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U.S. women's soccer opening loss: Not fatal

August 6, 2008 | 10:50 pm

Ingvild Stensland (4), Gunhild Folstad (3) and Melissa Wiik (10) celebrate a goal against the U.S. Norway won won the first-round match in Qinhuangdao, China, 2-0.

So the defending gold medal winners were bounced right on their tail feathers, were they? What a surprise.

Playing against Norway is always a toss-up for the U.S. women’s soccer team. The Norwegians have traded punches with the Americans for two decades and have always given as good as they have received.

Wednesday’s 2-0 victory over Coach Pia Sundhage’s American squad was hardly a shock. It was Norway, remember, that ousted the U.S. in the semifinals of the 1995 Women’s World Cup when the Americans were the defending champions -- having beaten Norway in the 1991 final in China.

And it was Norway that defeated the U.S. in the final of the Sydney 2000 Olympics, again when the Americans were the defending champions from the ’96 Atlanta Games.

Wednesday’s loss in Qinhuangdao was not fatal. Upcoming matches against Japan on Saturday and against New Zealand next Tuesday are, on paper, almost certain victories for the U.S. and would advance it to the quarterfinals.

The trouble is, if Norway also wins its next two games, as expected, the U.S. would finish second in its group, with the possibility of then playing world champion Germany in the knockout round.
That’s when things could get sticky.

For the moment, the American players have taken the defeat more or less in stride. The fact that they gave up two goals in the first five minutes upset them more than the fact that their 26-game unbeaten streak is now history.

"You can’t do that in this tournament," midfielder Shannon Box said on the U.S. Soccer website. “We came out a bit flat."

A collision between goalkeeper Hope Solo and defender Lori Chalupny as both tried to reach a cross by Ane Stangeland Horpestad allowed Norway’s Leni Larsen Kaurin to beat them both to the ball and head in the first goal.

"You can tell if a cross is good if it makes the goalkeeper guess whether to come out or not," said U.S. forward Heather O’Reilly, "and that’s exactly what that cross was."

Solo admitted she was in two minds.

"That’s the life of a goalkeeper," she said. "It’s about decisions. It was a pretty well-placed ball, where I was forced to make a decision, come or go. I came, and she [Kaurin] beat me to it."

Defender Kate Markgraf accepted the responsibility for the second Norwegian goal, calling it "totally my fault" when she allowed Melissa Wiik to attack Solo one on one.

"I didn’t play the ball back hard enough to Hope and I didn’t see the player either," Markgraf said.

Wiik curled her shot around Solo to make it 2-0, and while the U.S. fought back during the remaining 85 minutes, two lapses in the first five were enough to guarantee the loss.

New Zealand and Japan tied their game, 2-2, leaving the Americans unexpectedly in last place in the group.

-- Grahame L. Jones

Photo: Ingvild Stensland (4), Gunhild Folstad (3) and Melissa Wiik (10) celebrate a goal against the U.S. Norway won won the first-round match in Qinhuangdao, China, 2-0. Credit: CSPA via US Presswire

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