Wednesday, October 1, 2003

U.S. vs. Norway a final-like matchup

Quarterfinal foes are powers in sport

The Associated Press

USA's Mia Hamm stretches during team practice Tuesday.
(AP photo)
| ZOOM |
FOXBORO, Mass. - Only the vagaries of the World Cup draw could conjure up a meeting of the world's top two teams in the quarterfinals.

"Seems like it should be the final, doesn't it?" U.S. forward Shannon MacMillan said Monday of the impending match with Norway. "It surprised us, and after Wednesday, one of us will be going home."

The game tonight at Gillette Stadium is the second of a doublaheader that opens with Sweden against Brazil. The Brazilians beat the Norwegians 4-1 in the first round, an upset that led to the U.S.-Norway game in the second round after the Americans swept through their group.

"They beat us in the Olympics and that was the last major event," U.S. defender Kate Sobrero said of the Norwegians. "For me, they should be No. 1."

But they aren't; the Americans are. And that loss to Brazil exposed some problems the Americans are primed to exploit.

Brazil successfully attacked the flanks, using speed and passing, then power in front of the net. The Americans, led by Mia Hamm, Abby Wambach, Cindy Parlow and Kristine Lilly, have displayed those skills in abundance.

But only one nation has a winning record vs. the United States: Norway, at 18-16-2.

Several Norwegians starred in the WUSA, including forwards Dagny Mellgren (Boston Breakers), Anita Rapp (New York Power) and midfielder Hege Riise (Carolina Courage). But Riise is coming off a knee injury and can be used only sporadically.

"We seem to play the U.S. a lot in big situations, and we like that," Norway coach Age Steen said. "This is another one. We wanted to meet the U.S. a little later in the tournament, but we have to play them now, so that's how it is."

Though Norway, the 1995 World Cup winner, has the edge on the United States in the series, the Americans won the last three matches, including two this year. Plus, the United States is at home, although Norway has eight wins on American soil, dating to 1987.

"I love being home and the feeling you get when you walk out on the field and hear that crowd," U.S. captain Julie Foudy said. "But we've played them a lot of times here. We've seen them so much over the years, we know them. And they know us."

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