FIFA Women's World Cup USA 2003

7 June - 7 July

FIFA Women's World Cup 2003™

Nordby, Steen play 'he said, she said' after opener

He said: I called Bente and told her if she wanted to win another World Cup, she had to come back and play. She said: I got a call and Åge asked me if I could help the younger goalkeeper on the team to learn some things. That's why I came back.

Norway head coach Åge Steen and goalkeeper Bente Nordby do not agree on why Nordby returned to the team after a nearly one-year hiatus, but both agree on how important she is to Norway.

"We would not have won today without Bente," Steen said. "She was the difference today."

"Yes, goalkeeping is of course very important to the team," Nordby said. "I am just happy we won today."

Still the "He said, She said" disagreement between the two just will not go away.

"She was the best goalkeeper in the world at the 1995 World Cup," Steen said. "She proved she is still among the top. Every day she is better and better."

Nordby, true to form, did not agree with coach's assessment.

"I'm still not in top form," she said. "I lost a lot of time at training when I took the year off and last month I hurt my ribs. It's OK now, but I am still not at my best."

While she may not think she was at her best, just about everyone else does. Nordby came up with several sparkling saves in the first half to keep the match scoreless. She knocked away a tough shot from French forward Elodie Woock in the 39th minute that looked as though it was destined for the goal. Nordby also took control of the penalty area, snaring long passes from the French midfielders aimed at Woock or Marinette Pichon.

"Bente played a great game," Steen said. "She kept us in the game. She made some very important plays and she also provided leadership for us. We have a lot of young players and having Bente on the field was very good for us."

Nordby "retired" from international soccer last year. The 29-year-old former WUSA player said she decided it was time to do other things with her life. "I spent time with friends, went to the movies – had a life," she said. Her retirement lasted for less than a year as Norway floundered somewhat without its veteran net minder.

"When Åge called me, he asked me if I could work some with Ingrid (Hjelmeseth)," Nordby said. "She was having some trouble and wasn't playing so well. So, Åge asked me if I wanted to play."

Just being around the national team worked wonders for Nordby. When Steen asked her if she wanted to play once more, she jumped at the chance. Steen, however, said he also dangled another motivator in front of his goalkeeper.

"I told her we could win the World Cup, but only if she played," Steen said. "I knew she would want to play some more if I said that. Plus with Bente, the bigger the match, the better she plays. That is why she is so important to us."

Nordby's experience proved particularly vital against France. Steen ran out a back line that was more of a midfield unit than a defensive one. The Norway coach said having Nordby as his team's last line of defence provided a sense of security to his side.

"Leadership is always very important," Steen said. "Bente and Dagny (Mellgren) gives that to us. I think it's good that we have Dagny up front and Bente in the goal, because it puts that influence in front and in back."

Mellgren, Norway's captain, was just as glowing in her appraisal of Nordby.

"You could see it today," Mellgren said. "Bente made everyone in the back more calm. We also knew we could rely on her, and that gave us more confidence."

Nordby, despite all the praise, said her play Saturday was still not at the level she expects of herself.

"It was good to win, but I still have work to do," she said. "I don't think it was like it was in 1995. Then, we had a different team and it was a different time. This is different. It is still good, but it is different. I don't think I am the same as I was in 1995."

At least, that's what she says. As for Åge Steen, he says something a little different.

"Bente is still one of the best goalkeepers in the world," Steen said. "We owe it to her to play much better than we did today. She can't always win games for us."