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Nightmare in Qinhuangdao
by Paul Kennedy, by Ridge Mahoney, August 7th, 2008 7:01AM

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[RECAP] New U.S. coach Pia Sundhage asked that her players be more unpredictable, and unpredictable they were. After three wins over Norway by the margin of 12-1 in the last 10 months, who would have predicted the outcome of Wednesday's Olympic opener in Qinhuangdao? For a recap of the game, Soccer America's player ratings, reaction from the American press and more ...

THE FIRST FOUR MINUTES.
Norwegians Leni Larsen Kaurin and Melissa Wiik capitalized on American defensive gaffes in the first four minutes and despite launching 20 shots the U.S. never got on the board. The 2-0 defeat, coupled with Japan and New Zealand tying, 2-2, leaves the U.S. in last place in Group G with zero points and a minus-2 goal differential.

Hope Solo failed to reach a cross from Ane Stangeland Horpestad in the second minute and as she crashed into teammate Lori Chalupny, Kaurin headed into the vacated net. Two minutes later, defender Kate Markgraf hit a weak back pass that Wiik controlled and pushed forward to angle a spectacular shot past Solo inside the far post.

THE NEXT 86 MINUTES.
The Americans had won their last 10 meetings against Norway, including the last two by 4-0 scores, but in the ensuing 86 minutes were reminded that the 1995 World Cup winner and 2000 Olympic champion can be a tough foe in tournament play.

Horpestad and central midfielder Marie Knutsen led a determined Norwegian defensive effort that allowed the U.S. some possession but seldom a clean chance at goal. Only once was Norwegian goalie Erika Skarboe called upon for a tough save, and that came in stoppage time when she flew left to tip a long shot from Angela Hucles over the bar.

In a meeting of the last two Olympic gold-medal winners, Norway kept the U.S. at bay, repelling crosses and limiting most of the American shots to hopeful, long-range attempts. Head coach Pia Sundhage started Angela Hucles and Natasha Kai up front in the absence of Abby Wambach, yet still the U.S. belted many high balls that the Norwegians had little trouble clearing. Central midfielders Carli Lloyd and Shannon Boxx won balls and took shots but couldn't provide the telling through ball or final pass to create a good scoring chance.

The U.S. improved its combination play in the second half and pushed more players forward without reward. Kai shot over the bar from close range in the 61st minute and in the 78th minute Lloyd forced a save from Skarboe with a second shot after a defender blocked her first attempt. Those were two of a very few opportunities the Americans garnered inside the penalty area.

THE USA REPORT CARD.
Soccer America's Ridge Mahoney grades the U.S. players' performance ...

NORWAY-USA (2-0)
U.S. PLAYER RATINGS
GRADE PLAYER
4 Hope Solo
6 Heather Mitts
4 Kate Markgraf
6 Christie Rampone
4 Lori Chalupny
5 Heather O'Reilly
5 Shannon Boxx
4 Carli Lloyd
3 Lindsay Tarpley
4 Angela Hucles
4 Natasha Kai
SUBSTITUTES
4 Stephanie Cox
4 Amy Rodriguez
NR Tobin Heath
(1=low; 5=average; 10=high)

USA REACTION.
Heather O'Reilly:
"The first goal was a difficult cross. You can tell if a cross is good if it makes a goalkeeper guess to come out or not and that's exactly what that cross was. It's just unfortunate with Hope Solo and Lori Chalupny colliding like that. Really, it was two unfortunate errors on our part and we showed some bravery and courage to push on."

Hope Solo:
"That's the life of a goalkeeper. It's about decisions. [The first goal was scored on] a pretty well-placed ball where I was forced to make a decision, come or go. I came and she beat me to it."

Kate Markgraf:
"The first goal they played a good ball in unfortunately it didn't bounce our way. The second goal was totally my fault. I didn't play the ball back hard enough to Hope (Solo) and I didn't see the player either. So, it was totally an error that didn't need to happen and didn't help our situation as we were already a goal down."

Click here more from the USA.

PRESS REACTION.

Grant Wahl, si.com
"Who said amateurism was a dying concept at the Olympics? The U.S. women's soccer team turned the first five minutes of its Olympic opener against Norway into amateur hour on Wednesday, giving away two goals in a 2-0 loss that raised new questions about the direction of the U.S. women's program."

Jere Longman, New York Times
"Against Norway, they often played awkwardly in their new possession offense, making imprecise passes, rushing and mis-hitting shots as Norway sat back and waited to counterattack. Angela Hucles started in Wambach's place at forward but was largely invisible. Natasha Kai got several accommodating chances, but she seemed hurried and shot wildly. The defeat was Sundhage's first after building a 21-0-1 record this year. But it almost certainly will not be the last in these Olympics."

Kevin Manahan, The Star-Ledger
"The Americans came out flat, gave up two sloppy goals in the first four minutes -- the echo of the national anthem practically still reverberating in the mostly empty stadium. Resigned to defeat and desperately missing the leadership of past squads, they played dejectedly for the rest of the game."

WEDNESDAY'S SCOREBOARD.
Group E
Aug. 6 in Tianjin
Canada 2 (Chapman 27, Lang 72) Argentina 1 (Manicler 85).
Aug. 6 in Tianjin
China 2 (Xu Yuan 8, Han Duan 72) Sweden 1 (Schellin 38).

Group F
Aug. 6 in Shenyang
Germany 0 Brazil 0.
Aug. 6 in Shenyang
North Korea 1 (Kim Kyong Hwa 27) Nigeria 0.

Group G
Aug. 6 in Qinhuangdao
Japan 2 (Miyama pen. 72, Sawa 86) New Zealand 2 (Yallop 37, Hearn pen. 56).
Aug. 6 in Qinhuangdao
Norway 2 (Larsen Kaurin 2, Wiik 4) USA 0.

SATURDAY'S SCHEDULE.
Group E
Aug. 9 in Tianjin
Sweden vs. Argentina
Aug. 9 in Tianjin
Canada vs. China

Group F
Aug. 9 in Shenyang
Nigeria vs. Germany
(TV: MSNBC, live-multisport coverage, 5 am ET)
Aug. 9 in Shenyang
Brazil vs. North Korea
(TV: MSNBC, live-multisport coverage, 7:30 am ET)

Group G
Aug. 9 in Qinhuangdao
USA vs. Japan
(TV: USA, live-multisport coverage, 5 am ET)
Aug. 9 in Qinhuangdao
New Zealand vs. Norway



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