Norway got on the scoreboard early against Japan today and never looked back, winning 4-0 in the second game of today's Women's World Cup doubleheader at Soldier Field in front of 34,256. Hege Riise converted a penalty kick in the seventh minute after teammate Monica Knudsen was dragged down at the edge of the box by Hiromi Isozaki.
In a sloppy match played in steady rain and standing water, Norway clinched Group C's top spot, but not before two key players were injured. Linda Medalen was removed with a broken nose, and Ann Kristin Aarones suffered a head laceration and left the game in the 38th minute.
Japan was eliminated from the tournament before game time after amassing only one point.
"We did our job today," said Norway Coach Per-Mathias Hogmo. "We created 10 or 11 chances, scored four goals and survived our early problems where we lost two of our players. We kept our confidence and our focus and played conservatively."
Unni Lehn added some padding in the 26th minute with a brilliant one-on-one play that ended in an own goal tallied against Isozaki. Lehn swung her defender so expertly that when Lehn completed the turn her cross ricocheted off the defender's chest to land inside the near post at an acute angle.
"What can I say, I had one of those games," Lehn said. "I did not [score the goal] on purpose -- it was kind of a lucky goal."
The Norwegians did not let up. Aarones found the back of the net off another cross from Lehn in the 36th; with the ball dropping into the box and Aarones unmarked, the lithe Norwegian wheeled to intercept and then punched the ball between defender Yumi Tomei's legs and into the net.
Dagny Mellgren kept the fans' attention in the 61st minute when she converted another of Lehn's crosses with a blazing header delivered from the top of the goal box. Knudsen's goal in the 85th minute finished the scoring.
Japan hung in under difficult conditions. Never a strong passing team, any semblance of flow was lost by the poor field conditions. Both teams had to contend with large pools of water; at one point both Lehn and Isozaki slid past a ball into a pool of water after the ball had hit a puddle and skidded to a halt about five yards behind them.
Japan had a chance early in the second half when a wet ball squirted through the hands of Bente Nordby, Norway's keeper, and was pounced on by a streaking Nami Otake. Otake pushed the ball toward the line but was denied by Goril Kringen.
SWEDEN 2, GHANA 0: Sweden qualified for the quarterfinals behind two second-half goals by Victoria Svensson. The victory also moved Sweden a step closer to gaining a berth in the 2000 Olympics.
Ghana finished last in Group D, netting only a single point.
Sweden's first goal came when Svensson headed a cross-field volley from Malin Mostrom just over Ghanian keeper Memunatu Sulemana to break a scoreless tie in the 58th minute. Svensson added insurance in the 86th minute following a bizarre play in which Swedish keeper Ulrika Karlsson cleared the ball directly into a charging Elizabeth Baidu. The ball ricocheted into the crossbar and nearly went in the Swedes' net. Following the restart, Karlsson punched the ball downfield to Malin Gustaffson, who found Svensson streaking alone down the left side. Sulemana had no chance, and the ball was neatly slotted just inside the far post.
But the result may prove costly for the Swedes, who lost key scorer Hanna Ljungberg to a knee injury just five minutes after kickoff. It was not immediately known whether she would be lost for the tournament, but early indications were that she had suffered some ligament damage. Should Ljungberg be lost, it would be a huge hurdle for the Swedes to overcome in their next match, against world champion Norway.
"We're very happy with the result," Coach Marika Domanski Lyfors said. "We lost a very important player early and had to play in a different way. We weren't as good defensively without her, but we won the game anyway."
CAPTION: Ghana's Vivian Mensha (10) heads the ball away from Sweden's Cecilia Sandell. Ghana fell to 0-2-1.