March 17, 2001
QUARTEIRA, Portugal - Norway scored three unanswered goals in the final 17 minutes, all after their star midfielder Hege Riise had entered the match and after the USA's midfield general Aleisha Cramer had exited, coming from two goals down to defeat the U.S. Women's National Team, 4-3, in a wild 5th place match at the Algarve Cup.
Norway fielded 13 players from their Olympic gold medal winning team, but an inspired effort from a U.S. squad that averages 19 years of age had the Olympic champions reeling, as three Americans scored their first-ever international goals. After Norway scored first in the 21st minute, the USA scored three consecutive goals to build a 3-1 lead. Norway then showed the mettle that made them Olympic champions, matching the USA's feat by scoring in the 73rd, 86th and 88th minutes to hand the Americans a bitter loss and a 6th place finish.
"It's a huge understatement to say that we are disappointed," said Cramer, the U.S. captain who had leave the game in the 72nd minute after she collided face first with defender Amy Steadman's head. "We had them beaten and somehow we let them get back in the game. On the soccer field, we outplayed them. Mentally, I guess they outplayed us."
In a match chock full of twists and turns, the Americans once again blew a golden chance for an early goal when in just the 6th minute Christie Welsh got behind the Norway defense on a breakaway after a U.S. clear had sailed over their last defender. Norwegian goalkeeper Bente Nordby, who will join the Carolina Courage of the WUSA next week, retreated and then held her ground. Welsh, who battled hard the entire game, hit her shot five yards wide of the goal from the top of the penalty box.
Two minutes later off a U.S. corner kick, the ball bounced to Cramer after a scramble inside the penalty area, but her left-footed cracker hit the left side netting.
As always, Norway fed a steady diet of long balls to the U.S. defense, which led by Catherine Reddick and Anna Kraus, did a fine job of winning service in the air as well as running down through balls to clear. Cramer and Devvyn Hawkins were also dominant in the air against the Norwegians in the middle of the field. In fact, the USA got off to a great start, playing many direct balls themselves and kept the pressure on Norway in the early going.
In the 18th minute, Schott did well to collect a long ball and then played Welsh in middle of the field, who brought the ball down, held off her defender and turned toward goal on the right side, but her whistling drive was pushed over top by Nordby.
In the 20th minute, Norway scored in typical fashion, winning the ball in the midfield and releasing a player down the left flank with one touch. The cross into the middle was not particularly dangerous, but the ball bouncedaround and the USA failed to clear. Ragnhild Gulbrandsen accepted the gift by shooting through traffic from eight yards out into the left corner past the screened U.S. goalkeeper Emily Oleksiuk.
The USA tied the game three minutes later when it finally caught a break for the first time on the five-game tour of Europe, courtesy of an uncharacteristic blunder from Nordby. Defender Ally Marquand collected a throw-in and hit a driven cross from the flush on the right sideline that swerved toward net. Nordby seemingly had an easy grab, but apparently lost concentration for a split-second as the ball dipped. It slapped off her hands and she batted the ball straight into the right corner of the net. The U.S. players paused for a moment in disbelief, as did Nordby, before realizing that the ball was actually in the goal.
The USA absorbed a Norway flurry at the end of the half, including a near miss from young superstar Dagny Mellgren of the Boston Breakers, who otherwise had a quiet game, and went into the break with a well-earned 1-1 tie.
Norway kicked off to start the second half and of course sent a long ball down the field. The USA won the ball and sent a long service back over the defense. Welsh corralled it and slipped a short pass to the hard luck Laura Schott, who had missed more than a half-dozen great chances to score during to tour. Schott came through this time, rounding Nordby to the left and sliding to slot the ball home, giving the USA the lead just 46 seconds into the second half.
"We scored a couple of great goals and at least after five games we were able to finish some chances," added Cramer. "I guess as painful as it is, we just have to be happy about the positives and learn from negatives. We did a lot of learning on this trip."
Two minutes after Schott's goal, she could have added another when Alyssa Ramsey beat Nordby to a through ball, but dribbled too wide. Ramsey recovered the ball and rolled a cross into the middle, but Schott could only get a small piece of the ball on her shot attempt.
In the 49th minute, Norway captain Goril Kringen dragged down Welsh at top of the box and received a yellow card. Kringen then encroached on the free-kick, blocking it about five-yards off the foot of Reddick.
In the 56th minute, Kringen once again fouled Welsh, this time on the left side of the penalty area. Kringen tried to encroach again, but Reddick held her shot. Reddick lined up again to shoot and again Kringen came running at the ball, drawing a warning from the referee. As the Norwegians were just settling back into their defensive wall, Reddick took the kick quickly just as the referee blew her whistle and stuck her shot into the left corner past the flat-footed Nordby.
At that point, Norway head coach Age Steen had seen enough and inserted Riise into the match. Riise added a bit of spark to the Norway attack, but the U.S. was settled in and was poised to play out the match before inexperience once again did the young team in.
Cramer and Steadman both jumped for a ball in the U.S. penalty area and crackedheads, with Cramer's front teeth leaving a small gash over Steadman's left eye. Cramer got was worst of the collision and had to leave the game as her two front teeth were bent back and had to be pushed back into place by team doctor Bill Heinz. With momentum lost, Norway scored seconds later as Gulbrandsen volleyed a Riise cross into the right corner of the net, and then pounded away at the U.S. goal for the last 15 minutes.
Keisha Bell came in for Kraus in the 57th minute and won numerous balls in the air, but Norway's direct style eventually wore the U.S. down and forced mistakes. In the 62nd minute, Riise was at the heart of a great series of passes up the middle, but Gulbrandsen hit her shot right into Oleksiuk's stomach. Oleksiuk did well on numerous Norway services, but was under a lot of pressure from the Norway attack in just her second ever match, and was not able to keep the ball out of the net in the final five minutes.
In the 63rd minute, U.S. head coach April Heinrichs changed two forwards, sending on Kristen Weiss and Stephanie Rigamat for Welsh and Schott, and the USA had its share of chances to put the game away. In the 66th minute, Weiss pushed through the defense off pass from Rigamat and managed to get a shot off, but the charging Nordby deflected the ball and it rolled slowly just wide left of goal for a corner kick.
In the 80th minute, Riise hit a screaming volley that went wide left of the goal, but the USA came right back as Lori Chalupny, who had come on for Cramer and added a spark in the midfield, freed herself on a great dribble and played Ramsey on the left flank. Ramsey played a nice cross to Weiss, but she headed the ball wide left of the goal.
With four minutes left in the game, Weiss fouled a Norwegian defender at midfield and Norway got its equalizer, sending a long ball to Gulbrandsen, who lofted her header over Oleksiuk and under the crossbar.
The game totally unraveled two minutes later as the USA gave up another foul, this time on the right flank. The ball was headed up in the air and Anne Tonnessen was on the spot to volley into the left corner from a sharp angle to give Norway two goals in three minutes.
"We played another good 70-minute game, but the game is 90 minutes long and Norway just didn't quit when they went down 3-1," said U.S. defender Jena Kluegel. "The best thing about the tour was that we ended playing our best soccer and we scored some goals. It's a great feeling to know that we were just minutes away from beating the Olympic champions with such a young team."
The USA had one last chance to tie and send the game to penalty kicks as Reddick lofted a free-kick from the left sideline, but Nordby was solid this time, making a clean catch to send the USA to 6th place. The USA has now failed to defeat Norway in the last four matches between the two teams, compiling a 0-3-1 record in those games. In the other placement games, China pounded Canada 5-1 to take 3rd place while Finland defeated Portugal, 3-1, for 7th place. The Sweden-Denmark championship game will take place later this evening.