Wagner Goal Leads U.S. National Team

Courtesy of U.S. Soccer

March 19, 2003

VILA REAL SAN ANTONIO, Portugal - The U.S. Women's National Team tied an excellent Sweden team, 1-1, in its final group match at the 2003 Algarve Cup, but it was good enough to earn the Americans spot in the championship game on Thursday, March 20, against long-time rival China. Midfielder Aly Wagner scored the lone U.S. goal in the 18th minute on a world-class volley, her second goal of the tournament.

With Norway's 1-0 victory over Canada in the first Group A match of the afternoon, the USA was able to draw and still advance by virtue of finishing atop the group with five points. Norway finished second with four points, Sweden had three points from three draws, all 1-1 ties, and Canada finished last in the group with two points.

The championship game will kick off at 6 p.m. local time (1 p.m. ET) and fans can follow the game online at www.ussoccer.com's MatchTracker presented by Philips Electronics. This is the fourth time the USA has advanced to the Algarve Cup championship game, but has won the tournament just once in eight tries, that coming in 2000 when a Brandi Chastain penalty kick goal was good enough for a 1-0 victory over Norway. In 1999, the USA faced China in the Algarve Cup championship game, but lost 2-1.

This year, no team scored more than one goal in any of the six highly competitive Group A matches, featuring four teams that will participate in the 2003 Women's World Cup.

Aly Wagner scored the 10th goal of her international career against Sweden on Tuesday.

"Annually this is the best tournament in the world outside a world championship," said U.S. head coach April Heinrichs. "This year, it's the best tournament we've played because of the demands of playing four games in seven days. Being in the group with these three teams, and coming out in first place and advancing to the final is a tremendous achievement for this group of players. We'll now play four World Cup teams in seven days."

In Group B, France defeated Finland, 1-0, forcing China to win its match against Denmark to make the championship game. The 2003 Women's World Cup hosts did just enough, defeating the Danes, 2-1, to set up the USA-China title game. Superstar Sun Wen, who had come on in the 74th minute, sent China to the final, getting the winning goal in stoppage time of the second half. A draw would have sent France to the championship match.

Facing a strong and skillful Swedish side in much better weather than the gale force winds that plagued the USA's last match, the Americans needed just a draw to advance while Sweden needed a win, and played an aggressive game to get it. However, like most USA-Sweden games, this one featured limited scoring chances for either team and mirrored the meeting between these two teams last year at the Algarve Cup, also a 1-1 draw.

Sweden had the first chance of the match in the 9th minute and the USA was fortunate to avoid going down a goal. Forward Hanna Ljungberg dispossessed Brandi Chastain in the back and raced in on a breakaway, but instead of trying to round U.S. goalkeeper Siri Mullinix on the dribble, she tried to chip her, and the ball flew over the goal.

Like Wagner's goal in the first game against Canada, this one also had its genesis from a corner kick. The cross from the left side was cleared by the Swedish defense, but fell to Christie Pearce just outside the top of the penalty area. She headed the ball back into the pack, where Sweden won it again, but headed it into the air. The ball fell to Wagner just outside of the penalty arc on the left side, and she struck a first-time volley with the laces on her right foot that dipped into the lower right corner from 19 yards out. It was the 10th goal of her international career.

"I didn't want to hit it too hard," said Wagner. "It was one of those shots where you can miss big, or hit it well, so I didn't want to swing too hard. Luckily, I hit it well and it found the back corner. I've never played in an Algarve final and I know the team is excited to get back into the game with a chance to win it."

Sweden actually had more of game in early going, sending several dangerous crosses from the right flank, before the USA regained some composure and ball possession. The second half saw the USA -- playing its third match in five days -- begin to tire a bit and Sweden pushed forward for an equalizer. They got it with 11 minutes left from Ljungberg, who has scored all three of Sweden's goals thus far. Malin Mostrom created the goal when she stole the ball from Julie Foudy in the midfield and raced at goal before playing Ljungberg in right side of the penalty area. The diminutive striker took her shot well, slotting it past Mullinix into the lower right corner from 15 yards out.

The U.S. defense, which was again led by veteran Joy Fawcett, hung tough the entire game, and salted away the last 10 minutes with quality end-game tactics. It was not the prettiest second half for the U.S. team, which struggled for possession and absorbed Swedish pressure for most of the period, but another gritty defensive effort held Sweden to just eight total shots and only two on goal. The USA had seven shots in the match, three on goal.

Sweden sent numerous long balls sailing into the U.S. defensive third for the scrappy Ljungberg to chase down, but the U.S. defense, as it has been all tournament, was phenomenal in the air and Mullinix was excellent in coming out of the goal to cut off the services.

Norway and Canada, led by former Norwegian head coach Even Pellerud, played a physical match in the first game but the Scandinavians got the deserved win on a 39th minute goal from Dagny Mellgren. Norway defender Monica Knudsen was ejected in the 70th minute, but Canada could not take advantage of the 20-minute power play. In Group C, Portugal came from two goals down to defeat Ireland in dramatic fashion, 3-2, and 2004 Olympic hosts Greece downed Wales, 2-0, to win the group.

In the other placement games, Norway will face France for third place, Sweden will face Finland for fifth and Canada will face Greece for seventh place. Denmark takes on Portugal for ninth while Ireland and Wales play each other again, this time for 11th place.

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