Norway's female soccer players have been listening carefully. They've heard all the talk about the United States' destiny to win the Women's World Cup, about China's skill and tenacity and about Brazil's swift rise to excellence.
But with all due respect to the other elite teams competing in this three-week tournament, the Norwegians are politely reminding everyone that they are the defending world champions. Their title defense began today with an impressive if inefficient performance, a 2-1 victory over Russia that was lopsided in every way except the final score.
In the first match today, Ghana overcame an early red card to tie favored Australia, 1-1, on reserve Nana Gyamfua's rebound goal in the 76th minute. The equalizer came less than two minutes after Australian captain Julie Murray, who played youth soccer in Northern Virginia for three years, scored on a fleet run into the penalty area.
A crowd of 14,873 at Foxboro Stadium watched Norway take the first 14 scoring attempts and finish with a 28-6 advantage on shots and 12-1 on corner kicks. But the only bids that found the target were defender Brit Sandaune's simple touch off forward Marianne Pettersen's header in the 28th minute and Pettersen's opportunistic finish after Sandaune's long cross was misplayed by a Russian defender in the 68th minute.
Russia, in its first World Cup appearance, got to 2-1 with about 12 minutes left on reserve defender Galina Komarova's 17-yard shot, but there was no doubting the superior team.
"It's comforting to know we created so many chances," said Pettersen, who had a remarkable 11 shots. "When we score a few more goals, you'll see our full potential."
Said Norway Coach Per-Mathias Hogmo: "It was more exciting than I like. . . . [But] we are much better than Russia. They were lucky they were in the match as long as they were."
Norway, which lost to the United States in the 1991 final and defeated Germany in the '95 title game, didn't waste any time pressuring the overwhelmed Russians. After 45 seconds, a Norway corner kick struck two defenders stationed on the goal line before bouncing out of danger.
Before and after Sandaune's goal, the Norwegians had an abundance of scoring opportunities, but their wayward shooting, several inopportune bounces and Svetlana Petko's consistent goalkeeping kept the match close. Then in the 68th minute, Sandaune delivered a cross from the left sideline that Russia's Natalia Karasseva failed to clear. Pettersen contained the loose ball and easily converted from six yards for a 2-0 lead.
The Russians were happy not to be embarrassed. "We came as students of the game," Coach Yuri Bystritzky said.
In the first game, Australia's early ball control made it seem as if it had an extra player on the field -- and that was before midfielder Barikisu Tettey-Quao's ejection in the 26th minute for a tackle from behind that left Ghana a player short.
"We created enough chances to win three games," Australia Coach Greg Brown said, referring to his team's 26-13 advantage in shots and 5-0 in corner kicks. "We should have won that game."
Despite the advantages in quantity and quality, Australia was unable to express it on the scoreboard until the 74th minute when Murray burst into the penalty area and lifted the ball over advancing goalkeeper Memunatu Sulemana.
Murray, whose father worked at the Australian Embassy in Washington from 1979 to 1982, will return to the capital area Wednesday when Australia faces a must-win situation against Sweden at Jack Kent Cooke Stadium.
Today, about 75 seconds after Murray's goal, Ghana struck for a sudden equalizer. Forward Vivian Mensah's shot was pushed aside nicely by goalkeeper Tracey Wheeler, but Gyamfua, a 21-year-old forward who entered midway through the second half, put away the rebound.
Both teams had chances to go ahead during injury time, but a 30-yard free kick by Ghana defender Elizabeth Baidu smacked the crossbar and a point-blank bid by Murray was kicked away by Sulemana.
After making her postgame comments, Gyamfua rejoiced along a retaining fence with several dozen Ghana fans who had journeyed here from all over the United States. She was rewarded with not only handshakes and hugs, but with money -- a sign of the supporters' appreciation for the unexpected draw.
"People did not think we could even play this type of game," Ghana Coach Emmanuel Afranie said. The result "is good for Ghana and for Africa."
The tie came in Ghana's World Cup debut and provided Africa with another point in the standings after an 0-5-1 record in the first two World Cups.
CAPTION: Russia's Tatiana Tcheverda (5) looks on as Norway's Brit Sandaune, center, is mobbed by teammates after first-half goal. Sandaune also had an assist.