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A-Rod sends U.S. to Women's World Cup

It would have been disastrous had the U.S. missed next year's Women's World Cup. Careers ruined, heads rolled, a dark cloud hanging over the globe's most successful women's soccer-playing country for at least a generation.

At least, we figure, no suicides -- we're not the rest of the world. Yet.

Thanks to Amy Rodriguez, we don't have to worry about it.

The former USC All-American from Lake Forest (Santa Margarita Catholic HS) scored in the 40th minute Saturday afternoon to give the Americans a 1-0 triumph over Italy in Bridgeview, Ill., a 2-0 aggregate victory in the home-and-home CONCACAF/UEFA playoff series, and the last of 16 berths for next summer's championship in Germany.

Rodriguez knocked home a rebound after Megan Rapinoe's hard shot was spilled by Italy goalkeeper Anna Picarelli, a former Pepperdine standout from Long Beach who played at St. Joseph High School in Lakewood.

The U.S. has failed to qualify just once for a FIFA women's or girls tournament -- a penalty-kicks loss to Canada kept us from this year's U-17 to-do in Trinidad & Tobago -- and that was met with much hand-wringing in U.S. Soccer's Chicago headquarters and throughout the American women's soccer community.

The Americans' failure to reach the final four at this year's U-20 tournament in Germany was seen as a mighty catastrophe.

Not reaching the WWC, the biggest event in the sport … that would have been unimaginable. But Mexico's stunning upset in the CONCACAF qualifying semifinals earlier this year put the Yanks on the brink of missing out. Well, sort of.

The U.S. women had never lost a qualifier before, and the odds of it happening twice weren't very good. They conquered Costa Rica in the CONCACAF third-place game to advance to the home-and-home with Italy, which has greatly improved the past five or six years but still can't match the Americans.

Two 1-0 scorelines -- Diamond Bar's Alex Morgan (Diamond Bar HS) scored the lone goal, deep into stoppage, in last week's first leg in Padua, Italy -- attest to how tight things have gotten in the international women's game. Assumptions are becoming useless, as China's failure to qualify and Equatorial Guinea's success in Africa's eliminations demonstrate, but we'll nonetheless assume the U.S. will contend for the title next year and that Germany, likely, will win a third straight WWC crown.

The U.S. has never finished worse that third. Titles in 1991 and 1999, third-place finishes in 1995, 2003 and 2007. Fourth or below next year will be failure.

The WWC will be played June 26-July 17. The draw is Monday in Frankfurt.

Here are the qualifiers (in order of finish within their confederatons):

CONCACAF (North and Central America and the Caribbean): Canada, Mexico, United States

CAF (Africa): Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea

AFC (Asia): Australia, North Korea, Japan

UEFA (Europe): Germany (host), Sweden, France, Norway, Italy

OFC (Oceania): New Zealand

CONMEBOL (South America): Brazil, Colombia