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London Olympics: U.S. women blank New Zealand to reach soccer semis

August 03, 2012|By Kevin Baxter
  • The United States' Alex Morgan, left, vies for the ball with New Zealand's Abby Erceg during their 's quarterfinal soccer match.
The United States' Alex Morgan, left, vies for the ball with New Zealand's… (Scott Heppell / Associated…)

NEWCASTLE, Britain -- Goals by Abby Wambach and Sydney Leroux rescued a sputtering offense Friday and lifted the U.S. to a surprisingly difficult 2-0 win over New Zealand in the quarterfinals of the women's Olympic soccer tournament before a crowd of 10,441 at St. James' Park.

With the victory, the U.S. team moves on to Monday's semifinal at historic Old Trafford in Manchester, where they will meet the winner of Friday's late match between Canada and Britain.

The U.S. team, the two-time defending Olympic champions who have never lost a knockout-round game in five Olympic appearances, took a 1-0 first-half lead when Wambach's scored in the 27th minute, set up by a perfect pass from Alex Morgan.

PHOTOS: U.S. vs. New Zealand

Then with New Zealand pressing for the equalizer, the speedy Leroux got loose up the right flank and shot from the edge of the 18-yard box, putting the ball off New Zealand keeper Jenny Bindon and into the far side of the net in the 87th minute.

But it could have been much worse for New Zealand, which had no answer for the Americans' superior speed -- especially that of Morgan, who wreaked havoc on the Kiwi defense all afternoon.

And although that gave the U.S. a huge advantage in possession time and produced several good scoring chances, the U.S. finished most of them sloppily. Morgan herself twice missed what looked to be open nets, once early in the first when she put a shot wide, and again in the opening seconds of the second half when she hit the side of the net.

The first exception came midway through the first half when Morgan ran down a Kelley O'Hara through ball deep in the New Zealand end. She than dribbled from the left wing almost to the center of the penalty area before threading the ball across the front of the goal to Wambach, who slid in to deflect it home with her right foot for her fourth goal is as many games in these Olympics.

The goal was also the eighth in Olympic competition for Wambach, a U.S. record, and her 142nd in international competition, 16 shy of Mia Hamm's record. Of more significance for the time being, however, is the fact the U.S. has lost just twice in the 99 matches in which Wambach has scored.

That proved to be just the start of a busy -- and painful -- afternoon for Bindon. Aside from giving up the goal, she was also shaken up twice, taking a Wambach boot to her face in the first half, then, late in the second half, a charging Morgan nailed her in the temple with her left knee.

Morgan also went down in that collision and referee Jesica di Iorio called in trainers from both teams. Morgan came out in favor of Leroux 10 minutes later, but that move probably had less to do with the collision and more to do with U.S. Coach Pia Sundhage wanting to rest her regulars for Monday's semifinal.

In any case, Leroux made it a good move when she scored an insurance goal with three minutes left in regulation time.

At the other goal, U.S. keeper Hope Solo, who had to make just one save in the final group play match with North Korea, was  much busier Friday.

None of her saves were particularly difficult, however, and Solo hasn't allowed a goal since the 14th minute of the opening match of the London Games, giving her a string of 346 scoreless minutes, while Friday's shutout was the 65th of her career.


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