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November 27, 2010
WNT completes long road to Women’s World Cup finals

Pia Sundhage has lost only two games as Women’s National Team coach, but admits that the rest of the world is catching up to the sport’s perennial powerhouse. “it’s hard to stay [on top of the FIFA rankings], but we’re doing what we can.”
Pia Sundhage has lost only two games as Women’s National Team coach, but admits that the rest of the world is catching up to the sport’s perennial powerhouse. “it’s hard to stay [on top of the FIFA rankings], but we’re doing what we can.”
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
BRIDGEVIEW, Ill.—It might not have been pretty, but it got the job done. After finding itself on the verge of not qualifying for the Women’s World Cup for the first time ever, the United States came away with an unimpressive 1-0 win over Italy at Toyota Park on Saturday, taking the total goals series on aggregate 2-0.

"When you look at this, we've been going for 11 straight months, a lot of us,” said U.S. forward Abby Wambach. “It hasn't been easy. It's been your [club] team and the responsibility of winning games is on your shoulders throughout the entire WPS season, and then obviously things didn't happen like we wanted it to in Cancun. I think when we get a little bit of rest, everybody can get their wits about them, come back to the drawing board and perform the way we know we are capable of."

Amy Rodriguez scored the only goal of Saturday’s game, in the 40th minute. The Americans will learn their World Cup group and initial opponents in less than 48 hours, when the tournament draw is held Monday in Frankfurt, Germany.

Megan Rapinoe did the heavy lifting on Rodriguez’s goal, battling past a defender into the left side of the penalty area, and getting off a sharply-angled shot. Goalkeeper Anna Picarelli blocked the attempt, but left a rebound for Rodriguez, who slid in to roof a shot with her right foot.

"We didn't necessarily execute on the chances that we had, definitely in the first 20 minutes,” said Rodriguez. ”I know me personally, I had a few chances at goal and then I wish I could have put them away. It's so much better when you can put a team away early. Mentally, it really hurts their motivation. So for us, it was really important that we did get that goal.

"It was a jumble in front of the net. The ball was loose and I just saw it escape from the goalie and tried to just dive in there and put it on frame. And luckily it hit the back of the net."

The goal short-circuited what had been an encouraging start for the Italians, who dominated possession in the early going. Italian captain Patrizia Panico was particularly dangerous. Barely three minutes in, she found teammate Carolina Pini at the top corner of the six-yard box, but defender Rachel Buehler backtracked to break up the play. And in the eighth, Panico got off a wide-open shot that was saved by U.S. netminder Nicole Barnhart. Barnhart collected her second save on another attempt by Panico, eight minutes later.

The U.S. women started to find their rhythm around the 20-minute mark, but could not capitalize on their several scoring opportunities.

U.S. coach Pia Sundhage certainly was not pleased with the way the team performed, especially early on.

“Well, first of all I want to apologize for the first 20 minutes. It was crap and I felt it was very important for us to change the game plan,” she said. “The real reason is that the back four struggled to start up the attack and the midfield wasn’t on top of their game. I said you have to trust the coaches and we thought that instead of playing our old style of keeping possession, we needed to find space where we were successful in the first half, and that was behind the backline. I think in the second half we did a better job and I’m very happy with the way we played…eventually.”

The U.S. players were all expecting to get a vacation following the CONCACAF qualifying tournament in Mexico, and instead had to play the extra pair of games against the Italians. After breezing through the early games of qualifying, the U.S. stumbled against Mexico and fell in the semifinal, leading some to believe the rest of the world has caught up to the once-dominant Americans.

“Well, I’ll tell you this…the women’s game is developing so fast,” said Sundhage, who has lost only two games as coach of the U.S. team. “Since FIFA put in the U-17 and U-20 Women’s World Cup so many things have happened in different countries. Going back to the qualification in Mexico, were playing against Costa Rica, Guatemala and they’re technical. That’s the important thing about the future of the women’s game. It’s technical, and that’s something this country needs, technical players. They need to touch the ball quite a bit when they’re young, very young, and spend time with the ball. I would say the world’s catching up and on top of rank number one, it’s hard to stay there, but we’re doing what we can.”

Wambach said that, while the Americans can stand to improve their game, winning is more than playing better.

"We're honest with ourselves. We know the way we normally play,” she said. “I think we can get better sophistication-wise, we can get better tactically, technically. At the end of the day, it doesn't matter. It's about who wants to win more. And you'll see that in Germany. You'll see that in the next six, seven months leading up to it."

"I think that the best thing about not qualifying [in Cancun] is we get to really examine the things we can improve on, because [when you are] winning, you can overlook so many things. And I think Pia calls this a wake-up call for our team. Does this mean our youth programs aren't getting the proper training? I think that's a bit of stretch. At the end of the day, it's about this team performing. I personally feel any day we match up against anybody we have a really good shot of winning that game."

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