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Close (Non) Call

Soccer: Hamm scores after a collision near the goal and United States reaches gold-medal game with 1-0 victory over Brazil.


CANBERRA, Australia — Jose Duarte, Brazil's coach, thought it was a foul that should have been whistled.

April Heinrichs, the U.S. coach, said she didn't see it.

Tiffeny Milbrett, the player who was supposedly at fault, admitted that she might easily have been called for clattering into Brazilian goalkeeper Andreia as both were going for the ball.

But Swiss referee Nicole Petignat kept her whistle from her lips and, as a result, Mia Hamm scored the only goal Sunday night as the U.S. women's soccer team edged Brazil, 1-0, to advance to Thursday's gold-medal match.

The Americans' opponent will be their old rival, Norway, which defeated Germany by the same score in the other semifinal at Sydney.

All things considered, it was difficult to get excited about the U.S. victory, even though the defending gold medalists and reigning world champions are assured of winning at least a silver medal.

That's because the game was dominated for much of the time by the faster and more lively South Americans and because the U.S. once again was more physical than usual--with hard tackles and bruising fouls not an infrequent occurrence--and again adopted time-wasting tactics to preserve its victory.

The latter might be a tactically sound move against a dangerous opponent, but it can also be seen as a sign that this U.S. team lacks faith in its ability to hold on to a lead in open-field play.

It got so bad in the final moments that fans in the crowd of 11,000 at Bruce Stadium were booing the Americans for their negativity, something the women's team has seldom, if ever, experienced.

In all, 41 fouls were called, 23 of them against the U.S., and Petignat handed out eight yellow cards, four to each team.

In a lackluster game on an increasingly chilly evening, two incidents stood out: the non-call on the Milbrett-Andreia collision and a spectacular save by U.S. goalkeeper Siri Mullinix that preserved the victory.

The first incident occurred exactly one hour into the match. The U.S. was awarded a free kick about 30 yards from the Brazilian net at a spot near the left touchline where Hamm had been fouled by Formiga, one of the single-named but multitalented Brazilian midfielders.

Brandi Chastain delivered a perfect free kick into the penalty area and Lorrie Fair rose at the far post to head the ball back across the goalmouth.

Milbrett, Andreia and Brazilian defender Juliana all went for the ball and all missed. Milbrett collided with Andreia and both fell to the ground. Meanwhile, Hamm, lurking behind the play, pounced on the lose ball and slotted it into the open net from a sharp angle on the left.

"It was not a good goal," said Formiga, who might have been a bit biased because it was her initial foul on Hamm that led to Hamm scoring.

But the more pertinent question was: Had Milbrett fouled Andreia?

"Yes," Duarte said.

"I didn't see it, to be honest," Heinrichs said. "From where I was, it was just chaos is what I saw."

Milbrett had a closer view.

"The goalkeeper is protected really well [by referees], so I was really surprised [not to be called]," she said. "I was ready for a whistle. I actually watched the replay and I was like, 'Sure, it could have been [whistled].'

"I didn't go for her. I didn't intend to knock her down. I went for the ball, so hopefully that's what the ref saw."

Ten minutes later, Mullinix made perhaps the save of the tournament so far, flinging herself to her right and thrusting out her right hand to turn a blazing, close-range shot by Roseli around the left post.

"She [Roseli] got down the flank and as she took it toward the end-line I moved toward my near post to make sure I had that covered," Mullinix said. "Then she cut it back and ripped a shot far post and I just was able to set and get a step and a hand [on the ball] and it was enough to knock it a yard wide."

The U.S. defensive line of Christie Pearce, Joy Fawcett, Kate Sobrero and Chastain was tested time and again by the speed of the Brazilian forwards and by the probing passes sent in by playmaker Sissi.

But, as it has done all tournament, the defense withstood the test.

"We played phenomenal defense," Heinrichs said. "Siri made one big-time save . . . and that she made the save at the moment that she did, puts us through to the gold [-medal game], and that's as important as Mia's finish on the chance that we had at the other end."

Milbrett suggested that the U.S. did not live up to expectations because of the challenge posed by its previous games.

"We had a really stressful journey out of that first group [which also included Norway, China and Nigeria]," she said, "so I think it took its toll. Not so much physically but I think really mentally because of the pressure that we have for ourselves and the expectations that we have [of] getting to the gold-medal game and wanting a gold medal.

"We have played ugly, as far as I'm concerned, in the last two games, but the sign of a good team is it doesn't matter how you win as long as you win."

Heinrichs said the U.S. would try to raise the level of its play in the final on Thursday at the Sydney Football Ground.

"I don't think we played our best soccer of the tournament in this game," she admitted. "I think they [the U.S. players] understand that. They would like to play better and that will be our focus for the next game."

The U.S. veterans, understandably tired and a touch jaded perhaps, might consider listening to the 20-year-old Mullinix.

"Just to come to the Olympics is awesome," she said, "but now to be playing for the gold medal is just an incredible feeling."



Thursday, 2 a.m. PDT

MSNBC (3 p.m)


The U.S. is 5-4-1 against Norway the last three years. How the teams have fared this year:

2000 (3-3-1)

Feb. 6: Norway, 3-2

Feb. 9: Norway, 2-1

March 18: U.S. 1-0

July 16: U.S., 1-0

July 27: Tied, 1-1

July 30: Norway, 2-1

Sept. 14: U.S., 2-0

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