- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 30, 2003

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — There’s no dancing around the United States’ 16-18-2 record against Norway, the one thing marring two decades of American dominance in women’s soccer.

Only Norway owns a winning mark against the United States. And just the Americans’ luck: They get to face the Norwegians tonight in a World Cup quarterfinal that matches the top two teams in the world at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Mass.

“As early as I can remember from the mid-1980s, Norway has been the team to beat,” U.S. coach April Heinrichs said. “I don’t think we need another ounce of motivation. I think our players are well aware of the record. It’s a World Cup game. There’s nothing that the Norwegians can say in the press that can motivate our players more in terms of putting something on our bulletin board.”

Of course, there’s also that one indelible image the older U.S. players never will forget: The Norwegians did a snake-like train dance on all fours after beating the United States 1-0 in the 1995 semifinals in Sweden. That defeat stands as the U.S. team’s only World Cup loss.

“Yeah, I remember,” U.S. star forward Mia Hamm said. “They won — that’s as simple as you can make it. They deserved to be [excited] at the end of the game. We didn’t play very well. We came out flat, and they took advantage of that.”

The United States (3-0) has been dominant so far in the World Cup. Norway (2-1), however, finished second to Brazil in Group B, but that doesn’t matter now that the tournament is in the knockout round.

Hamm says the U.S. players don’t feel any additional pressure because they are playing their archrivals.

“The way it was set up, Group A plays B,” Hamm said. “It was Norway or Brazil. For us, it was a matter of getting through [group play]. We want to win our group. We don’t look at it and go, ‘Well, we match up better with this team, so let’s finish second in our group.’”

Norway looked lethargic in a surprising 4-1 loss to Brazil last Wednesday at RFK Stadium. Hege Riise, Norway’s brilliant playmaker, has played only 29 minutes in the World Cup. When Riise is healthy and on her game, there is no better central midfielder in the world. Fans of the defunct Women’s United Soccer Association can attest to that after watching her for three seasons with the Carolina Courage, whom she led to a title in Founders Cup II over Hamm’s Washington Freedom.

Riise, who blew out her knee in an April game with the Courage, has not recovered fully, but the unrivaled passer likely will play at least a half tonight.

Heinrichs’ biggest fear involves Riise starting and Norway scoring the game’s first goal and bunkering in and riding out the game.

“When you play the game of soccer and you choose to sit back and protect your goal, first defend well and take away the attacking team’s ability to play in your half, you’re also conserving energy,” Heinrichs said. “It’s been my experience that Norway does that as well or better than any country in the world.”

The U.S. women have beaten Norway three straight times, but none of those games has had stakes like this.

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