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U.S. Is a Shoe-in for Bronze

Lilly, Boxx, Milbrett score to lift the Americans over Canada, 3-1, in World Cup third-place game.

October 12, 2003|Grahame L. Jones | Times Staff Writer

The exact moment when the Women's World Cup ended for the United States could be pinpointed Saturday afternoon.

It came not when the final whistle sounded on a 3-1 victory over Canada but rather during the U.S. team's subsequent victory lap, when Julie Foudy took off her cleats and tossed them to some lucky soul in the Home Depot Center crowd of 25,253.

Throw away the shoes, but keep the bronze medal.

Third place was not where the Americans wanted to finish, but that's where they ended up, doing so in stylish and convincing fashion behind goals by Kristine Lilly, Shannon Boxx and Tiffeny Milbrett.

Why aren't they playing in today's championship match? Canada's Norwegian coach, Even Pellerud, offered one reason.

"They are maybe a little bit on the way down," he said. "They are not as well-organized as they used to be. They are giving more space away to opponents than they used to do. They are not as fit as they used to be. But I still think they will be a contender in the Olympics [in Athens next year]."

April Heinrichs, the U.S. coach, offered a different reason.

"I'm prepared to admit now ... that the loss of Brandi Chastain was critical to us," she said, referring to the broken foot Chastain sustained in the tournament's opening game. "The casual observer would never know, but Brandi's No. 1 quality is her ability to possess the ball under pressure, and her composure under pressure is perhaps [among] the greatest of all female athletes.

"And so losing Brandi hurt us in terms of our ability to possess the ball, to control the tempo of the game, to stay composed."

Chastain's absence might have been felt in the 3-0 semifinal loss to Germany but did not show in the third-place match. The U.S. played with determination and spirit, and although Canada battled gamely, it was not quite in the same class.

Lilly opened the scoring in the 22nd minute, latching onto a loose ball after Canadian defender Charmaine Hooper had dispossessed Abby Wambach and firing a half volley into the net from about 20 yards.

It was the U.S. team's first goal in 178 minutes, two minutes shy of two full matches.

Canada fought back. Kara Lang, a 17-year-old high school senior, hit the right post with a shot in the 29th minute on a play that left goalkeeper Briana Scurry momentarily shaken.

The U.S. defense was not sure of itself, and it was no surprise when the Canadians pulled level in the 38th minute.

Christine Latham played a through ball up the middle and Christine Sinclair sprinted between defenders Kate Sobrero and Catherine Reddick and got off a low shot that beat Scurry at the far post.

Forward Cindy Parlow had sustained a concussion in an accidental clash with Wambach earlier in the half and was replaced by Milbrett in the 43rd minute.

The U.S. came out strong in the second half and regained the lead in the 62nd minute when Mia Hamm sent a corner kick from the left onto the head of Boxx, whose powerful close-range header was unstoppable.

"She [Hamm] hit a perfect ball and all I had to do was just get up, and that's what I did," Boxx said.

Milbrett, who had been held scoreless in an off-the-bench role throughout the first five games, scored in the 80th minute. She hit a right-foot shot that was blocked, then struck the rebound with her left foot and saw it fly into the net.

"It's really special to be able to get goals in World Cup games," Milbrett said, "and I didn't have one. I didn't press. I wasn't stressed about it, but it was definitely something that I wanted."

Canada's fourth-place finish was its best in World Cup play.

"There's definitely a little bit of disappointment," Lang said. "I mean, we came into the game wanting the bronze medal. But in the end, considering the overall tournament, we're pretty proud of ourselves and our program."

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The Perennial 10

Although much has been made of what has been called the greatest generation of U.S. players, which probably made its final World Cup appearance in Saturday's third-place game, there are 10 players from five countries whose international careers have spanned all four Women's World Cups. A look at their performances on the world stage:

CHINA

Sun Wen: China's greatest star did everything in the 1999 World Cup but claim the championship, winning the Golden Ball as the tournament's most valuable player and leading all players with 10 goals. But the title has always eluded her; China, as host, was stunned by Sweden, 1-0, in the 1991 quarterfinals, then lost by the same score to Germany in the 1995 semifinals, before falling in penalty kicks to the U.S. in the title game four years ago. Sun got off to a good start this year, scoring against Ghana in a 1-0 victory to pull within one goal of Michelle Akers' career goal record, but she and her teammates could never get going, scoring only three goals in four games before being eliminated by Canada.

*--* G GS Min Goals Sun 20 20 1,762 11

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GERMANY

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