MELBOURNE, Australia - Soggy field. Small crowd. Tough opponent. Other side of the world.
How's that for a setting for one of the best games ever from the U.S. women's soccer team?
The much accomplished team accomplished a little more in its 2-0 victory over Norway in its opening game of the Olympic tournament Thursday. The Americans found a way to dominate the only team in the world with a winning record against the United States, a Norwegian team whose aerial style has often thrown a wrench in the U.S. team's preference to keep the game on the ground.
''This is a breakthrough game for us in terms of learning how to play against them,'' coach April Heinrichs said. ''I told the team that was the best performance against the best opponent in the first round of any major world championship, and it was the best result.
''I also reminded them it's not where you start, it's where you finish.''
The U.S. team next plays China on Sunday in a rematch of last year's World Cup final before finishing group play against Nigeria next week. A victory in either game should be enough for the reigning Olympic and World Cup champions to advance to the semifinals.
The Americans came out aggressively, winning three corner kicks in the first five minutes. When high balls were kicked into the midfield, they would out-leap or out-hustle the Norwegians to head them in the right direction. Tiffeny Milbrett and Mia Hamm scored before the game was a half-hour old, and their opponents were reeling.
''After that, we looked very nervous,'' said Norwegian coach Per-Mathias Hogmo, whose team is 14-13-2 all-time vs. the United States. ''We were never able to play our game. We were lucky we didn't lose by more. The United States had seven, eight chances. We gave away too many easy balls.''
Milbrett alone was a terror for the Norwegians. She not only scored a goal, she hit the left post, the right post, the crossbar and had one other chance sail wide on a solo breakaway.
''She has amazing agility, athletic ability to change directions, to change speed, control her body,'' Heinrichs said. ''I can only liken it to a point guard in basketball.''
After playing before sellout crowds at home during the 1999 World Cup, the Americans looked like part of a tame sporting event when they marched on the field before just a few thousand fans in the cavernous, 90,000-seat Melbourne Cricket Ground.
''It's odd, but it's a nice odd,'' Milbrett said. ''We don't have that added pressure. We just can forget about the crowd, forget about everything and come out on the field and play our game.''
Rains had soaked the field for more than a week, and showers were falling again earlier in the day. But the sun broke through just before kickoff, and the only distraction from the sky was the multitude of seagulls who kept landing on the field in the second half.
Still, players slipped and slid, leading to some sloppy moments in front of the American goal. Siri Mullinix, in her first game in a major tournament since overtaking Briana Scurry as the No. 1 goalkeeper, was fortunate not to get ejected for a tackle on Dagny Mellgren in the 34th minute.
''Maybe it was a little overaggressive,'' said Mullinix, who extended her U.S. team record with her 14th shutout of the year. ''But I was just going after the ball the way I would any other day.''
Milbrett's goal, her 80th in international competition, came in the 18th minute with help from Mullinix, who made the just the sort of play that won her the starting job over World Cup hero Scurry.
Mullinix sent a 60-yard clearance toward Milbrett, who beat two defenders to head the ball forward with only goalkeeper Bente Nordby to beat. Milbrett's first shot was deflected by Nordby, but the easy rebound made Milbrett's follow-up a formality.
Hamm's goal in the 24th minute was one of the easiest of the world-record 126 in her career. Norwegian midfielder Anita Rapp lost her bearings and blew the offside trap, allowing Kristine Lilly to chip a pass to a wide-open Hamm in the penalty box for the score.
Although Norway was thoroughly beaten, Heinrichs had one more reminder for her team. The Norwegians lost their opening game 5-0 to China in the 1991 World Cup, but rallied throughout the rest of the tournament and made the championship game, where they lost 2-1 to the United States.
''Norway is still one of the best teams in the world,'' Heinrichs said. ''And I have a feeling we're on a collision course with them somewhere down the road.'' China 3, Nigeria 1
At Canberra, star striker Sun Wen scored twice. Zhao Lihong gave China an early lead, but the expected goal romp never materialized as the Chinese, silver medalists in Atlanta four years ago, were strongly tested by the Nigerians.
Nigeria's late goal came on a penalty kick by Perpetua Nkwocha.
Brazil 3, Slovakia 1
At Brisbane, Brazil recovered from a surprising 1-0 deficit.
Andrej Porazik gave Slovakia a 1-0 edge in the 27th minute, but Edu tied it just two minutes later. Brazil then went ahead on an own goal by Marian Cisovsky in the 67th minute, and Fabio Aurelio made it 3-1 with only seconds to go.
Spain 3, South Korea 0
At Adelaide, Spain lived up to its billing as one of the favorites for gold. A polished team that won the under-20 world title last year, Spain easily dominated and got goals by Xavier Hernandez, Toni Velamazan and Jose Mari.
Japan 2, South Africa 1
At Canberra, Naohiro Takahara got his second goal of the game 10 minutes from the final whistle. After Siyabonga Nomvethe gave the South Africans a 32nd-minute lead, Takahara headed in the tying goal in first-half injury time. He took a defense-splitting pass from Hidetoshi Nakata to score the winner in the 80th.
Chile 4, Morocco 1
At Melbourne, World Cup veteran Ivan Zamorano's hat trick led Chile. The 33-year-old striker scored in the 36th, 44th and 54th minutes and Reinaldo Navia added one in the 71st. El Hocine Ouchla scored Morocco's goal on a header with 11 minutes left.
Morocco played most of the game with 10 players after Adel Chbouki was ejected in the fifth minute for a foul against Navia.