It was not to be the US girls this time; they failed to add another title to their impressive record of winning Olympic gold in Atlanta in 1996 and the World Cup at home three years later. The Norwegians just edged them out - and no little share of the credit for their win in a great final must go to goalkeeper Bente Nordby.

It was back in August 1991 that Bente Nordby first stood between the posts for the Norwegian national team. By coincidence the opponents that day were the USA, and the Scandinavians won the match in New Britain 1-0 - with Nordby hitting the headlines for two reasons: first because she kept a clean sheet away from home, and second because she was then just a 17-year old student.

Since that match the blonde keeper has been the number one choice in her position and extremely successful. Her quick reflexes helped her team to the runners-up spot in the 1991 World Cup, to the 1993 European title, the 1995 World Cup and to the Olympic bronze medal in the USA in 1996. Now she has added to her collection of Olympic medals - this time another gold.

This was one more superb performance from the goalkeeper. During the first half especially, her great saves kept the Americans at bay after they had taken the lead, and a second success during this period would probably have seen the favourites and title-holders well on their way to retaining the trophy.

But thanks to her efforts and a general improvement during the second half, Norway equalised and then took the lead themselves. Yet in the closing seconds of regular playing time the Americans scored again to level what had been a dramatic match.

Norway had lost to the USA in the group match 0-2 and had had a hard time getting past Germany in the semi-final, where an own goal had been the decider in their favour. But now they showed clever tactics during extra time, and Dagny Mellgren assured her team of victory with a golden goal. This was a great success for a tiny country of only 4.4 million people and just 75,000 women playing football.

The great Chinese disappointment
The German team also had reason to celebrate. After their fifth place in Atlanta in 1996 and being eliminated at the quarter-final stage during the last World Cup, the team that coach Tina Theune-Meyer brought to the Olympics earned themselves the bronze medal by beating Brazil 2-0 in the play-off for third place.

However it was not only Brazil who went home with long faces. The biggest disappointment was suffered by the Chinese, who had been runners-up in Atlanta and also at the World Cup in 1999. This time their ambition of getting gold was destroyed as they went out during the group games, despite their captain Sun Wen managing to finish top of the scorers' list (4 goals).

This tournament did not always match the high quality of the World Cup a year earlier, but most of the games were exciting and evenly balanced. Of the eight teams in the two groups, only Nigeria failed to earn a point from their three first round matches.