U.S. must win home-and-home vs. Italy
CANCUN, Mexico -- After a stunning loss to Mexico that put the United States in danger of missing the Women's World Cup for the first time, the Americans got off to a successful start in their three-match quest to qualify for next year's tournament through a playoff.
Lauren Cheney scored in the 17th minute, Abby Wambach got goals in the 33rd and 50th, and the U.S. stayed alive with a 3-0 victory over Costa Rica on Monday night.
Next up is a home-and-home, total-goals playoff against Italy.
Purdy: U.S. Recovers From Calamity
The U.S. stayed alive Monday, but next up is an even tougher test: a home-and-home against Italy, writes ESPN.com's Jacqueline Purdy. Story
"We were confident going into this game," Wambach said. "This was the first leg of the journey we are on. Obviously, it's not the journey we thought it would be, but that doesn't matter any more."
Lori Lindsey set up the first two goals for the top-ranked U.S., which had been 19-0 in qualifying before Friday's 2-1 defeat to Mexico in the semifinals of the North and Central American and Caribbean region. That defeat forced the two-time champions into a must-win third-place game against the No. 47 Ticas.
Now U.S. will play 11th-ranked Italy, the No. 5 team in European qualifying, for the final berth in the tournament.
"You have two games to show the kind of performance I know this team is capable of having," Wambach said. "You can have whatever excuse you want in the world, but soccer is one of those games were any team can get beaten, even the No. 1 team in the world. It was a humbling experience. It's an experience that hopefully is a wakeup call for everybody, and we're going to work our tails off to make sure it never happens again."
The Americans leave Nov. 14 for first match at Padova on Nov. 20, then return for the second leg at Bridgeview, Ill., on Nov. 27. The U.S. is 8-4-1 against Italy, including 2-0-2 since 2001.
"I look at it like today was a warmup, Italy will be the first half and Chicago will be the second half," American coach Pia Sundhage said. "And then, hopefully, we will be all set for the World Cup."
The U.S., the 1991 and 1999 world champion and defending Olympic gold medalist, improved to 7-0 against Costa Rica with a 34-0 goal difference. The Americans outshot the Ticas 14-8.
"We got our second chance, and now we have to take the positives away from this tournament and recharge the batteries," U.S. captain Christie Rampone said. "We are a little tired, and we haven't been playing our best soccer."
Cheney put the U.S. ahead with a left-footed shot from about 16 yards that deflected past goalkeeper Dinnia Diaz. Lindsey passed to Cheney, who turned around a defender to open space and score her 11th international goal.
Wambach doubled the lead in the 33rd minute. Lindsey floated a pass over the defense as Wambach broke in, and Wambach volleyed the ball with her left foot from 8 yards.
After Costa Rica's Monica Malvassi hit a post in the 50th minute, the U.S. counterattacked and Wambach slotted a 15-yard shot past Diaz for her 117th goal in 147 international appearances, third on the American scoring list behind Mia Hamm (158) and Kristine Lilly (130). It was Wambach's eighth goal in the qualifying tournament.
Canada beat Mexico 1-0 for the regional title on Christine Sinclair's 54th-minute penalty kick, her sixth goal of qualifying. By winning semifinals, both nations advanced to the World Cup.
Australia, England, France, Japan, New Zealand, North Korea, Norway and Sweden also have qualified to join defending champion Germany in the 16-nation field next June 26-July 17 along with two African and two South American teams that will be determined this month.
"I have no doubt that this team is capable of going to Italy and having a great performance and going to Chicago and qualifying for the World Cup," Wambach said, "so I am pretty confident in the road ahead."
Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press