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USA-Norway Coverage
by Ridge Mahoney, August 6th, 2008 5:15PM
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A nightmare start, a shock result, and just like that, the U.S. women are at the foot of Group G.

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 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.

Heather O'Reilly and right back Heather Mitts got forward into dangerous spots but seldom reached teammates with their passes and crosses, and O'Reilly fizzled on the few shots she attempted. In the 26th minute, O'Reilly got to the end line and cut a ball back to Lloyd, who couldn't find a shot and dropped a ball that Hucles hit over the top.

Lindsay Tarpley never got into the attack from her outside midfield spot and came off at halftime when Sundhage brought on forward Amy Rodriguez, who held the ball well a few times without threatening the goal. In the final minutes, Sundhage took off Cox and put on Tobin Heath, whose energy on the left flank failed to unsettle the Norwegians.

The Americans next play Japan on Saturday with a comfortable margin of error, since eight of the 12 teams advance to the knockout rounds. Former WUSA player Homare Sawa equalized against New Zealand with a late goal after Japan had fallen behind, 2-0.

No report on Chalupny's injury was immediately available after the match; she missed four months in 2006 because of concussions. She might have contributed to the attack had she been able to continue, but with or without its regular left back, the U.S. has issues to discuss.

Aug. 6 in Qinhuangdao
Norway 2 USA 0. Goals: Larsen Kaurin 2, Wiik 4.
USA-- Solo, Mitts, Markgraf, Rampone, Chalupny (Cox, 15; Heath, 78), O'Reilly, Boxx, Lloyd, Tarpley (Rodriguez), Hucles, Kai.
Norway -- Skarboe, Stangeland Horpestad, Folstad, Ronning, Christensen, Stensland, Knutsen (Nordby, 88), Storlokken, Wiik (Mykjaland, 69), Gulbrandsen, Larsen Kaurin (Knutsen, 67).
Referee: Nicole Petignat (Switzerland).
Att.: 17,673.


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