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BEIJING 2008 : WOMEN'S SOCCER

U.S. wins and gets some help

August 13, 2008|Grahame L. Jones | Times Staff Writer

ia Sundhage, coach of the U.S. women's Olympic soccer team, might want to send a bouquet of flowers to her counterpart on Norway's Olympic team.

Just as a thank you.

After all, the Norwegians did the Americans a huge favor Tuesday when they crumbled to Japan, losing, 5-1, at the same time the U.S. was routing New Zealand, 4-0.

The results made a huge difference in who plays whom in the quarterfinals and put the U.S. on a path that could lead straight to the gold-medal game in Beijing on Aug. 22.

Norway's loss means that the Norwegians finished second in the group and will have to play Brazil in the quarterfinals. Had Norway won or even tied, the Americans would have finished second and they would have come up against Brazil, which beat them, 4-0, in last year's Women's World Cup.

So, that sigh of relief in Shenyang, China, on Tuesday came from the U.S. contingent, which now is faced with nothing more scary than Canada in the quarterfinals Friday and either China or Japan in the semifinals.

Both matches should be considerably easier to win than the games in the other half of the draw, in which Norway has to overcome 2004 silver medalist Brazil, and world champion Germany has to play Sweden in a repeat of the 2003 Women's World Cup final won by the Germans.

The U.S. got off to the best possible start against New Zealand, with Heather O'Reilly, a 2004 gold-medal winner, scoring the fastest goal in Olympic women's soccer history when she hit the back of the net after only 40 seconds.

"It was just on instinct," O'Reilly said of the long-range shot she took after spotting New Zealand goalkeeper Jenny Bindon well out of her net, lofting the ball over her.

"I got the ball about 40 yards out and took a touch and just went for it. Usually, I wouldn't take an outside shot, but the keeper was off her line and I just hit it. Good things happen when you take chances."

The outclassed Kiwis held on gamely for most of the rest of the half before conceding another goal, this one by Amy Rodriguez, and then two more in the second half by Lindsay Tarpley and Angela Hucles.

The U.S. team's play has improved steadily since an opening 2-0 loss to Norway.

"I think it's fantastic that we bounced back from the first 15 minutes against Norway," Sundhage said. "You look at the first 15 minutes of that game to the last 15 minutes of this game and many things have happened. The whole team, and myself, has gained confidence every minute we've been together."

Jones reported from Los Angeles.

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grahame.jones@latimes.com

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