Work in Sports
U.S. defeats Nigeria, advances to semifinals
MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) -- The U.S. women's soccer team survived the slashes and gashes from the rough Nigerians. Now it's on to the medal round without old nemesis China.
Brandi Chastain, Kristine Lilly and Shannon MacMillan scored as the Americans won their group Wednesday with a 3-1 victory over Nigeria. The U.S. team finished its difficult first-round schedule with a 2-0-1 record and will play Brazil in the semifinals Sunday in Canberra.
But there will be no rematch of last year's World Cup final. China was eliminated with a 2-1 defeat to Norway in the 'Group of Death,' leaving Norway vs. Germany as the other semifinal.
"I think it's a shame that a team like China's out of the tournament, but you've got three great teams in that group and only two can get through," captain Julie Foudy said. "We would have loved to had another shot at them."
The United States and China tied 1-1 Sunday in group play in what appeared to be a preview of the gold medal game. It wasn't, and, unlike her players, coach April Heinrichs isn't pining at the thought of not seeing that team again.
"You've got to be crazy," Heinrichs said. "They're an awesome team, and I am standing on the shore watching their plane take off and doing a wave. Thank God it's them getting on that plane and not us."
First, of course, there was the matter of the Nigerians, whose reckless style and willingness to sacrifice their bodies made the Americans jittery. The scariest moment came when goalkeeper Anna Chiejine kicked Tiffeny Milbrett in the chest at the edge of the penalty box on a breakaway, leaving the American forward on the ground for several minutes before she recovered to stay in the game.
"They're going to go through you to get to the ball," Chastain said. "You knew it was coming, but it's hard to control the anger that you have inside, the disbelief that they actually do it. It makes you a little more cautious, a little more fidgety.
"It took us a while to get our feet solid, but we were never afraid of losing the match."
The foul on Milbrett, one of 12 called on the Nigerians, led to the best goal of the game. Given a free kick at the edge of penalty box, MacMillan drilled an 18-yard free kick over the wall with such power that Chiejine had no time to react.
Although Lilly hit the crossbar in the fourth minute, but the Nigerians surprisingly controlled the first quarter of the game, frustrating the Americans in midfield with their speed and athletic ability. But Chastain's goal in the 26th minute swung the momentum.
Chastain scored on a 6-yard volley with a perfect assist header from Foudy off a corner kick from Mia Hamm. Lilly won the corner kick with a good run down the left flank.
Six minutes later, U.S. goalkeeper Siri Mullinix had to leap to bat away a looping header from Florence Omagbemi. Two minutes later, in the 35th, Lilly made it 2-0 on a gift goal deflected into the net off the leg of a Nigerian defender.
Nigeria got its goal when Mercy Akide rumbled through an American defense that had been nearly impenetrable during the tournament. Akide shook off Joy Fawcett and barreled past Kate Sobrero before putting her 12-yard shot over Mullinix in the 48th.
"She just dribbled through everybody," Sobrero said. "She kicked my butt on that tackle. I just got overpowered, and that's embarrassing."
MacMillan restored the two-goal lead in the 56th.
Mullinix had to work harder than expected the rest of the game as the Nigerians refused to concede, but the saves generally were routine. At the other end, MacMillan had another free kick attempt near the box, but substitute goalkeeper Judith Chime made the stop despite bobbling the ball out of bounds.
Although they play with reckless abandon, the Nigerians were the hard-luck team of the tournament. They had to play arguably the three best teams in the world, and they lost all three games 3-1.
In the only other U.S.-Nigeria meeting, last year at the World Cup, the Americans won 7-1.
"Last year, it was 7-1. Today is 3-1," coach Ismaila Mabo
said. "Maybe by the time we play next year, it's going to be a win