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Mar 10, 2008

Second-half turnaround for U.S. against Norway

ALVOR, Portugal -- The U.S. women's national team recovered from a dicey first half to put a 4-0 whupping on Norway in the final match of group play in the 2008 Algarve Cup. The Norwegians started the game with the wind at their backs and dominated the U.S. in chances while the U.S. struggled to possess the ball through the midfield and find the attacking third.

It made for a much busier outing for goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart, who was making her second start of the tournament, having faced China in the first match. She put in a solid performance despite being tested.

Pia Sundhage did not change the game plan after a scoreless first half. Instead, she encouraged her team to believe.

"Believe in what you are doing. Keep possession and relax a little bit," Sundhage said. "Even though we were put under pressure in the midfield, I wanted them to continue to play through the midfield."

The difference between the two halves was striking. The U.S. dominated the second half from the whistle. Lindsay Tarpley subbed in for Angie Woznuk, who made her first-ever start, and helped settle things down in the middle.

Natasha Kai started the scoring spree in the 55th minute by taking advantage of some shaky goalkeeping by Norway's Ingrid Hjelmseth.

"She dropped the ball and took a few steps back," Kai said. "I thought she looked kind of far, so I was kind of creeping in and she turned her head and I just took off like my mother was chasing me and was going to give me a spanking. I think that's when she realized that I was right in front of her. I had a touch, and she hit it and it hit my thighs and then it was a wide-open goal. "

U.S. women's schedule
Algarve Cup final
U.S. vs. Denmark
Wednesday
Municipal Stadium, Vila Real de San Antonio, Portugal
9:15 a.m. ET

Kai's goal was followed by scores from Abby Wambach, Heather O'Reilly and Amy Rodriguez, upping the U.S. total for the tournament to 10 goals scored by seven U.S. players.

Kate Markgraf, who recorded her first full 90 minutes of the year, felt that the superior second half showed signs of a team that is slowly adapting to a new style of play.

"In the first half, we were pressured the hardest we've been pressured this year and we were having a hard time solving it," Markgraf said. "I'm really proud that we stayed with the game plan and we didn't resort to long ball and we didn't resort to settling the pressure by just kicking it. We actually tried to find feet, and I think that's evident by the number of goals we scored."

Sundhage saw her team's turnaround in the second half as a confidence builder.

"Look at Carli Lloyd, for instance; she struggled a little bit in the first half, but she and her teammates made it look good in the second half," Sundhage said. "That's something we're looking for, to gain confidence by playing our game."

The victory puts the U.S. in the final against Denmark, the sixth consecutive Algarve Cup final for the U.S.

Gayle Bryan is the publishing director of Fair Game Magazine.