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Norway Takes a While to Win

In its first World Cup, France holds off the former champions for a half before losing, 2-0.

September 21, 2003|Grahame L. Jones | Times Staff Writer

PHILADELPHIA — Former world champion Norway began its quest for a second Women's World Cup in solid if unspectacular fashion Saturday as it defeated France, 2-0, in front of 13,486 at Lincoln Financial Field in the tournament's opening match.

Second-half goals by Anita Rapp and Dagny Mellgren earned the 1995 champions the three points, but it was debutante France that emerged from the game with the most praise for its courageous performance.

The French, spearheaded by lively forward Marinette Pichon, held the Scandinavians scoreless for the first 45 minutes and, after falling behind early in the second half, carried the game to Norway until Mellgren put the issue beyond doubt.

"We're pretty encouraged," France Coach Elizabeth Loisel said after France's first appearance on the World Cup stage. "I think we played well. Norway is always a difficult team for us.

"We can be proud of the match and be positive about our future."

The Norwegians, without midfielder Hege Riise to direct their play except for a cameo appearance in the final couple of minutes, looked uninspired during what was essentially a lackluster first half, with scoring chances few and far between.

A useful interchange among Rapp, Unni Lehn and Solveig Gulbrandsen in the 22nd minute ended with French goalkeeper Celine Marty doing very well to tip Gulbrandsen's shot over the crossbar.

At the other end, Elodie Wook's snap shot for France in the 38th minute brought an equally smart diving save by Norwegian goalkeeper Bente Nordby.

The closest either team came to scoring in the first half, however, was when Rapp floated a diagonal ball from the left over Marty's reach, only to see the ball strike the right post and rebound to safety.

Just more than one minute into the second half, Norway took the lead.

Veteran defender Brit Sandaune crossed the ball in from the left and Rapp leaped to head it into the net from about eight yards out.

The goal brought the French team to life, and for the next 20 minutes or so it appeared that France would not only be able to tie the score but might actually have the ability to win the game.

Nordby was forced into diving at Pichon's feet to make a save, and France's Stephanie Mugneret-Beghe later flashed a shot just wide of the right post.

The Norwegians withstood the pressure, however, and Mellgren put the result out of reach when she sneaked in behind the French defense and took a shot that Marty saved well, only to see the ball bounce off her knee and back to Mellgren.

Given the gift, Norway's captain curled the ball into the open net from an acute angle to secure the victory.

"We were a bit nervous at the beginning, but we took our chances very well and that sets us up nicely for the rest of the competition," Norway Coach Age Steen said.

Norway and France are in the same group as Brazil and South Korea, which play today at Washington.

The crowd grew by almost 11,000 in time for the second game of Saturday's doubleheader, as large contingents of Nigerian and Korean fans arrived, swelling the second-match attendance to 24,347.

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