Lilly, who made solid contact on her volley but spun her shot wide right of the goal.
In the final five minutes, Norway mounted a furious run for an equalizer as rowdy group of Norwegian senior citizens on holiday urged them on, but Mullinix was up to the task. She came out of her goal in the 86th minute and collided with young Norwegian star Dagney Mellgren, then had the same up-close-and-personal meeting with Linda Ormen in the 88th minute, but came up with the ball both times. In the 89th minute, Mullinix made a huge punch clearance off a corner kick, then denied the speedy Mellgren again by diving at her feet to gather in the ball and the USA had held the fort.
"I was definitely big-time nervous for first 10 minutes of both halves," said Mullinix, who ended the game with a large bump and small gash above her right eye courtesy of a Norway cleat. "You have the pressure of never winning this tournament and then we are up by a goal. But for me, once I get into a game and make my first save, I settle down. I feel like I'm at my best in a game environment."
Norway did have the better of the second half, even while playing without top forward Marianne Pettersen who broke her nose against China, and kept the pressure on the U.S. defense by taking eight shots to the USA's four. With a cramped midfield from Norway's 4-5-1 formation, the USA struggled to keep possession and played numerous balls over the top of the Norway defense, causing the game to become more combative, which suited Norway just fine.
But the USA defense proved to be warriors in the air and on the ground, as Kate Sobrero, Carla Overbeck, Joy Fawcett and Brandi Chastain refused to break, winning tackle after tackle and header after header. Foudy and Fair had solid games as ball winners in the midfield as the Americans won their second straight game by a 1-0 score to take their first Algarve Cup title.
"Winning close games shows hard defending," said Heinrichs, whose team gave up just one goal in the tournament. "It wasn't the prettiest game, but there is a certain amount of attractiveness to Norway-USA games. I told the players to bring their hard hat and hammer to work today because it was going to be a classic battle and it really was."
The USA kept the clamps on 21-year-old-Mellgren, who won both the Golden Boot as top scorer in the tournament and the MVP award after scoring all three of her team's goals in a 3-0 victory over China during group play. Mellgren moved from midfield to the forward line in the second half, and caused danger, especially off a dangerous shot from a bad angle after a miscommunication between Overbeck and Mullinix had allowed her to slip through. Still, Mellgren's dynamic runs at the U.S. defense were unsettling, but Mullinix was there every time.
Danielle Slaton, who entered the game for Overbeck in the 58th minute proved herself a legitimate option at left back by playing well in all four games. Despite the win, Norway remains the only team in the world with a winning record against the USA as the all-time series stands at 11-13-1.
The win capped a grueling four games in seven days schedule, but the U.S. team looked fresh for the championship game as Heinrichs doled out quality minutes to every player during the tournament.
"We talked before we left for Europe about being mentally tougher on the road and how maybe we didn't have the focus in the past," said Heinrichs. "The focus was here this time."
2000 U.S. WOMEN'S NATIONAL TEAM GAME REPORT
|Participants:||U.S. Women's National Team vs. Norway National Team|
|Competition:||7th Algarve Cup - Championship Game|
|Venue:||Muncipal Stadium (Loulé, Portugal)|
|Date:||March 18, 2000 - kickoff 4:00 p.m. local (11:00 a.m. ET)|
|Weather:||81 degrees - Clear Skies, Sunny, Breezy|
USA - Brandi Chastain (Penalty Kick), 9.
USA - 26-Siri Mullinix, 14-Joy Fawcett, 4-Carla Overbeck (C) (Danielle Slaton, 58th), 20-Kate Sobrero, 6-Brandi Chastain, 2-Lorrie Fair, 11-Julie Foudy, 13-Kristine Lilly, 8-Shannon MacMillan (7-Sara Whalen, 78th), 9-Mia Hamm (12-Cindy Parlow, 82nd), 16-Tiffeny Milbrett.
NOR - 1-Bente Nordby, 2-Bente Kvitland (13-Kristin Bekkevold, 70th), 3-Goril Kringen (C) (10-Ragnhild Gulbrandsen 83rd), 4-Anne Tonnessen, 5-Britt Saudaune, 6-Hege Riise, 8-Solveig Gulbrandesen (7-Silje Jorgensen, 49th), 9-Anita Rapp (18-Linda Ormen, 46th), 14-Dagney Mellgren, 15-Margunn Haugenes (16-Elisabeth Fagereng, 46th), 17-Unni Lehn.
|Goril Kringen (caution)||12,|
|Mia Hamm (caution)||45.|
7th ALGARVE CUP INTERNATIONAL WOMEN'S TOURNAMENT
|FINAL Algarve Cup Group A Standings|
|Sunday, March 12||Tuesday, March 14||Thursday, March 16|
|USA 7, Portugal 0||USA 2, Denmark 1||USA 1, Sweden 0|
|Sweden 1, Denmark 0||Sweden 5, Portugal 1||Denmark 2, Portugal 0|
|FINAL Algarve Cup Group B Standings|
|Sunday, March 12||Tuesday, March 14||Thursday, March 16|
|China 4, Canada 0||China 4, Finland 1||Norway 3, China 0|
|Norway 2, Finland 0||Norway 2, Canada 1||Canada 2, Finland 1|
|Algarve Cup Placement Games (Saturday, March 18)|
|7th Place||Finland 3, Portugal 0||Montechoro|
|5th Place||Canada 3, Denmark 2||Lagoa|
|3rd Place||China 1, Sweden 0||Quarteira|
|1st Place||USA 1, Norway 0||Loulè|
|Algarve Cup Goal Scoring Leaders|