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U.S. Earns Right to Defend Title

November 07, 2002|Grahame L. Jones | Times Staff Writer

SEATTLE — It's time to break out the geographic dictionaries and to start learning some new names. An atlas wouldn't be a bad idea, either.

Places like Chengdu and Wuhan have suddenly taken on new meaning. Knowing the difference between Hangkou and Hangzhou is suddenly important.

And then, of course, there is Shanghai.

All five cities are in China, naturally, and that's where the United States women's national team is heading after qualifying for the fourth FIFA Women's World Cup with a 7-0 victory over Costa Rica Wednesday night in the semifinals of the CONCACAF Gold Cup.

It was Cindy Parlow who clinched the U.S. its place in the finals with a deserving hat trick that gave the world champions the chance to defend the title they won in 1999 at the Rose Bowl.

Costa Rica, ably marshaled by defender and captain Gabriela Trujillo, put up a brave resistance, holding the game scoreless for almost 30 minutes before the Americans broke through. The second half, however, was a one-way street -- straight to Shanghai, where the World Cup opens on Sept. 24.

Joining the U.S. in the 16-nation tournament will be Canada, which made hard work of defeating Mexico, 2-0, in Wednesday night's other semifinal in front of what was left of the crowd of 10,079.

Two own goals destroyed Mexico's hopes. Dioselina Valderrama deflected a free kick by Canada's Sharlota Nonen into her own net in the 10th minute and Elizabeth Gomez beat her own goalkeeper in the 70th while trying to clear the ball.

Mexico can still reach the World Cup if it defeats Costa Rica in the third-place game Saturday afternoon at the Rose Bowl and then wins a home-and-home playoff with the third-place team in Asia.

Five of the American players are more than familiar with China. Joy Fawcett, Julie Foudy, Mia Hamm, Kristine Lilly and Brandi Chastain were all there in 1991, helping the U.S. win the first women's world championship.

So, too, for that matter, was U.S. Coach April Heinrichs, a world-class player in those days.

"The best part of today was really our players' response to winning," Heinrichs said. "They were just absolutely, genuinely elated that we've earned the right to go back to the World Cup."

With Heinrichs electing to rest Tiffeny Milbrett, who had scored five first-half goals Saturday in a rout of Panama, it was left to the lanky Parlow to spearhead the U.S. offense.

It took a while for things to click, but once Parlow had found the back of the net the first time, redirecting a hard cross from Foudy past lively Costa Rica goalkeeper Marie Claire Herra in the 30th minute, there was no stopping her.

"I was joking with her [Milbrett] about it," Parlow said afterward of her hat trick. "I told her it took me three games to get five goals [in the tournament] and it only took her about 25 minutes."

The U.S. led, 1-0, at the half, but two goals in the space of three minutes early in the second half proved to be Costa Rica's undoing.

The first came in the 49th minute, when Cat Reddick, playing an excellent game at right back, came down the wing and crossed the ball deep to the back post. Parlow, climbing above a defender, sent a sharp, twisting downward header just inside the left post beyond Herra's reach.

Three minutes later she scored in exactly the same place, this time shouldering her way through two defenders, knocking one of them to the ground, to score her third goal. It was the fifth hat trick of her international career.

After that, Costa Rica's defense wilted.

Angela Hucles scored her first goal for the national team in the 65th minute, stabbing in a pass from Parlow that was flicked on by a Shannon MacMillan header.

That made it 4-0, and in the 71st minute, Hamm, the world's all-time leading goal scorer, replaced Parlow, further deflating Costa Rican spirits.

But it was an own goal by Costa Rica's Cinthia Lopez, a MacMillan goal off a rocket-like shot, and Lilly's 90th international goal in the 90th minute, that finished the scoring.

The U.S. thus became the fifth country to qualify for the World Cup, joining Germany, Norway, Russia and Sweden. China qualifies automatically as host.

"This was our goal, to qualify tonight," said Hamm.

"I'm sure April will get us there about four times before the World Cup," said Foudy. "I think she has a thing about China."



Invited to the Party

Countries that have clinched berths in the 2003 women's World Cup in China:

CONCACAF: USA (Winner of Wednesday's late Gold Cup game between Canada and Mexico also qualifies).

Europe: Germany, Norway, Russia, Sweden (England and France meet Nov. 16 in the second leg of a series for the fifth European berth).

Note: Qualifying tournaments in Africa, Asia, Oceana and South America will be held in 2003.

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