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One Is All the U.S. Needs

Norway falls, 1-0, in a bruising Women's World Cup soccer match. The U.S. will play Germany or Russia in the semifinals.

October 02, 2003|Grahame L. Jones | Times Staff Writer

FOXBORO, Mass. — All it took Wednesday night to knock Norway out of the Women's World Cup and next summer's Athens Olympic Games was one flick of the head.

United States forward Abby Wambach delivered the telling blow 23:46 into the U.S. team's quarterfinal match in front of 25,103 at Gillette Stadium, as the defending world champions won, 1-0, to advance to a semifinal encounter with Germany or Russia in Portland, Ore., on Sunday.

In a bruising match that saw the Norwegians called for 24 fouls compared to 10 for the Americans, the physical presence of Wambach, Cindy Parlow and Shannon Boxx carried the day.

When the final whistle had sounded and the U.S. knew that it had avenged its 3-2 overtime loss to Norway in the gold medal game at the Sydney 2000 Olympics, Mia Hamm leaped into Wambach's arms in relief.

Hamm had reason to be relieved. She missed a penalty kick in the 66th minute that might have made the final half hour or so less nerve-racking for her teammates.

The game's lone goal came after a period of intense U.S. pressure on the Norwegian defense. The U.S. might have taken the lead as early as the fifth minute when defender Christie Pearce sent a long ball from the right flank toward the far post, where Wambach looped a shot that clanged off the crossbar.

Having survived one close call, the Norwegians couldn't survive a second.

This time it was defender Catherine Reddick who created the scoring opportunity when she powered a free kick from midfield into the Norwegian penalty area in the 24th minute. Wambach, with her back to the goal, got her head to the ball and sent it spinning into the back of the net.

"A goal like that doesn't really happen unless the serve is on target," Wambach said. "Cat did a tremendous job to put that ball on my head.

"It was just a flick. I knew that I had position on the girl who was marking me and I knew that if I flicked it, [Norwegian goalkeeper Bente] Nordby probably would have been screened in some way, so it would have been a guess for her as to where the ball was going to go."

That's exactly what happened. Nordby was guarding the near post and Wambach's flick flashed past her to her left before she could react.

The U.S. was on the offensive for the full 90 minutes, carrying the game to the reigning Olympic champions and 1995 world champions. One goal never seemed to be enough, but in the end it turned out to be, as the U.S. defense, marshaled by veteran Joy Fawcett, turned back every threat. It was the Americans' third shutout in four World Cup matches.

Wambach was so impressed that she even slipped into football terminology.

"My hat goes off to our defensive line," she said. "Our back four did a tremendous job for us today."

The degree of U.S. dominance was shown by the final statistics. The Americans took 14 shots overall, compared to three for the Norwegians. The U.S. earned eight corner kicks, the Norwegians two. Seven of the U.S. shots were on target. Norway had only one attempt on goal.

"It was a slow roller," U.S. goalkeeper Briana Scurry said, laughing and pointing out how rested she felt.

"I was like, 'I could go run a marathon or something right now,' " she said.

Norway's loss knocked Coach Age Steen's team out of the tournament and, equally distressingly for him, means that the No. 2-ranked women's team in the world will not be in Athens next summer.

The top two European finishers in the World Cup will represent the continent in the Olympics -- along with host Greece -- and with Sweden already in the semifinals and Germany or Russia set to join them, the Norwegians were ousted.

"Congratulations to the U.S. team, today they were better," Steen said, admitting that Wambach had been a handful.

"She is very strong in the air and very strong in the box," he said. "We tried to take her out in the box, but it is very difficult to stop her."

Nordby earned a yellow card when she tried to stop Wambach as the two collided at the edge of the penalty area in the 66th minute. The collision led to the penalty kick, but Hamm's poorly directed shot was saved by Nordby, who guessed correctly and dived to her right.

The U.S. is two victories from retaining its world championship, and Wambach hopes to lead it there.

"Right now it's not about scoring goals, it's not about looking pretty, it's about winning games," she said. "We all left it on the field today, and we're just excited to be going to Portland and to be playing in the semis."

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