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U.S. WOMEN'S NATIONAL TEAM

Sept. 30, 2007
THIRD BEST
U.S. whips Norway, 4-1 on two by Wambach

By Michael Lewis
BigAppleSoccer.com Editor

Kristine Lilly blasts a shot past Marit Fiane Christensen  of Norway during the USA’s 4-1 win on Sunday.
Kristine Lilly blasts a shot past Marit Fiane Christensen of Norway during the USA’s 4-1 win on Sunday.
Photo by: Tony Quinn/Icon SMI
Shanghai, China -- OK, now you can call them the third best team nobody has heard of.

After struggling through a good portion of its five first games, the U.S. Women's National Team finally broke loose Sunday, connecting for three goals during a 14-minute span in the second half en route to a 4-1 third-place victory over Norway.

It might be four goals and several games late, but a bronze medal certainly is better than none at all.

For the two-time world champion Americans, it was their third bronze in five cups. In fact, they're the only country to win a medal in each of the Cups.

However, the team fell short of great expectations. Nike, their uniform supplier and major sponsor, billed the Americans as "the best team nobody has heard of."

They'll have to literally wait until next year to prove themselves at the highest levels at the Beijing Olympics, assuming they qualify (it will be a biggest upset than losing the Cup if they do).

So, the win and dominating performance helped the U.S. in a rather disappointing and sometimes controversial and dark tournament on a optimistic note, especially since they will return to this country for the Beijing Summer Olympics next August, assuming they qualify.

“I've felt that, from the start of the tournament, we've been playing from behind the eight ball because we started off with such a tough group, and that made it very difficult for them to relax. Today, I think you saw the players completely relax and play some great, entertaining soccer, playing with confidence in themselves and their teammates."

The U.S. had endured much during the past three weeks, including surviving and winning the Group of Death -- playing against the third (North Korea) and fifth ranked teams (Sweden) in the world and a goalkeeping controversy that seemed to intensify every day.

That controversy involved starter Hope Solo, who wound up being excluded from the team after she criticized Ryan and keeper Briana Scurry after she was benched for the 36-year-old veteran for the 4-0 semifinal debacle against Brazil.

“There was a lot of pressure,” defender Cat Whitehill said. “The Group of Death took its toll on the Brazil game. There was a lot of emotions that went into that Brazil game. There was a lot going on. We didn’t handle it well.”

Forward Abby Wambach, who captured the Silver Boot as the second leading scorer of the tournament (six) after striking twice, agreed.

“I’m really proud of the way the team rebounded after such controversy and after such heartbreak after a loss to Brazil,” she said. “It shows the character, it shows what we are, who we are, that we are not quitters. We are winners.”

The U.S.'s performance just goes to show how much a difference three days and a teams with varying styles can make. Against technically superior and fast Brazilians in the semifinals, the Americans looked slow, plodding and unsure of themselves.

Against the taller and less skilled Norwegians Sunday, the U.S. team at times looked like the Brazilians with their speed and craftiness.

Wambach took advantage of it by scoring in the 30th (back heeled in a Lori Chalupny shot) and 46th (rebound Whitehill shot) minutes, both goals originated by Stephanie Lopez corner kicks. Heather O'Reilly (58th minute) and Chalupny (59th) added one apiece before Ragnhild Gulbrandsen found the back of the net for Norway in the 63rd minute.

"What I tried to do was leave every bit of energy and emotion that I had on that field," Wambach said. "I was going to leave everything on the field, my heart, my soul. It’s not easy playing in the third place game but I was very proud of everyone."

Team captain and forward Kristine Lilly, who most likely played her fifth and final WWC, left the game for Natasha Kai. to a nice ovation in the 88th minute. She gave her captain’s armband to Scurry. Given what Scurry went through in the past few days, although she did nothing but follow orders and play, it was a symbolic gesture.

“I didn’t have to say much,” Lilly said. “I just gave her the armband and gave her a hug. She understood what I was saying.”

Scurry certainly appreciated it.

“It felt incredible when Lilly gave the armband to me,” she said. “The team has had great support for me all of these years, especially the last few days. For me to have that armband on for those few minutes, it meant the world to me.”

   
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