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U.S. Dominates Sweden in World Cup Opener

The Americans win, 3-1, but they pay a price: Chastain breaks her foot and will miss two games.

September 22, 2003|Grahame L. Jones | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — It was a Women's World Cup match against Sweden in which the United States did not put a foot wrong.

Well, OK, maybe one.

That would have been Brandi Chastain's right foot, which she landed on awkwardly late in the first half, breaking a bone and forcing her to miss the next two games, against Nigeria and North Korea.

Not to worry, though, the U.S. got off to the best possible start in defense of the world championship it won in 1999 when it defeated the Swedes in convincing fashion, 3-1, in front of 34,144 at RFK Stadium.

The game was notable for several reasons, not the least of which was the World Cup debut of the next generation of American stars, Shannon Boxx's record-setting performance and Mia Hamm's three assists.

Coach April Heinrichs gave forward Abby Wambach and midfielder Boxx their first starts in a world championship, and later brought Aly Wagner and Cat Reddick into the match to make their bow on the world stage.

All four were at home right away.

The tall, powerful Wambach, in particular, proved to be a force the Swedes found very difficult to contain, especially when she was paired up front with the equally lanky Cindy Parlow -- both players stand nearly 6 feet -- and the always busy Hamm.

With Julie Foudy and the flawless Kristine Lilly running the midfield ahead of Boxx, and with an indomitable back line of Kate Sobrero, Joy Fawcett, Chastain and Christie Pearce protecting goalkeeper Briana Scurry, the U.S. presented the Swedes with a formidable lineup.

Experience and youth combined to unlock the Swedish defense in the 27th minute. Foudy sent the ball out to Parlow on the right. Parlow, in turn, fed Wambach, who rounded fallen defender Jane Toernqvist and beat defender Sara Larsson before passing to Hamm.

The world's all-time leading goal-scorer had time to turn and shoot, but instead played the ball back for Lilly to hammer a shot into the net from 18 yards out for her 92nd international goal.

"It was a great pass from Mia," Lilly said. "I hit it on the sweet spot and it went just where I wanted it to go."

Nine minutes later, the U.S. was ahead, 2-0.

This time it was Parlow who found the back of the net, heading a Hamm corner kick from the right in off the underside of the crossbar to leave Sweden reeling only 36 minutes into the match.

Chastain's injury occurred a couple of minutes later, and after that the tone of the game gradually changed, especially once the Swedes regrouped in the second half.

Reddick, at 21 the youngest U.S. player, came on in place of Chastain, and Heinrichs replaced Wambach with Tiffeny Milbrett after 56 minutes.

The Americans seemed to lose their way for a while and Sweden took full advantage in the 58th minute. Forward Hanna Ljungberg, the unquestioned star of the Scandinavian team, sent a 40-yard pass from the right sideline onto the head of fellow striker Victoria Svensson and Svensson beat Sobrero at the far post to head the ball into the upper left corner of the U.S. net.

"She got a great header on it," Scurry said. "Right under the bar and right over me. I don't know if she could do it again exactly that way if she tried."

Suddenly, it was 2-1, and the game was swinging in Sweden's direction.

Wagner came on in place of Parlow, but the Swedes continued their search for the tying goal.

Instead, in the 78th minute, Boxx slammed the lid on Swedish hopes.

Lilly won a corner kick on the left and Hamm floated the ball to the far post where Boxx, tumbling backward, headed it in past goalkeeper Caroline Joensson and defender Frida Oestberg.

"I got up pretty high, and when I headed it I was falling backward," she said, "so I didn't see it go in the goal."

With the goal, Boxx, from Redondo Beach, accomplished something that no other U.S. woman had done before -- not Hamm, not Michelle Akers, not Carin Jennings -- becoming the first player to score in each of her first three games for the national team.

"She keeps surprising us," Foudy said. "Three caps, three goals. We told her she's going to have to go 100 for 100."

With the U.S. holding a 3-1 lead, all that was left was for Scurry to secure the victory with a couple of fine saves in the closing minutes.

Foudy summed it all up.

"Our three keys for today were dance, dance, dance," she said. "Just enjoy it."

Chastain's dancing, meanwhile, has been curtailed for a while. She left the field on crutches and X-rays revealed the broken bone.

"The most important thing about today is that we earned three points," she said. "We are one step closer to the quarterfinals. This is not an individual thing. My main concern is that we move on, and if that means I have to contribute to that by cheering from the sideline, I'll cheer as loud as I can."

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