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November 19, 2010
U.S. confident of qualifying for Women’s World Cup

By Charles Cuttone
Executive Editor

U.S. WNT captain Christie Rampone feels good about her team’s chances to win their two-game series with Italy and qualify for the Women’sWorld Cup. “I think we have good momentum now, with the way the team is looking.”
U.S. WNT captain Christie Rampone feels good about her team’s chances to win their two-game series with Italy and qualify for the Women’sWorld Cup. “I think we have good momentum now, with the way the team is looking.”
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
Members of the U.S. Women’s National Team said they had no worries going into the CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying tournament. Now, after losing to Mexico in the semi-finals of that tournament, and failing to gain an automatic spot in next year’s World Cup, the players say they are still not worried about qualifying, despite having to play Italy in a two-game home and home playoff series.

“We’re real excited for our second opportunity to qualify,” said veteran defender Christie Rampone from Padova, Italy, where the U.S. will face the Italians on Saturday (10:30 am ET). “I think we have good momentum now, with the way the team is looking.”

The U.S. earned the right to play Italy in the playoff series after dispatching Costa Rica 3-0 in the CONCACAF third place game.

The U.S. Women have never faced this type of situation before. They have always qualified easily for the World Cup, winning a pair of titles in 1991 and 1999, but none in the last decade as the talent in the rest of the world has seemingly caught up.

“You can’t be perfect all the time and you can’t win all the time,” said forward Abby Wambach. “Any day, you can line up against a team and they can beat you.”

The U.S. holds an 8-4-1 all-time record against Italy with 26 goals for and eight against. All four of the previous meetings on Italian soil have been losses for Americans, including the first-ever international match for the U.S. women (1985), a game in 1986 which was the 10th-ever match for the team and in 1988 (Kristine Lilly’s 13th cap). The most recent matchup in Italy was that 1-0 loss in 2001, in which the U.S. fielded a young lineup of players. No players on the USA’s current roster in Italy played in that match.

The United States cruised through the first round of the qualifying tournament, outscoring their three opponents 18-0 before falling 2-1 to Mexico.

U.S. coach Pia Sundhage says too much should not be made of the loss. “I want to remind you, it’s one game,” she said. “You have to admit it was a bad game, but you shouldn’t look into it too much.”

For the set against Italy, Sundhage brought in four players who were not in Cancun for the qualifying tournament -- midfielders Lindsay Tarpley, Leslie Osborne and Tina DiMartino, as well as goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris.

“We wanted to change the atmosphere,” she said of bringing reinforcements. Only 18 of the players will suit up for each of the matches.

“Everybody is pushing everybody. You get just one new player, it changes the atmosphere,” said Sundhage, who is 54-2-5 at the helm of the U.S. team over the last three years.

The Italians have had a longer, harder road to get to this playoff series. Through two rounds of qualifying in UEFA, they have played 14 games.

The Azzurri are led by 35-year-old Patrizia Panico, nicknamed “The Scorpion,” who played 10 matches for Sky Blue FC (making three starts) this past season after joining the squad late in the campaign. Panico has been scoring goals for Italy for years (87 total and 10 alone during UFEA qualifying), and true to her nickname, is extremely dangerous striking inside the penalty area. Italy’s best player is perhaps Melania Gabiadini (71 caps, 22 goals), a dynamic attacking player who gave the USA the most problems during the two recent meetings in 2008.

In goal, Italy features one of the more unique players in the women’s game in Anna Picarelli, who was born and raised in the Los Angeles area. She played four years of college soccer at Pepperdine in Malibu, Calif., where she was one of the best ‘keepers in the West Coast Conference. The 25-year-old Picarelli, who stands just 5-feet, 4-inches, was called into a U.S. U-21 Women’s National Team camp after college, but decided to pursue her career in the homeland of her father, Angelo, and has turned into an important contributor for Italy, starting all 14 of their UEFA qualifying matches and allowing just eight goals. She has learned to speak the language and played for Italy at the 2009 UEFA Women’s Championships in Finland, where she was in goal as the Italians upset England by a 2-1 score. Although she has since moved back to California, where she plays club soccer, she played several seasons in Italy and was part of three Serie A title winners for Bardolino.

Wambach says that while the team is not worried that it may not qualify, it does realize the importance of the two games, especially the first one on the road, since away goals count double in the total goals series.

“This is a World Cup game for us,” said Wamabch. “We are here to win. We want to win and not just by one goal. When you play on foreign soil, you want to silence that crowd.”

The crowd in Italy will not be entirely Italian partisans, as more than 200 servicemen and women from the U.S. Army base in nearby Vincenza have requested tickets. T he return match will be at Toyota Park on Saturday November 27 at 2pm ET.

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