Africa rules men's game; U.S. women's domination endsPosted: Sunday October 01, 2000 3:39 PM
Updated: Tuesday November 14, 2000 9:50 AM
SYDNEY, Australia (CNNSI.com) - After the 2000 Olympic Games, it's evident that Africa still owns the men's game.
The Indomitable Lions of Cameroon took over from Nigeria's Super Eagles as Olympic champions after scoring a penalty shootout victory over 9-man Spain in the final.
But the Sydney Games also saw the end of the U.S. women's reign. Norway upset the United States 3-2 on a golden goal in the women's final.
Cameroon and Spain had fought out a thrilling 2-2 tie after extra time Saturday, with the Africans triumphing 5-3 in the shootout.
That result backed up Africa's belief that it remains the future of the game, despite the fact that South Africa's bid to stage the 2006 World Cup was beaten by Germany in July.
"I think this [victory] is a motivational development not just for Cameroon but for African soccer," said Cameroon coach Jean-Paul Akono. "I don't think we are very far from a World Cup in a few years from now."
Chile downed the United States 2-0 for the bronze medal, with Inter Milan striker Ivan Zamorano scoring both goals to finish top scorer with six.
The fact that four different confederations were represented in the semifinal was a bonus for the good of the worldwide game.
With national coach Wanderley Luxemburgo in charge, Brazil started off as pre-tournament favorites. But young stars such as Ronaldinho, Alex and Athirson failed to shine, and the team was beaten 2-1 in the quarterfinal on an extra-time golden goal by a Cameroon team down to nine men.
The Italians, coached by 1982 World Cup star Marco Tardelli, looked a strong bet for the title after winning their group, but lost 1-0 to Spain in the quarterfinal when they conceded a late goal.
With AS Roma midfielder Hidetoshi Nakata performing well, Japan also looked good until it ran into the Americans in the quarters. The Japanese were expected to win, but twice let leads slip and then conceded a last-minute penalty in a 2-2 tie.
The American team, under the guidance of Englishman Clive Charles, got far further than ever before, but was beaten soundly 3-1 by Spain in the semis and Chile in the bronze medal game.
FIFA was delighted with the standard of play in the men's game, but disappointed with the lack of competitive action in the women's.
But Norway's victory over the Americans -- after being a goal down after only five minutes -- at least ended the U.S. domination.
The Americans, fielding 10 of the 1996 lineup, were Olympic and World Cup holders and, having beaten the Norwegians 2-0 in a one-sided group game, were expected to maintain the streak.
But Dagny Mellgren fired an extra time winner, and Norwegian coach Per-Matthias Hagmo came up with a good reason to argue his team had taken over as world No. 1.
"We have beaten the United States four times this year, China three times and Germany twice," Hagmo said.
Germany won its first Olympic women's soccer medal by downing World Cup bronze medalist Brazil 2-0, while the Chinese -- runner-up at both the 1996 Olympic and '99 World Cup finals -- surprisingly didn't even make it to the semifinal.
Drawn in the same group as the Americans and Norwegians, with just two advancing, the Chinese lost out. Their aging team is likely to break up.
FIFA saluted both finalists, but admitted the women's tournament didn't match up to the men's.
"The final was a spectacular demonstration of the power of women's soccer," FIFA spokesman Keith Cooper said. "Some of the other matches have been a big disappointment but, overall, the tournament has been positive. The fact that the first women's World Cup was less than 10 years ago, we must be careful not to expect too much too early."
With FIFA anxious not to let the Olympic competition rival its own World Cup, the men's tournament for now remains restricted to players under the age of 23, with the option of using three older stars.
"The feeling is we are happy with what we have got," Cooper said. "By the end of the year, the so-called FIFA Strategic Study Committee will have looked at Olympic football and we will see what the general opinion is."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.