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It's a Victory for All Ages

Veterans and younger players team up for goals as the U.S. soccer team defeats Germany in overtime, 2-1, to reach the final against Brazil.

August 24, 2004|Grahame L. Jones | Times Staff Writer

HERAKLION, Greece — When the final whistle sounded on the two-hour drama that was played out at Pankritio Stadium on Monday evening, Julie Foudy tossed aside her crutches, helped an exhausted Abby Wambach to her feet and hugged her.

Nearby, Kristine Lilly kissed Heather O'Reilly on the cheek.

If there were other hugs and kisses for Catherine "Cat" Reddick or Aly Wagner or Lindsay Tarpley, they went unnoticed in the emotion of the moment.

The U.S., which was beaten, 3-0, by Germany in the semifinals of the Women's World Cup last September, returned the favor by defeating the world champions, 2-1, in overtime, on Monday in the semifinals of the Olympic soccer tournament.

The victory, after an intense struggle, earned the Americans a place in Thursday's gold-medal match against Brazil, which edged Sweden, 1-0, on a 64th-minute goal by Pretinha in the other semifinal at Patras.

"I said after the World Cup loss that it was the greatest game ever played in women's soccer, and I think this one may have surpassed that," U.S. Coach April Heinrichs said.

The young players enjoyed as big a part in the victory as the veterans, with O'Reilly, 19, scoring the winning goal off a pass from Mia Hamm, 32, nine minutes into the first of two 15-minute overtime periods.

The first U.S. goal, in the 32nd minute, was the result of a similar combination, with Lilly, 33, scoring off a pass from Wambach, 24.

That the youngsters helped carry the day for the older players who are retiring after these Games was especially gratifying, Heinrichs said.

"It's a topic that's not really discussed within the team except for when the media asks it, but it's the Wambachs' and the O'Reillys' and the Wagners' and the Reddicks' jobs to play for these senior players and to win it for them," she said.

"Today was the first day we've ever publicly talked about that. The fitting way for these senior players who are playing their last world event to go out is with gold around their neck. It's all of our jobs, including the coaching staff ... to find a way to win so that they get to go out on top."

The U.S. has reached the gold-medal match in each of the three Olympic women's soccer tournaments, defeating China in the 1996 final and losing to Norway in the 2000 final.

But getting there this time was tough.

Having held Germany at bay throughout the regulation 90 minutes, all the U.S. had to do was survive the five minutes of injury time added on -- most of it because Foudy injured her ankle in a 59th-minute clash with Isabel Bachor and had to leave the game.

It was not to be.

Three minutes into stoppage time, German forward Birgit Prinz sent the ball to Bachor on the left wing. Bachor cut inside U.S. defender Christie Rampone before firing a shot that deflected off defender Joy Fawcett and into the net at the near post.

On the German sideline, Coach Tina Theune-Meyer threw up her arms in relief and delight, while the American players were momentarily stunned.

"It was a fluky goal," U.S. goalkeeper Briana Scurry said afterward. "It actually took a deflection off Joy's hip, I think."

Fawcett had an answer for that.

"I need bigger hips," she said.

Scurry was dumbfounded by the turn of events.

"I couldn't believe that," she said. "I'm like, 'Who gets a toe-poke and a ball off the hip into the goal in the 93rd minute?'

"I actually said to my dad, 'Dad, that's not funny. Could you give me a shutout, for Pete's sake?' He has a sense of humor, I guess, but it worked out in the end, so it doesn't really matter "

That Scurry was able to laugh shows yet again how much the players on this team help to support and heal each other in every crisis, on the field and off. Scurry's father died on Father's Day this year.

The U.S. had chances to put the game out of reach in regulation, but the closest it came was in the 80th minute when Lilly fired a shot that deflected off German defender Steffi Jones and slammed into the crossbar.

O'Reilly hit the left post four minutes into overtime when German goalkeeper Silke Rottenberg came out to clear the ball but whiffed, leaving O'Reilly a free shot at an open net, but from an acute angle.

She missed that one, but made up for it five minutes later with the game-winner.

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