It might be time for the old standbys on U.S. team
FOXBORO, Mass. — Versatility and depth got the U.S. women this far. Now, they’ll probably need the old standbys to advance further in the World Cup.
The Americans face their nemesis, Norway, in the quarterfinals Wednesday. With no room for error, the United States winds up with a match against the only nation that owns a winning record against it: 18-16-2. The U.S. team is ranked first in the world, and Norway is second.
But because Norway finished behind Brazil in its opening-round group, the crossover schedule puts the Norwegians directly in the Americans’ path. Norway won the 1995 World Cup after beating the United States in the semifinals, then it defeated the Americans to win the 2000 Olympics.
Such U.S. veterans as Mia Hamm, Kristine Lilly and Julie Foudy can’t expect any more time off for the rest of the tournament. And if they and their teammates are not at peak efficiency, there might not be any more to the tournament for them.
“They’re a tremendous team,” said Hamm, who sat out the 3-0 victory over North Korea on Sunday. “They’re a team that with one service forward can put the ball in the back of the net. We understand that, and we respect that.
“No matter how you feel about possession in the game, Norway can change it, like I said, with one long ball, one flick. They have players that can get behind your defense, players that are world-class finishers in the air. They organize well around the goal offensively and defensively. It’s a battle, and it’s a battle for 90-plus minutes.”
Lilly and Foudy, who each played a half against the Koreans, and Hamm and defender Joy Fawcett are in their fourth World Cup. They’ve had some memorable meetings with the Norwegians, from a 2-1 victory in the 1991 World Cup final to a 1-0 loss in the ’95 Cup semis; from a 2-1 overtime win for the 1996 Olympic crown to a 3-2 overtime loss in the Sydney Games final.
The teams did not meet in the 1999 World Cup, where Norway was routed by China, 5-0, in the semifinals — in Foxboro.
So while the Norwegians might not have great memories of the area, they won’t be intimidated by the Americans.
“They’ve been to the top, and they have played us very tough every time we play them,” Foudy said. “They know what’s at stake, and they’ll come out with their best game.”
Norway finally did that Saturday when it got two goals each from captain Dagny Mellgren and Linda Ormen and routed South Korea, 7-1, after a previous 4-1 loss to Brazil.
“We played a great game compared with the last one,” Mellgren said. “We did a lot of things well, and some players came in and did well.”
Many players have come in and done well for the United States, giving coach April Heinrichs the luxury of resting such stars as Hamm, Foudy and Lilly. And while World Cup newcomers Cat Reddick, Shannon Boxx, Kylie Bivens and Abby Wambach have been superb, the veterans now figure to become a focal point of the action.
That particularly means Hamm, who was sensational in the first two games, Foudy, Lilly, Fawcett and goalkeeper Briana Scurry.
“It’s all about winning now,” Scurry said. “It’s not about points. It’s about somehow finding a way to win. We are very confident, and we are very excited about the way everyone is playing.”