Work in Sports
Milbrett, Hamm kick U.S. past Norway 2-0
MELBOURNE, Australia (CNNSI.com) -- Tiffeny Milbrett was pretty accurate in the U.S. women's soccer teams Olympics opener against Norway on Thursday night.
Milbrett had shots that hit the left goalpost, the right goalpost and the crossbar.
The one that counted most, however, was the one that found the back of the net.
Milbrett scored in the 18th minute and led a dominating performance Thursday night as the U.S. opened the defense of its Olympic gold medal with a 2-0 victory over Norway.
"That won't happen ever again, I promise," Milbrett said of the trio of near-misses that might someday make a good training drill.
Mia Hamm added a goal in the 24th against the second-ranked team in the world, the only nation in the world with a winning record (14-13-2) against the United States. Faced with a tough draw in a group that also includes powerhouse China, the Americans avoided a slow start that would have put them in a big hole in their bid to make the medals round.
"I told the team that was the best performance against the best opponent in the first round of any major world championship, and it was the best result," coach April Heinrichs said. "I also reminded them it's not where you start, it's where you finish."
The U.S. team next plays China on Sunday in a rematch of last year's World Cup final before finishing group play against Nigeria next week. A victory in either game should be enough for the Americans to advance to the semifinals.
China beat Nigeria 3-1 Thursday.
The United States won three corner kicks in the first five minutes and 10 for the game to Norway's two. In a stunning turn from most U.S.-Norway games, the Americans won most of the headers at midfield. Only several sloppy moments from goalkeeper Siri Mullinix on a wet field kept it from being a perfect night.
"They scored two goals. After that, we looked very nervous," Norwegian coach Per-Mathias Hogmo said. "We were never able to play our game. We were lucky we didn't lose by more. The United States had seven, eight chances. We gave away too many easy balls."
After playing before sellout crowds at home during the 1999 World Cup, the Americans looked like part of a tame sporting event when they marched on the field before just a few thousand fans in the cavernous, 90,000-seat Melbourne Cricket Ground.
But Milbrett, 5-foot-2 with the moves of a basketball point guard, supplied all the energy needed to get the evening going.
"Tiffeny Milbrett had a phenomenal performance," Heinrichs said. "She received the ball under pressure, took chances, went after defenders and caused havoc. I never know what Tiffeny Milbrett is going to do with the ball. There is that sort of creativity that coaches can't teach and she really broke through."
Milbrett's goal, her 80th in international competition, came with help from Mullinix, who made the just the sort of play that won her the starting job over World Cup hero Briana Scurry.
Mullinix sent a 60-yard clearance toward Milbrett, who beat two defenders to head the ball forward with only goalkeeper Bente Nordby to beat. Milbrett's first shot was deflected by Nordby, but the easy rebound made Milbrett's follow-up a formality.
Hamm's goal was one of the easiest of the world-record 126 she's accumulated. Norwegian midfielder Anita Rapp lost her bearings and blew the offside trap, allowing Kristine Lilly to chip a pass to a wide-open Hamm in the penalty box for the score.
From there, it was all Milbrett, even though she didn't score again. In the 30th minute, she somehow missed an open net on a breakaway after a pass from Hamm. In the 40th, she hit the right post. In the 43rd, she drove a close-range bullet into Nordby's body. In the 44th, she looped an amazing shot from the top of the box that hit the crossbar. In the 68th, she rocked a sliding 18-yarder off the left post.
"Oh, geez," Milbrett said. "Why can't I just get one of those?"
Mullinix, in her first game in a major tournament since overtaking Scurry, extended her U.S. team record with her 14th shutout of the year. But she was fortunate not to get ejected for a tackle on Dagny Mellgren in the 34th minute.
"When she hit me in the arm, that probably clothes-lined her," Mullinix said. "There was no intention of going for her."
Earlier, Mullinix misjudged a cross that Christie Pearce had to clear, although playing defense was a challenge for both teams as players slipped and slid on the soggy surface.
Norway threatened little in the second half as the Americans played more conservatively with the two-goal halftime lead.
"Norway is still one of the best teams in the world," Heinrichs said. "And I have a feeling we're on a collision course with them somewhere down the road."
USA - Tiffeny Milbrett (Siri Mullinix) 18th minute.
USA - 18-Siri Mullinix, 3-Christie Pearce, 14-Joy Fawcett, 15-Kate Sobrero, 6-Brandi Chastain, 13-Kristine Lilly, 11-Julie Foudy, 2-Lorrie Fair, 8-Shannon MacMillan, 16-Tiffeny Milbrett, 9-Mia Hamm (12-Cindy Parlow, 70th).
NOR - 1-Bente Nordby, 2-Brit Sandaune, 3-Goril Kringen, 4-Anne Tonnessen, 5-Gro Espeseth, 6-Hege Riise, 8-Monica Knudsen (7-Solveig Guldrandsen, 46th), 9-Anita Rapp (16-Ragnhild Gulbrandsen, 71st), 10-Unni Lehn, 11-Marianne Pettersen (17-Christine Boe Jensen, 55th), 14-Dagny Mellgren.
NOR - Goril Kringen (caution) 52nd
Referee: Eun-Ju Im (Korea)