U.S. WOMEN: Americans reach Algarve final despite loss to Swedes

The U.S. women's national team on Thursday suffered its first defeat of 2004, but a goal 12 miles away by 2002 WUSA MVP Marinette Pichon sent the Americans to their fifth Algarve Cup title clash in nine tournament appearances.

Young striker Josefin Oqvist scored two goals in Sweden's 3-1 victory over the U.S. women at Lagos, Portugal, a result that would given the Women's World Cup runner-up a spot opposite Norway in Saturday's final at the Stadium of Algarve in Faro had France, playing Denmark in Silves, lost or tied.

But Pichon's 14th-minute strike carried France to a 1-0 victory, leaving a three-way tie atop Group A with the Americans advancing to the final with superior goal-differential. In a two-team tie, the head-to-head result is the initial tiebreaker.

Norway won Group B with a 0-0 draw with China, which will meet Sweden for fifth place after going 1-1-1 despite surrendering just one goal. The Chinese were upset by Italy, 1-0, in a tournament opener Sunday.

France, which garroted Sweden, 3-0, on Tuesday, will face the Italians in the third-place match.

Oqvist, who scored Sweden's semifinal winner over Canada at the Women's World Cup tallied from Victoria Svensson feeds in the 48th and 56th minutes to extend the Swedes' advantage to three goals.

Catherine Reddick netted a consolation goal for the Americans in the 85th minute.

The United States played outstandingly during the first half and might have forged an early lead when Shannon MacMillan's wind-blown corner kick in the 15th minute knuckled past Sweden goalkeeper Sofia Lundgren. The ball was cleared off the goal line.

The Americans created three more solid chances, with nothing to show for them, over the next 10 minutes.

Sweden went ahead in the 34th minute when Malin Andersson blasted home from 18 yards after U.S. keeper Briana Scurry punched out a Sofia Eriksson corner kick.

''The first half was our best 45 minutes of the year,'' U.S. coach April Heinrichs ssaid. ''We put together virtually everything that we've worked on in 2004. We had Sweden on their heels and in an environment I don't think they have experienced in three or four years against the USA, where we had the ball and they were chasing and questioning what was going on.''

Said MacMillan: ''It felt like all the bounces went Sweden's way. Their goalkeeper came up big for them, and they were able to put away their chances. It just shows the level of competition at this tournament. Every game and every goal can make a difference.''

Sweden took over early in the second half, with Svensson -- the Silver Ball winner at last fall's World Cup -- causing major damage. Her sharp shot three minutes into the second half forced a superb save by Scurry, but the rebound hopped to Oqvist to knock into the net.

Eight minutes later, Svensson made a fine run into the U.S. box and slipped the ball behind the U.S. backline for Oqvist, who squeezed past a defender, rounded Scurry and firnished from a sharp angle.

Oqvist, just 20, has taken on a more prominent role with the Swedes following star striker Hanna Ljungberg's knee injury. Ljungberg might return in time for the Athens Olympics.

The U.S. goal came from a Mia Hamm corner kick to the far post that Wambach headed back across the goalmouth. Brandi Chastain volleyed the ball and Reddick headed it home from close range.

The United States, which fell to 9-1-1 in 2004, is seeking its third Algarve Cup title, having won in 2000 and 2003. The Americans lost in the 1994 and 1999 finals.

The Norwegians are four-time champions, beating the U.S. women in the '94 final and capturing three successive titles in 1996-98. Norway lost in the title game in 2000 (to the U.S.) and 2002 (to China).

March 18 at Lagos, Portugal

United States 1 Sweden 3. Goals: Reddick 85; Andersson 34, Oqvist 48, 56.

United States -- Scurry; Bivens (Chastain, 46), Reddick, Mitts, Markgraf; Foudy, Boxx, Osborne (Hamm, 46), Wagner (Tarpley, 65); MacMillan (Parlow, 71), Wambach.

Sweden -- Lundgren; Marklund, Westberg, Tornqvist, Eriksson; Fagerstrom (Sjogran, 58), Mostrom, Sjostrom (Nordin, 8), Andersson; Svensson (Olsson, 78), Oqvist (Schelin, 80).

Yellow cards: U.S. -- Boxx 59, Hamm 75.

Referee: Bente Skovang (Norway).

Att.: 500.

Saturday, March 20
United States vs. Norway at Faro
Third: Italy vs. France at Faro
Fifth: China vs. Sweden at Olhao
Seventh: Portugal vs. Denmark at Loule
Ninth: Wales vs. Finland at Ferreiras
11th: Greece vs. Northern Ireland at Montechoro

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