Norway defeats U.S. 3-2 in extra time for goldPosted: Thursday September 28, 2000 12:00 AM
Updated: Tuesday November 14, 2000 10:41 AM
SYDNEY, Australia (CNNSI.com) - It wasn't the finish the fans or the team wanted, but as the U.S. women's soccer team stood behind the silver medal platform Mia Hamm gave her teammates some words of comfort.
"She said, 'Hold your head high -- and be proud.' And we were," defender Brandi Chastain said. "I think you could see that in everybody's eyes. We're very, very proud of what we accomplished. And I hope everybody who watches the game understands it wasn't easy."
In the 12th minute of sudden death overtime, substitute Dagny Mellgren scored to give Norway a 3-2 victory Thursday over the Americans and an Olympic gold medal. It also gave it the right to claim a spot next to the United States as the top team of the past decade in major international women's soccer.
"Maybe we are the best team in the world now," said Norway coach Per-Matthias Hagmo. "We have beaten the United States four times this year, China three times."
With the victory, Norway adds the 2000 Olympic title to its 1995 World Cup championship. The United States can claim the 1991 and last year's thrilling World Cup triumph in front of U.S. fans at the Rose Bowl, as well as the gold medal at the 1996 Atlanta Games.
The victory also means Norway is still the only nation with an all-time winning record (15-13-2) against the United States. The Norwegians are also the only team to beat the Americans in a World Cup or Olympic tournament, the other victory coming in the 1995 World Cup semifinals.
"Norway did what they had to do," coach April Heinrichs. "They kept their game plan very simple and they never gave up."
The game was by far the best of the Olympic tournament. The U.S. team took an early lead, lost it just before halftime, then fell behind in the second half before forcing overtime with Tiffeny Milbrett's goal seconds before the end of regulation.
"When the U.S. team scored very early I thought 'No, not again. Why should they win again and again and again?' " said Gro Espeseth, who scored Norway's first goal. "It was terrible when Tiffy scored the goal when they were a few seconds from the end. But we came back. Dagna scored a wonderful goal and it was a magic moment."
Although these Olympics weren't a cumulative last-hurrah for the stars of the U.S. team, it's likely that the lineup will change substantially before the next major tournament, the 2003 World Cup.
Carla Overbeck is the only player definitely retiring from international play this year, but it's inevitable that younger players will start to challenge longtime veterans such as Kristine Lilly, Julie Foudy, Joy Fawcett, Chastain and Hamm.
The loss is a tough one for Heinrichs, who has been under pressure to match predecessor Tony DiCicco's success. Heinrichs' aggressive style and unusual tactics have drawn critics, but her team won every tournament it entered this year before the Olympics.
"They won the silver medal but their game was golden tonight," Heinrichs said. "I'm incredibly proud of each one and incredibly proud of their achievements. ... We couldn't have started better and it was a coach's dream to push the ball around the way we did and have as much possession as we did."
The winning goal came when Mellgren took a deflection off defender Fawcett's head as they played a long ball from Hege Riise. The ball hit Mellgren's shoulder and landed at her feet before she pushed it to the left of goalkeeper Siri Mullinix from 7 yards.
Foudy appealed to referee for a hand ball, but referee Sonia Denoncourt replied: 'Don't do this to me, Jules."
Norway nearly had it won in regulation, but Milbrett's second goal with seconds left in second-half injury time tied the game. Milbrett outleaped defender Goeril Kringen to knock home Hamm's long cross from the right wing. There was literally no time left - when the ball was returned to the center circle for the kickoff, Denoncourt signaled the end of the second half.
An interesting moment occurred with the score tied 1-1 in the 60th minute, when Lilly's drive was headed off the line at the post in a great defensive play by Kringen. A year ago, in the World Cup final at the Rose Bowl, it was Lilly's header on the line in overtime that prevented a China victory and sent the game to penalty kicks.
Hamm did almost all the work, and Milbrett scored the goal as the Americans took a 1-0 lead in the fifth minute. Hamm took Foudy's pass and fought off Kringen in the left side of the box, drew the goalkeeper out and passed to Milbrett, who one-touched the ball into the open net from 8 yards.
The Americans put on a clinic of smooth passing to dominate possession in the first half, while Norway unsuccessfully tried to work the long ball. But the Norwegians kept at it - scoring all three goals using the set pieces and long balls at which they excel.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.