In their toughest match of the tournament, the U.S. Women’s National Team overcame a stout, determined and aggressive Costa Rican defense to advance to the CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying Finals, and most importantly, earned one of two CONCACAF bids to the 2012 Olympics.
Unlike the previous three matches of the tournament, where the U.S. outscored their opponents by a combined score of 31-0, the team battled to a 1-0 halftime lead. Costa Rica relentlessly stuffed the penalty area with defenders to clear out crosses, trapped the outside midfielders along the sideline and gave the U.S. defense all they could handle, drawing fouls and forcing sloppy passes with near-dangerous outcomes.
But in the 17th minute, Costa Rica made their first mistake, taking the ball to the end line and allowing the U.S. a corner kick. Lauren Cheney sent the ball toward the far post, which was headed by Shannon Boxx back toward an unguarded Tobin Heath, who followed up with a header straight into the net.
For the remainder of the half the U.S. held onto the lead, but it was not a comfortable one. Hope Solo, untested in the group stage of the tournament, made a diving save coming off her line toward the top of the box midway through the half. Then, in the 27th minute, Costa Rica’s Karol Sanchez sent a scorcher from 30 yards out toward the goal, which just banged off the crossbar over Solo’s fingers. Had it been an inch lower, the U.S. would have surrendered the tying goal, their first of the tournament.
The first half ended as a moral victory for Costa Rica, but they couldn’t keep the pressure up for the full 90 minutes. The U.S. began the second half by controlling possession and more aggressively attacking the goal, drawing two early corner kicks, though their attempts at goal were off frame.
Midway through the second half, Alex Morgan came in for Heath and Amy Rodriguez for Heather O’Reilly. The attacking pressure continued, and in the 72nd minute, Morgan fed the ball to Abby Wambach for a left-footed strike that was tipped off the fingers of Costa Rican goalkeeper Erika Miranda and cleared back out of the box. Wambach got her head on it and sent the ball toward Carli Lloyd, who rifled it into the net from 20 yards out. Lloyd has now scored in every match in the tournament, with six goals total.
It was 2-0 with just over 15 minutes to go and the U.S. could smell the trip to London just a quarter of a match away. But the team that nearly missed a bid to the World Cup after a qualifying tournament loss to Mexico in 2010 wouldn’t just sit back and play keep-away. In the 89th minute, Alex Morgan took the ball up to the end line, and in an attempt to shoot on goal, knocked the ball off the defender. She then grabbed the rebound and struck the ball with her left foot toward the far post for the 3-0 lead. Icing on the cake.
The U.S. will face host nation Canada, who defeated Mexico 3-1 in the other semifinal match, on Sunday at 5:00pm PT/8:00pm ET. The match will be broadcast on NBC Sports Network (formerly Versus).
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