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U.S. WOMEN'S NATIONAL TEAM

Aug. 15, 2008
SOME EXTRA EFFORT
Kai's OT goal lifts U.S. women to 2-1 win and into the medal round

By Michael Lewis
BigAppleSoccer.com Editor

U.S. goalscorer Angela Hucles eludes defender Rhian Wilkinson during Friday's 2-1 quarterfinal win over Canada in Shanghai.
U.S. goalscorer Angela Hucles eludes defender Rhian Wilkinson during Friday's 2-1 quarterfinal win over Canada in Shanghai.
photo by Tony Quinn
Shanghai, China -- The American women battled the weather, a tough Canadian side and sometimes their errant shooting while surviving a 100-minute lightning delay to reach the semifinals of the Olympic soccer tournament at Shanghai Stadium Friday night.

Forward Natasha Kai, who came on at the start of extratime, scored in the 101st minute to lift the U.S. to a 2-1 victory and into the medal round against Japan in Beijing Monday night.

The Japanese defeated China Friday, 2-0. The U.S. defeated Japan in an opening-round game last week, 1-0.

It was the fourth consecutive Olympics that the U.S. had reach the Final Four. The Americans won gold medals in 1996 and 2004 and the silver in 2000.

Kai replaced forward Heather O'Reilly in the 91st minute and 11 minutes later connected for the game-winner past goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc.

Midfielder Shannon Boxx sent the ball in from the left side and Kai struck from three yards to boost the Americans over their CONCACAF archrivals.

"I feel like I am a player," U.S. coach Pia Sundhage said. "I am exhausted."

Sundhage was referring to the emotions felt during the game and the fact it took four hours and eight minutes to complete the game, thanks to a lightning delay midway through the opening half.

It was the fifth time this year the Americans overcame the Canadians.

"It was a great team win," Boxx said. "This team plays with a lot of heart."

As if she was trying to top O'Reilly's fastest goal in women's Olympic history (41 seconds vs. New Zealand Tuesday), forward Angela Hucles certainly tried her best immediately after the opening kickoff. Hucles, off a Boxx feed, raced toward the Canadian goal, beat defender Candace Chapman, but she sent her attempt over the net with the game only 22 seconds old.

Hucles eventually did get her goal, although it was some 11 minutes later. Amy Rodriguez sent a cross from the right wing to the left edge of the goal box that O'Reilly headed toward the far right post. Goalkeeper Erin McLeod managed to get a hand on the shot as Hucles pounced on the rebound and knocked it home from one yard in the 12th minute.

McLeod, however, was injured on the play and had to be replaced by LeBlanc in the 19th minute.

Anything that transpired in the opening 21 minutes was overshadowed by the rain that began in the sixth minute and a thunder and lightning show that started shortly thereafter. In the early going, the lightning was far enough away from the stadium that officials were not worried.

However, referee Jenny Palmqvist (Sweden) had seen enough in the 21st minute and ordered both teams into the safety of their respective locker rooms until the lightning passed.

After an hour and 40-minute rain delay, the game resumed at 8 p.m. local time. According to Olympic rules, both teams had to wait a half hour after the lightning had ended to warm-up. They also were given an additional 15 minutes to prepare for the remaining 24 minutes of the opening half.

When some officials came out to inspect the pitch at around 7:30 p.m., the spectators cheered. The crowd also applauded volunteers who wiped the teams' benches dry, obviously sensing that play was going to restart soon.

After the restart, O'Reilly, off a Hucles pass, went one-on-one with a defender, but by the time she got off a shot LeBlanc and defender Emily Zurrer converged to stop her.

A mistake by U.S. midfielder Carli Lloyd led to the Canadians' equalizing goal in the 30th minute. Midfielder Clare Rustad took the ball away from Lloyd in the American defensive third and sent a quick, yet short pass to Christine Sinclair. Sinclair took a couple of steps and fired a 24-yard shot to the right far post past goalkeeper Hope Solo for a 1-1 tie.

The second half was more of a tedious affair as both teams could not really make many dangerous opportunities happen in front of the opposing net.

Hucles had a golden opportunity to give the Americans the lead as she raced into the penalty area on the left side in the 71st minute. Hucles took a left-footed six-yard shot that LeBlanc blocked.

In one of the Canadians' rare shots on goal, Sinclair forced Solo to dive to her left to stop her 15-yard effort in the 78th minute.

Rodriguez almost won it for the U.S. deep into injury time. She took a left-wing feed, but her eight-yard attempt was tipped away by LeBlanc only seconds before Palmqvist whistle regulation over.
   
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