Sunday, September 30, 2007

ATH: U.S. Women win Third at World Cup

U.S. rebounds to win third place at World Cup
Wambach scores 2 in 4-1 victory over Norway to end tumultuous tourney
The Associated Press, Updated: 10:13 a.m. CT Sept 30, 2007

SHANGHAI, China - A big question remains for the United States after its rousing 4-1 victory over Norway for third place in the Women’s World Cup.

Why did it take so long to play so well?

Abby Wambach scored two goals and Lori Chalupny and Heather O’Reilly added the others Sunday. From an energized dressing room beforehand to an emotional hand-over of the captain armband in the final minutes — from Kristine Lilly to goalkeeper Briana Scurry — the U.S. was the attacking team it wasn’t for most of the tournament.

“We were in the locker room, and it was a completely different atmosphere for us,” Chalupny said. “Everybody was jumping around and we just had a new joy.”

In the championship game, Germany downed Brazil 2-0 to win its second straight World Cup. Birgit Prinz and Simone Laudehr scored for Germany, which did not allow a goal in six games.

The days leading to the third-place game were rough and bumpy for the Americans: a humiliating 4-0 loss to Brazil in the semifinals to end a 51-game unbeaten string, followed by the expulsion of goalkeeper Hope Solo for criticizing coach Greg Ryan for benching her against the South Americans.

Solo’s comments threatened to split the team. Instead they created a rallying point — a reason to win a normally lackluster bronze-medal game. The victory gives the U.S. three bronze medals to go with titles in 1991 and 1999.

“These past couple days have been real emotional,” Wambach said. “It’s never easy losing. Our team showed today that we have serious character. We are women of heart.”

Added Lilly, who has played in all five World Cups but is undecided about next year’s Olympics: “I wish it had come out against Brazil, but it didn’t.”

Wambach finished the tournament with six goals and her last two — in the 30th and 46th minutes — were of typical poaching variety. First, she deflected in Chalupny’s bouncing shot from outside the area. Sixteen minutes later, Wambach chipped in a loose ball goalkeeper Bente Nordby failed to control.

In the second half, Chalupny struck in the 58th on a shot that rattled off a Norwegian defender’s leg, going in from long range. A minute later, O’Reilly knocked in a short rebound.

“It was the last game, and it was a game I promised everybody before we stepped on that field that I wasn’t going to leave any bit of energy,” Wambach said. “I wanted to leave everything on the field.”

Lilly went off a few minutes from the end, probably her last World Cup appearance. She’s the only woman to play in all five. As she left to a loud ovation, the 36-year-old star handed over the armband to 36-year-old Scurry. It was Scurry who replaced Solo in goal.

“It felt incredible when Lilly came over to me,” said Scurry, famous for stopping the deciding shot in a penalty shootout to give the Americans the ’99 World Cup. “The team has been great support for me all of these years, and especially the last few days. To have that armband on those few minutes meant the world to me.”

The Americans were under pressure beginning with the draw in April, grouped with North Korea, Sweden and Nigeria. The 3-0 quarterfinal victory over England was probably the easiest of the tournament.

Then came Brazil, Ryan’s last-minute switch to Scurry, and Solo’s anger over the choice. After yielding two goals against North Korea, she had not given up a goal in 298 minutes.

Solo’s outburst took the focus off Ryan, whose risky move preceded the Americans’ worst loss in World Cup play.

“I felt like each game was so under the gun,” said Ryan, a soft-spoken Texan whose contract expires at the end of the year. “Each match became an elimination match for us. I didn’t feel like we got enough people involved in the attack through the tournament. Some of that might have been being tight. Some of it may have been we just held back at bit.”

Despite Solo’s apology to the team, Ryan excluded her from the Norway game, putting her future with the national team in doubt. She didn’t attend the game, but team officials said Sunday she remained in China. It was unclear if she will travel to the U.S. with the team.

Defender Cat Whitehill, Solo’s former roommate, said switching goalies wasn’t the problem.

“There was just a lot going on, and we didn’t handle it well,” she said. “It was just handling the pressure that came with it, the semifinal game, listening to the media talk about the goalkeepers.”

Whitehill said many teammates had forgiven Solo. Wambach said she hadn’t seen her but would probably give her a hug if she did.

“I’d like to think that I’d like to forgive her,” Wambach said. “But at this point I just want to move quickly past this and celebrate this win.”

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