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SYDNEY 2000 / SUMMER OLYMPIC GAMES | Soccer

Norway Gets Golden Goal in Overtime

September 29, 2000|GRAHAME L. JONES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SYDNEY, Australia — Her blond hair was tied back in a ponytail. Her smile lit the entire room. The gold medal on the pale blue ribbon around her neck flashed and sparkled under the television lights.

There was only one thing wrong with the picture.

She was Norwegian.

"It's unbelievable," Gro Espeseth said. "It was such a tough game. The U.S. team scored very early and I thought, 'Oh, no, not again. Why should they win again and again and again?' "

They didn't.

In perhaps the most dramatic match in the short history of women's soccer in the Olympic Games, Norway defeated the United States, 3-2, in sudden-death overtime Thursday night to claim its first Olympic gold medal.

The Americans, who scored a brilliant Mia Hamm-to-Tiffeny Milbrett goal with 15 seconds left in regulation to tie it, were left devastated.

Their dream of being the first team to win two world championships and two Olympic titles was ruined by a Dagny Mellgren goal 11:11 into overtime.

The reaction was immediate.

Hamm sank to her knees in shock. Julie Foudy and Kate Sobrero broke into tears.

Milbrett and Brandi Chastain tried to keep the flag flying, literally. They paraded Old Glory in front of an American section of the crowd of 22,848 at Sydney Football Stadium, with Chastain taking off her cleats and tossing them to the fans.

But try as they might to keep their composure, the players were hurting inside. They came to Australia for gold, played the finest soccer they have played in more than a year, and had to settle for silver.

For Carla Overbeck, it was the final match in an outstanding career, but she spent it on the bench, powerless to help. Chastain, Hamm, Foudy, Joy Fawcett and Kristine Lilly--the other veterans from the 1991 world championship team--played superbly, only to be disappointed in the end.

"They won, more power to them," Sobrero said, "but for me it's hard to let the veterans down. They're all the younger kids' idols and role models, and playing with them is such a privilege.

"The team's never going to be like this ever again. I know that, we all know that, and it's hard to have them go out in that fashion."

It could easily have been otherwise.

The U.S. took the lead 4:43 into the game, when Foudy passed to Hamm, who beat defender Goeril Kringen, then cut the ball back into the path of Milbrett, who fired it into the net from close range.

The Americans dominated the first half-hour and might well have increased their lead but for bad luck and some superb goalkeeping by Norway's Bente Nordby.

Lilly flashed a header over the crossbar in the 18th minute and Foudy came even closer, skipping a shot off the top of the crossbar in the 30th.

Four minutes later, Per-Mathias Hogmo, Norway's coach, made a shrewd substitution, bringing Unni Lehn into the game in place of Solveig Gulbrandsen and switching from a 4-4-2 formation to a 4-5-1.

That strengthened the Norwegian midfield and took away the U.S. advantage in a crucial area of the field.

Ten minutes later, Norway took away the U.S. lead.

A corner kick by Hege Riise on the right was floated into the goal area and Espeseth, running through a crowd, headed the ball past U.S. goalkeeper Siri Mullinix.

"It was a very good corner from Hege," Espeseth said, "so it was just for me to use my head to put it into the goal. It was an unbelievable moment."

That left the score tied, 1-1, at the half, and the game still very much in the balance.

In the second 45 minutes, it was Nordby who time and again saved the game for Norway. She blocked a Milbrett shot at the near post in the 56th minute and made an outstanding save on a superb 71st-minute shot by Hamm that was headed for the upper-left corner of the net.

In between, Kringen headed a rebound shot by Milbrett off the goal line after Nordby had blocked Milbrett's initial effort. The goalkeeper also denied Lilly from close range.

Then, in the 78th minute, Norway struck a telling blow when Ragnhild Gulbrandsen, who had been winning balls in the air all evening, got her head to another one under pressure from both Fawcett and Mullinix.

The ball flew into the net and suddenly the world and Olympic champions were trailing, 2-1.

It stayed that way until two minutes into injury time.

"I saw 90 [minutes] up there [on the scoreboard] and I thought, 'Oh, my God, we just lost,' " Sobrero said.

Instead, with 15 seconds left, Hamm sent a perfect cross in from the right wing and Milbrett twisted in the air to send a glancing downward header wide to Nordby's right and into the lower-left corner of the net.

The U.S. bench exploded, with Coach April Heinrichs held aloft in someone's arms, punching her fist in the air.

Hogmo's reaction was more restrained. "When the United States scored to make it 2-2, I told the girls, 'This is our day. We will come back,' " he said.

Again it was Riise who created the goal, sending a ball in from deep. Fawcett headed it away, but the ball struck Mellgren on the upper arm or shoulder and fell kindly for her.

Mullinix dived and got a fingertip on Mellgren's shot, but it was not enough to prevent Norway from claiming the gold medal.

"We're still a young team, with a lot of inexperienced players," Hogmo said. "We have only five players left from the Atlanta Games. But if you work hard, sometimes you go all the way, and we did it this time."

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