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July 25, 2010
U.S.U-20 WNT eliminated in quarterfinal

AUGSBURG, Germany – The U.S. Under-20 Women’s National Team fell to Nigeria in penalty kicks, 4-2, following a 1-1 tie in regulation and overtime during the quarterfinals of the 2010 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup.

Nigeria made all four of its kicks while Christine Nairn’s first attempt for the USA was saved and Sydney Leroux fired the USA’s fourth attempt over the top. Those misses were sandwiched around finishes from Mollie Pathman and Kristie Mewis.

The shootout featured some controversy as U.S. goalkeeper Bianca Henninger twice saved the shots of Esther Sunday who was shooting third for her country. Henninger batted the first one away with a dive to her left, but referee Alexandra Ihringova ruled that the U.S. ‘keeper had come off the goal line prematurely. Henninger then pulled off a spectacular save on Sunday’s second shot with a fully extended dive to her left, but once again Ihringova said she had broken the rules and called back Sunday, who was halfway to midfield, to take the kick again. On her third attempt, Sunday stuck her penalty into the left corner.

Nigeria shot first and captain Joy Jegede wrong-footed Henninger to push the ball into the net. The shootout then started poorly for the USA as Nairn struck her shot hard, but much too close to Nigeria goalkeeper Alaba Jonathan, who just had to collapse dive to her right to push the ball away.

Helen Ukaonu, who scored Nigeria’s lone goal during regulation on a spectacular free-kick, then buried her chance into the left corner. Substitute Mollie Pathman then coolly spun her shot into the left corner.

Then came the wild series of saves from Henninger that eventually ended with Sunday scoring. Mewis then rifled her shot into the upper left corner with a superbly taken spot kick to make it 3-2 for Nigeria after three kicks each.

Desire Oparanozie answered back with a perfect penalty of her own, stuffing the ball into the upper right corner. The USA needed to convert to send Nigeria to its fifth kicker, but Leroux blasted her shot straight over the goal. Penalty kicks have not been kind to the Americans in the U-20 FIFA Women’s World Cup as the USA also fell on penalty kicks in the both semifinal and third-place match during the 2006 tournament.

The United States dominated a first half in which midfielder Amber Brooks scored her first goal of the World Cup just nine minutes into the game. The score came as the U.S. caught Nigeria napping on a corner kick from the left side. Zakiya Bywaters took it short to Mewis, and with the Nigeria defenders standing in the penalty area, she dribbled toward the edge of the six yard box and played a short square pass to the crashing Brooks, who re-directed the ball into the net under the charging goalkeeper.

In the 79th minute, Nigeria free kick was just over 30 yards from the U.S. goal and shaded a bit to the left. A Nigerian player took a very short touch on the ball for Ukaonu to shoot and she blasted a world class strike just past the U.S. runners and just inside the right post, giving Henninger no chance.

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