Norway Eliminates U.S., 1-0

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Anson Dorrance's grandfather would have appreciated Thursday's turn of events that resulted in a 1-0 victory by Norway over the U.S. women's soccer team.

In 1991, after his U.S. team had beaten Norway, 2-1, in the final of the first FIFA Women's World Championship in Guangzhou, China, Dorrance, the U.S. coach, said: "To be completely frank, the United States is very lucky right now to be the world champion. The 2-1 margin was the result of a mistake. . . .

"I think it fitting to quote a slogan my grandfather told me: 'Luck is better than skill.' The final was an even game. Norway had the run of play, but we got the break."

But if world championships can be won on luck, they can be lost that way too. Even to the same team.

Here on Thursday at Arosvallen Stadium, the U.S. team found that out the hard way in the semifinals of the second women's championship.

In the 11th minute against Norway, the Americans yielded a corner kick. Defender Gro Espeseth took it, floating the ball into the goal mouth, where teammate Ann Kristin Aarones awaited, hoping to head the ball into the net.

"I stood all alone and jumped and hoped for the best," said Aarones, a 20-year-old student. "I closed my eyes, and when I opened them again, I saw the ball go inside [the net]."

Aarones' goal was the only one the Norwegians needed to defeat the defending champions and advance to Sunday's final in Stockholm against Germany, a 1-0 winner over China in Thursday's other semifinal.

"Getting to the final was most important, but of course it's wonderful to beat the United States," said Aarones, who, like all Norwegians, had been bitterly disappointed to lose the 1991 final on a goal by Michelle Akers three minutes before the final whistle.

Thursday, Akers was back on the field, but playing at what Coach Tony DiCicco said was "only 70%." Injuries she suffered in the opening game against China had been too much to overcome.

Akers, who had been the top goal scorer in China, voiced the feelings of many of her red-eyed teammates.

"It's like your guts are kicked out of you," she said. "Our team has been working so hard for so long. Today wasn't our day. It just wasn't going to happen for us. It's sad, disappointing, frustrating, heartbreaking."

Goalkeeper Briana Scurry, who kept the U.S. team in the hunt with some critical second-half saves, said the mood in the American locker room was tearful, but she vowed to fight back.

"We'll be all right," she said. "This is a big disappointment for us. But as far as I'm concerned, the [Atlanta] Olympics are more important. I think that we're going to be ready. It's a year away. We'll get over this."

But it might take some time, especially after the players watch the video of their battle to score the tying goal in the final 20 minutes, when Norway was down to 10 players after captain Heidi Store had been ejected for receiving a second yellow card.

The U.S. team went at the Norwegians in waves, peppering the goal with shots from all angles. Some went wide. Some were blocked. And some came within inches of going in.

Tisha Venturini's superb 20-yard shot was tipped over the crossbar at the last instant by Norwegian goalkeeper Bente Nordby. UCLA's Joy Fawcett had two shots hit the crossbar.

"I'm going to measure that goal after everybody leaves, just to make sure it's eight-feet high," DiCicco joked.

With each missed opportunity, the U.S. attack grew more frenzied. What was going through the Americans' minds?

"Get a damn goal," Akers said. "Keep trying. Don't give up. Play with our guts. We're the United States and never give up. We wanted to be proud of ourselves at the end of this game. I'm extremely proud of my team and our coaching staff. We didn't give up. The Norwegians were better today."

Said Scurry: "All of us had faith that we would score a goal. It was just a matter of time. But we ran out of time."

Added Akers: "When you see the clock ticking down, the urgency becomes all the more [apparent]. Maybe we should have stepped it up a couple of notches earlier in the game, but we felt we still had some time to gain some scoring chances, and we did. They just weren't going in."

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