U.S. women rally to beat Japan, 2-1
The Americans will take on Germany in the semifinal round Monday.
THESSALONIKI, Greece (AP) -- Rarely has there been such an unusual sight in an world-class soccer tournament. The United States had a four-player breakaway, with only a lonely goalkeeper to beat.
Abby Wambach finished the play with one of the simplest shots she'll ever take, a 1-foot tap that gave the U.S. team a 2-1 victory over Japan in Friday's Olympic quarterfinals. The victory sets up a much-anticipated rematch with Germany in the semifinals on Monday.
Germany beat the Americans 3-0 last year in the World Cup semifinals and went on to win the title on U.S. soil. Now they get their chance for revenge.
"This is something we've all been thinking about," Wambach said. "I know I have. Every single game we've played I've told myself, don't ever forget how that feels, how it felt when that whistle blew against Germany and we lost."
Germany advanced by defeating Nigeria 2-1 Friday. Brazil beat Mexico 5-0, and Sweden defeated Australia 2-1 to set up the other semifinal.
Before thinking of Germany, however, the Americans first needed to get past an improving Japanese team. It took a bit of trickery to produce the goal that made the difference.
When Mia Hamm took a long free kick in the second half, midfielder Shannon Boxx made a delayed run forward, timing it perfectly to thwart Japan's offside trap. Three U.S. teammates followed as Boxx chased down Hamm's kick and drew goalkeeper Nozomi Yamago away.
Boxx then slid a pass to Wambach, who literally trotted the ball into the net in the 59th minute for her 17th goal in her last 18 games.
"Our coaching staff told us they like to pull that trap," Wambach said. "Shannon stayed onside and it was a great touch for her to take. Probably the easiest goal I'll ever score in a world event."
Coach takes responsibility
There were varying views on whether the play was actually onside. Japanese coach Eiji Ueda said he hadn't seen the replay, but he took full responsibility because he had worked specifically on the trap during the previous day's practice.
At the same time, U.S. coach April Heinrichs had worked on beating the trap. She also thinks referee Silvia De Oliveira probably made the right call.
Even if she didn't, the goal still counts.
"We always teach the team: It's only a foul if the whistle's blown, it's only offsides if the referee makes the call and it's only a goal if the whistle's blown," Heinrichs said.
Kristine Lilly scored her second goal in as many games in the 43rd minute for the Americans, who improved to 14-0-3 all-time against Japan. Emi Yamamoto scored for Japan in the 48th in game played before just 1,418 fans at the 26,200-seat Kaftanzoglio Stadium.
The U.S. team played more aggressively throughout, responding to Heinrichs' urge to play with "less caution" after tepid efforts in the three first-round games.
Brandi Chastain and Lindsay Tarpley got their first starts in the tournament, and all 11 starters played the full 90 minutes.
Heinrichs also moved Lilly to forward and opened with three attackers for the first time in the tournament. Wambach returned after serving a one-game suspension for rough play.
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