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November 20, 2010
Morgan lifts WNT over Italy in stoppage time

Alex Morgan gave the U.S. women a leg up in their World Cup qualifying playoff against Italy, scoring the only goal of Saturday’s 1-0 win in Padova.
Alex Morgan gave the U.S. women a leg up in their World Cup qualifying playoff against Italy, scoring the only goal of Saturday’s 1-0 win in Padova.
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
PADOVA, Italy—Alex Morgan’s stoppage-time goal salvaged a less-than-stellar performance by the U.S. Women’s National Team against Italy on Saturday, nailing down a 1-0 road win in the first leg of their two-game Women’s World Cup qualifying playoff series at Stadio Euganeo.

The series concludes next Saturday (Nov. 27) at Toyota Park in Bridgeview, Ill.

Morgan, who came off the bench in the 86th minute for Amy Rodriguez, scored seconds before the final whistle, in the fifth minute of stoppage time. Carli Lloyd launched the ball into the penalty area from well upfield. Morgan ran it down deep on the right side and finished to the far post side of American-born goalkeeper Ana Maria Picarelli, who had otherwise been unbeatable in front of the Italy goal.

Otherwise, it was a frustrating day for the USA and a heartening one for the Italians, who finished fifth in European qualifying. Despite benefiting from turnover after turnover in the first half, the U.S. couldn’t find a finishing touch. Their best chance of the half came in just the third minute, when Megan Rapinoe curled a free kick toward the near post from just outside the left side of the box. Picarelli blocked the ball, but left a rebound for Rachel Buehler, who touched the ball just wide from less than a yard off the post. Rodriguez got a poor touch on a close-in shot in the 34th minute, giving Picarelli an easy save, and Lloyd’s dangerous far-post cross to Shannon Boxx in the 40th dipped at the last second, leaving Boxx unable to get off a solid header.

Throughout, the U.S. was unable to capitalize on the substantial size differential between towering forward Abby Wambach and the 5’4” Picarelli. Indeed, the diminutive ‘keeper won their closest encounter handily, shadowing Wambach across the six-yard box and reaching around to poke the ball away before a shot could be taken.

The U.S. seized the momentum early in the second half, with Lloyd missing on an open shot from the top of the box seconds after the intermission, and an Italian defender picking off a dangerous cross from Rodriguez on the left side for Wambach in the center of the penalty area. Wambach was closely marked throughout, leaving her unable to either maneuver with the ball or get off clean passes.

The tide turned somewhat for Italy around the hour mark. After Boxx passed up an open 12-yard shot in the 58th minute, and her pass was picked off by the defense, the Azzurri strung together a series of dangerous opportunities, starting with Elisa Camporese’s run past fallen defender Christie Rampone toward the left endline. Her initial cross was cleared, but Italy retained possession, and the ball deflected back into the box for Patrizia Panico, whose off-balance shot missed high. Panico threatened again, from 18 yards, a minute later. Goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart went down to block the ball away from the right post, but surrendered a corner kick cleared by defender Rachel Buehler.

Barnhart, who had rarely been challenged before this point, made another save on Panico in the 66th minute.

When the U.S. did get the ball on Italy’s end of the field, their shots were ineffective. Both Lauren Cheney and Rodriguez had good looks at goal around the 72nd minute, but could get off only weak shots that were easily stopped. Meanwhile, Italian midfielder Giulia Domenichetti almost caught Barnhart off guard in the 73rd, running onto a long ball into the box and drawing the U.S. ‘keeper off her line. Buehler backtracked to poke the ball away and clear it out of the box.

As time wound down, and Italy seemed more content to settle for the scoreless draw, the U.S. stepped up the intensity of their attack. With ten minutes left on the clock, Rodriguez darted into the box for a long pass from upfield. Picarelli charged off her line but could only deflect the ball, leaving Rodriguez with a second-chance shot that was headed away by Carolina Piri just off the goal line. Five minutes later, Picarelli snatched away another U.S. service into the box, just ahead of Rodriguez. In the 88th minute, Picarelli blocked a point-blank attempt from Wambach on the right side, and left a rebound for Cheney on the far post, but the Boston Breakers forward couldn’t get off a shot. And in the first minute of stoppage time, Morgan’s first shot of the game was saved, along with a pair of rapid-fire follow-ups from Wambach and Cheney.

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