The history of the Olympic Games is full of dramatic, emotional and beautiful moments that took place in finals. Every week, relive the most incredible finals you can remember on video. This week, we look at the 2000 women’s football final.
- Women's football final, Sydney 2000 Olympic Games
- Norway vs USA
- Sydney Football Stadium, Sydney, Australia, 28 September 2000
USA and Norway were two giants of women’s football in the 1980s and 1990s. Norway were FIFA Women’s World Cup winners in 1995, having also won the European Championships in 1987 and 1993. On the other side, USA had won two World Cups in 1991 and 1999, and an Olympic gold medal at their home Games at Atlanta 1996.
The two teams also shared a strong history in major tournaments, with Norway beating the USA by the smallest of margins (1-0) in the 1995 World Cup semi-finals and the Americans exacting their revenge a year later with an extra-time winner in the semi-finals at the Atlanta Games.
In Sydney, the two teams were drawn in the same group with the USA triumphing with a relatively easy 2-0 victory. However, Norway then went from strength to strength and qualified for the knockout stage.
In a hard-fought semi-final, the Scandinavian team beat Germany 1-0 by showcasing an impressively resilient defence. Meanwhile, in the USA’s semi, the legendary Mia Hamm ensured her team ran out victors against a shocked Brazil side (in the days before the great 'Marta' Vieira da Silva).
The key moment
The crowd of 20,000 that filled the Sydney Football Stadium probably believed the USA team would win a second consecutive Olympic final when Tiffeny Milbrett opened the scoring five minutes after kick-off. But they hadn’t counted on the fighting spirit of the Norwegians.
Gro Espeseth evened the scores just before half-time with a headed goal, before Ragnhild Gudbrandsen benefited from a misunderstanding in the USA defence to put her side ahead in the 78th minute. The European side could almost feel the gold medal in their hands, but Milbrett wasn’t ready to let them steal her dreams. Two minutes into injury time she headed home a cross from Hamm.
Per-Mathias Hagmo’s side were desolate.
Star defender Gro Espeseth could not believe her eyes: “I got mad. I said, 'No, we are going to win this. We don't want them to do this again'. It was our turn. We weren't going to lose."
Her words must have resonated as her teammates refused to give up on the title. Twelve minutes into extra-time, Hege Riise crossed the ball into the penalty area where Joy Fawcett failed to clear. Dagny Mellgren struck a loose ball beating the USA goalkeeper Siri Mullinix.
With the cruelty of the golden goal rule (where the first goal in extra-time decided the match), the game was over. Norway were Olympic champions.
In an impressive show of Olympic spirit, the USA coach April Heinrichs had this to say about Norway right after the game.
"I'm 200 per cent in favour of the golden goal. It's a simple way to bring a match to a conclusion. We have won games in this way in the past and it's a great way to earn victory. The Norwegians are worthy winners and I have great admiration for their long tradition in women's football."
In the end, this defeat kick-started an impressive era of US dominance at the Olympic Games. Their team, made up of Abby Wambach, Julie Foudy, Hope Solo and co., won gold in 2004, 2008, and 2012, eventually losing their trophy-laden winning streak at the quarter-finals in Rio 2016.
In sharp contrast, the gold medal marked the beginning of the decline of Norway. They managed to reach the semi-final of the 2007 Women’s World Cup, but that was the team’s only moment of glory in the past 20 years.