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September 14, 2000
US beat Norway 2-0The Rediff Team
The day's festivities kicked off with the USA versus Norway preliminary in Group B of the women's soccer event, and the game promised to be a humdinger.
As, in fact, does the group itself. Besides the two teams in action today, it has China, the 1996 silver medallist, and Nigeria.
In the white corner today, the US of A -- reigning Olympic and World champions, favourites to defend the gold it won in Atlanta.
In the red-shirts-and-blue-shorts corner, Norway -- the team that got bronze in Atlanta four years ago and, more pertinently, the side that has beaten USA thrice this year. The last meeting between the two teams was July 30, in Norway, when the host nation won 2-1.
Underfoot conditions at the MCG are a touch slippy, thanks to heavy mid-afternoon rains. Add to the mix, a swirling breeze that should make the aerial ball misbehave, and conditions were not exactly perfect for the game.
The US lineup reflected its normal, aggressive style, while Norway made its intent clear with a four-woman defensive lineup and a sole player in offense.
If the idea was to rein in the US women and absorb their attacks before making their own bid, then Norway's gameplan came a spectacular cropper. The US pushed forward right from the start, utilising the midfield acreage to launch their rampaging forwards in wave after wave of attack.
Mia Hamm, early on, indicated why she is the biggest draw in women's soccer with a free kick that curved and beat the defense, but swirled that touch too high to find the mark.
With the defense coming under enormous pressure, a goal seemed on the cards, and it came when Nordby, in the Norwegian goal, came up with a weak clearance that was poached by Millbrett. The US star outran two defenders, before slotting the ball home, in the 18th minute, to have the US leading 1-0.
By the 20-minute mark, Mullinix in the US goal was looking to be the sole chink in the defending champions' armour. A dangerous foray from the line found the goal-tender missing, and Pearce in defence had to race to clear before the undermanned Norwegian attack could capitalise.
But then, the goal-tender could afford an offday -- the US forwards appeared to have a monopoly on the ball. In the 25th minute, Milbrett with a deft pass set it up, and Mia Hamm finished it off with surgical precision with a deft touch.
Milbrett nearly made it 3-0 just a minute later when she latched on to a through ball, beat the keeper but failed to control as the ball ran away from her.
At the other end, Mullinix gave her team-mates cause to groan when yet again, she attempted to punch a weak aerial shot to safety, managed a poor fist of it, and had to scramble to save. The game immediately swung to the other end, with Milbrett beating a defender on top of the box and taking a shot on the fly, which beat the keeper but hit the right post.
At the halfway mark, there was no doubt which of the two teams was boss -- besides its two goals, the USA had forced 8 corners to two by the opposition; and 13 shots to six on goal.
If the first half promised much, though, the second half disappointed.
Norway took the field with a substitution -- Monica Knudsen making way, in midfield, for Solveig Gulbrandsen. In the 72nd minute, both teams made substitutions, with Hamm running off to huge applause while Cindy Parlow came on, while Norway brought in striker Ragnhild Gulbrandsen for Anita Rapp.
Gulbrandsen's entry onto the field made a difference, in that Norway had more of a say in front of the rival goal than they had enjoyed hitherto. However, the US, even playing at half-throttle (the world champions appeared to have decided to play the second session at little more than walk-speed, probably figuring that their job for the day was done anyway) had much the better of the exchanges, constantly harrying the rival defence with speedy runs and good breakaways.
Possession play, and more than a touch of time-wasting on the part of the US (a proceeding that drew some jeers from the crowd), characterised the last half hour of the game, during which there were no realistic tries at goal by either party.
The final whistle, with the scoreline reading US 2, Norway 0 came as a relief, thus, to a restive crowd. Bottomline, the world champions are off and away and, judged by the way they played today, even at half pace, they have the nous to mount a successful defence of their Atlanta gold.
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