Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Women's World Cup: USA Through to the Last Eight

USA 1-0 Nigeria

Report from du Nord reader Adam

Group Stage Match 3:

The US women’s soccer team scored the second fastest goal in Women’s World Cup history and finally bucked the trend of slow starts that plagued them in their first two matches. With only 54 seconds gone, Lori Chalupny scored the game’s only goal, securing first place for the US in the “group of death.”

The play began with a signature Cat Whitehill long throw deep in Nigeria’s defensive end. Abby Wambach headed the ball into the middle of the Nigerian penalty box to an onrushing Chalupny, who took the ball off her chest and hit a one time shot that deflected off Nigerian defender Ulumma Jerome and into the net.

Both teams had to endure the driving rain from Typhoon Wipha as it approached Shanghai. It was the US, though, who had more scoring opportunities on the night. Kristine Lilly sent a free kick narrowly over the Nigerian crossbar in each half. Wambach also had two good looks at goal. She shot her first opportunity wide, while the second attempt, a header in the 43rd minute, went right to Nigerian keeper Precious Dede.

To be fair, Dede and the rest of the Nigerians looked much better against the US than they did in past World Cups. In 2003, the US crushed the African champs 5-0; in 1999, the Americans won by an even bigger margin, 7-1. This time around, though, Nigeria possessed the ball well and showed more organization all over the field.

The Nigerians looked like they might tie the game on many occasions in the second half but were thwarted by Hope Solo and the US backline. Speedy forward Perpetua Nkwocha sprinted into the US penalty box with the ball and hit her shot just wide in the 75th minute. Later, after a scuffle in front of the US goal, Solo had to throw herself at the feet of Nigerian forward Ogonna Chukwudi to prevent the ball from finding net. The US keeper parried another Nigerian shot wide of goal just as the referee blew the whistle to end the match.

The US win, coupled with a 1-2 North Korea loss to Sweden, put the Americans in first place of Group B with 7 points. The Koreans and Swedes were tied with 4 points after their game, but the Koreans took second place in the group thanks to goal differential; Sweden failed to reach the knock-out round of a World Cup for the first time.

Their first place finish means the Americans will face Group A runner-up England in the quarterfinals on Saturday, September 22. The North Koreans will meet Germany, who won Group A, though not as easily as expected after their initial 11-0 thrashing of Argentina.

Ultimately, the Americans played their best soccer of the tournament so far. They did well switching the point of attack, building out of the back, and involving the midfield. Lori Chalupny was the US player of the match and showed up all over the field, winning balls on defense and creating chances on offense. But the team still looked flat and uninspired for long stretches of time. Carli Lloyd, a young talent who had strong performances leading up to the World Cup, has been one of the team’s most disappointing players and has yet to make an impact.

With the Americans improving in each game, will the team hit its stride in time for the knock-out stages of the competition?

FIFA game highlights & match reports.

Official USA match reports, quotes, blog, photos & video.

Quarterfinal round match:
-Sat Sep 22
USA v England
6:55am central time on ESPN2
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