Norway Beats U.S. to Win Soccer Gold

The magic of the Rose Bowl was not to

be found at the Sydney Football Stadium.

The United States will have to share the stage of supremacy for the first decade of major international women’s soccer. Norway earned its share today, beating the U.S. team 3-2 in overtime in the gold medal game of the Sydney Olympics.

Substitute Dagny Mellgren scored in the 12th minute of sudden death, taking a deflection off defender Joy Fawcett’s head as they played a long ball from Hege Riise. The ball hit Mellgren’s shoulder and landed at her feet before she pushed it to the left of goalkeeper Siri Mullinix from 7 yards.

Milbrett Forces Overtime

Norway nearly had it won in regulation, but Tiffeny Milbrett’s second goal with seconds left in second-half injury time tied the game. Ragnhild Gulbrandsen had given the Norwegians a 2-1 lead in the 78th minute.

With the victory, Norway adds the 2000 Olympic title to its 1995 World Cup championship. The United States can claim the 1991 and 1999 World Cup as well as the gold medal at the 1996 Atlanta Games.

The victory also means Norway is still the only nation with an all-time winning record (15-13-2) against the United States. The Norwegians are also the only team to beat the Americans in a World Cup or Olympic tournament, the other victory coming in the 1995 World Cup semifinals.

Milbrett’s tying goal came when she outleaped defender Goeril Kringen to knock home Mia Hamm long cross from the right wing. There was literally no time left — when the ball was returned to the center circle for the kickoff, referee Sonia Denoncourt signaled the end of regulation.

Milbrett also scored in the fifth minute of a first half dominated by the Americans, but Gro Espeseth’s goal off a corner kick tied it in the 44th.

The most ironic moment came when in the 60th minute, when Kristine Lilly’s drive was headed off the line at the post in a great defensive play by Kringen. A year ago, in the World Cup final, it was Lilly’s header on the line in overtime that prevented a China victory and sent the game to penalty kicks.

Norway took the lead in the 78th as Mullinix was late to react to a 35-yard long ball from Silje Joergensen. Gulbrandsen headed the ball into the net as Mullinix collided with Fawcett.

Changes for U.S. Team

Although these Olympics weren’t a cumulative last-hurrah for the stars of the U.S. team, it’s likely that the lineup will change substantially before the next major tournament, the 2003 World Cup.

Carla Overbeck is the only player definitely retiring from international play this year, but it’s inevitable that younger players will start to challenge longtime veterans such as Lilly, Julie Foudy, Fawcett, Brandi Chastain and Hamm.

The loss is a tough one for coach April Heinrichs, who has been under pressure to match predecessor Tony DiCicco’s success she taking the job earlier this year. Heinrichs’ aggressive style and unusual tactics have spurned critics, but her team won every tournament it entered this year before the Olympics.

Playing Long Ball

The Americans put on a clinic of smooth passing to dominate possession in the first half, while Norway unsuccessfully tried to work the long ball. But the Norwegians kept at it — scoring all three goals using the set pieces and long balls at which they excel.

In the 44th minute, Hege Riise lifted a corner kick into the box, where Espeseth directed a magnificent header from 9 yards with defender Kate Sobrero draped all over her. Shannon MacMillan, defending on the goal line, was able to get her left foot on the ball, but she couldn’t keep it out of the net.

Hamm did almost all the work, and Milbrett scored the goal as the Americans took a 1-0 lead in the fifth minute. Hamm took Foudy’s pass and fought off Kringen in the left side of the box, drew the goalkeeper out and passed to Milbrett, who one-touched the ball into the open net from 8 yards.

The U.S. team kept getting the ball in the box the rest of the half, but couldn’t capitalize. Foudy came closest when her header hit the crossbar after a cross from MacMillan in the 29th.

In the second half, with the score tied 1-1, Lilly had her shot headed off the line, and goalkeeper Bente Nordby followed with superb saves in the 71st and 74th minutes. First she batted away a 25-yard shot from Hamm headed toward the corner of the net, then she stopped Lilly from close range after a nice feed from Milbrett. She had an easier time diving to stop substitute Cindy Parlow’s low drive the 77th, one minute before her teammate put Norway ahead.