March 15, 2001
ALBUFEIRA, Portugal - The young U.S. Women's National Soccer Team matched a full-strength Sweden squad kick for kick, but once again could not find a way to score, and was forced to stomach a hugely disappointing 2-0 loss on match day three of the Algarve Cup.
The USA, which finished third in Group A, will now face Norway in the match for fifth place as China edged the Olympic champions on goal difference in Group B, relegating the Norwegians to third place in that group. Sweden will face surprise Denmark for the championship in a replay of the 1995 Algarve Cup final, won by Sweden. The USA-Norway match kicks off on Saturday in Quarteira at 10 a.m. local (5 a.m. ET).
Sweden head coach Marika Lyfors took no chances to secure Sweden a place in its third Algarve Cup final, but first since 1996, when she started all of her regulars against a U.S. team that averaged only 19 years of age.
Like in all three of its Algarve Cup games, the USA was the aggressor early on and created enough chances to win, as the American midfield of Devvyn Hawkins, Mary-Frances Monroe and Aleisha Cramer outplayed their Swedish counterparts on both sides of the ball. The USA won the majority of air battles and tackles in the middle of the field, taking the game to the Swedes for most of the first half while using some quality ball possession to free players on the flanks.
In just the 5th minute, the USA had a golden chance for a quick start as Catherine Reddick bent a free-kick into the penalty area from the left side, but as has been the case during the entire tournament, the USA could not convert, and Laura Schott put her header wide of the goal.
Sweden only had two dangerous attacks in the first 30 minutes, but U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo defused both, snagging a cross with a full-out dive and then punching another away.
In the 21st minute, Christie Welsh collected a long ball on her chest and flicked a pass through to the streaking Rigamat, but Swedish goalkeeper Caroline Jonsson beat her to the ball and smothered. In the 38th minute, a great U.S. combination in midfield put Welsh behind the defense with a through ball over the top. She beat Jonsson to ball, but lifted her shot weakly to the right of the goal.
Sweden did not get off a shot until the 39th minute when Hanna Ljungberg ran onto a cross from the left flank and cracked a blistering volley that pulled a spectacular reaction save from Solo. But neither the U.S. defense nor Solo could recover in time to prevent Tina Nordlund from pouncing on the rebound and finishing from four yards out.
The USA had a 7-3 advantage in corner-kicks at halftime, which would stretch to 14-7 for the match, but could not maintain its dominance of the Swedes in the second half.
"We did play very well for 45 minutes," said Jena Kluegel, who has put in three solid games at left outside back. "What we've struggled with is playing together for an entire game, but that's going to be the case for any young team. Sweden was far and away the best of the three teams we've played so far and they aren't going to back down ever."
Sweden came out with renewed vigor in the second half and fired three shots in the first three minutes. The USA repelled the barrage and worked itself back into the game after about 15 minutes, playing even with the Swedes for the remainder of the match. In the 54th minute, Stephanie Rigamat spun around her defender after letting a throw-in run across her body, then cut hard toward goal, only to loft a soft cross into the hands of Jonsson. In the 66th minute, a quickly taken free-kick by Cramer put Rigamat in on the right flank, but her driven cross was headed over the end line for a corner kick.
The always rambunctious Ljungberg had one of Sweden's best chances in the 70th minute when she busted through the U.S. defense, but with Anna Kraus and Amy Steadman in tow, she shot wide left.
Two minutes later, Swedish captain Malin Andersson hit a thundering 30-yard free-kick that smacked the cross bar and bounced down into the USA's penalty area. Once again, Sweden was quicker to react than the inexperienced U.S. defense, and Ljungberg gathered herself before lashing a low, driven shot into the left corner from 12 yards out. Solo, who played a quality match in her 7th cap, had no chance on either goal.
The USA kept attacking, but a tough and organized Swedish defense was not going to make a mistake. The ball has not bounced the USA's way in the tournament and that was evident in the 86th minute, when Reddick's long cross from deep on the right sideline sailed to far towards the goal and caught Jonsson back-peddling, only to hit the cross bar and bounce away.
"It's just so frustrating to lose, especially when we've played well enough to win, but playing teams like Sweden is what makes us better because they play good soccer," added Kluegel. "It's tough, but we have to look at the big picture, and for this group of players, that's trying to get enough experience to be able to make an impact on the 2003 Women's World Cup Team."
The USA now faces Norway for the first time since the historic Olympic gold medal game won by the Scandinavians in sudden death overtime at the Sydney Football Stadium last September. This is the first time the USA has played in a fifth-place match at the Algarve Cup in seven trips to the tournament.