Brazil, Norway survive scares with 1-0 victories

Brazil and Norway became the latest tournament favorites to run into stubborn opposition at the Women's World Cup, as both escaped with 1-0 wins yesterday in Germany.

Either the gap is closing between nations in women's football or the World Cup favorites have yet to hit their stride, as all the top contenders have won their opening group matches but none has scored more than two goals.

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Emilie Haavi celebrates after her late goal lifted Norway over Equatorial Guinea.

Norway needed a late goal to edge Equatorial Guinea, while Brazil beat Australia in the day's other Group D game.

Four years ago, Germany kicked off its campaign with a 11-0 rout of Argentina and there were 39 goals scored in the first eight matches, compared with 14 in this tournament after all 16 teams completed their opening matches.

In Moenchengladbach, a second-half strike by Rosana earned Brazil its victory over Australia while in nearby Leverkusen, Norway needed a late goal from Emilie Haavi to edge World Cup newcomer Equatorial Guinea.

The results made for some revealing comparisons.

Four years ago, Brazil played New Zealand at the start and won 5-0; Norway also faced an African side in its group in 2007 and beat Ghana, 7-2. And Germany did not concede a goal in winning its second title in China in 2007. Now, it already has yielded one in its opening game, at home.

The United States, which won the second of its two titles in 1999, has made a better start, however. It beat North Korea on Tuesday, 2-0, after drawing 2-2 with the same opponent 4 years ago.

Brazil, a runner-up behind Germany in the previous World Cup, rarely got past the Australian defense in the first half. Once it went ahead, however, it had several chances - only to see Australia miss two late scoring opportunities and come close after a last-gasp corner.

The breakthrough for Brazil came in the 54th minute, when Cristiane capitalized on some scrappy Australian defending to head the ball to the 28-year-old Rosana, who took one touch past a defender before unleashing her shot past the helpless Melissa Barbieri.

Marta, five-time FIFA Player of the Year, had one good shot at the Australian goal and created some good moves early in the game. But it was Brazil's defense that had to work hard.

"We have a strong team, you could see that today," Rosana said. "We played well and defended well."

Australia coach Tom Sermanni said he was disappointed with the result, "but we played against one of the best teams."

Norway hit the post three times and looked destined for a draw against the tournament newcomers. But substitute Leni Larsen Kaurin broke free on the right, and passed low into the box where an unmarked Haavi slotted home in the 84th minute.

Despite the loss, the West Africans from a nation of 670,000 citizens played with skill and willpower by far belying their FIFA ranking of 61. Equatorial Guinea had never played a tournament match outside Africa.

"I had a feeling we could have won the game after all," Equatorial Guinea coach Marcello Frigerio said. "The country is new to all this. It is a completely new adventure."

"I still think we can progress" to the quarterfinals, Frigerio said ahead of Sunday's game against Australia.

Even though it is the lowest-ranked team in the tournament, Equatorial Guinea has been rising fast in the FIFA standings and the quality of its football proved why.