US down holders to set up China clash
Danesha Adams bagged a brace as the USA defeated Germany 4-1 in a thrilling FIFA U-20 Women's World Championship Russia 2006 quarter-final on Sunday evening.
The Americans now meet China PR in the second of Thursday's semi-finals at Moscow's Lokomotiv stadium, while the holders head for home, leaving behind the trophy they won in 2004.
"It was a really interesting game of football, probably the best I've seen up to now," US coach Tim Schulz declared afterwards. "I almost turned into a fan, I practically forgot I was the coach. Both teams battled away really well. We scored a couple more times than Germany, but it could easily have gone the other way."
In the clash of the competition's two previous winners, both among the pre-tournament favourites this time around, Schulz repeated his tried and trusted formula by making three selection changes, all in midfield. Germany counterpart Maren Meinert lost Carolin Schiewe and Monique Kerschowski to suspension, but Janina Haye returned after missing the group encounter against Switzerland with injury.
The opening phase at the Petrovsky stadium in St Petersburg was a cautious affair as the teams showed their respect for each other, sparring without attempting to land any early knockout punches. The Americans, favouring a long-ball game designed to exploit the space behind the German defensive line, initially gained little benefit from the strategy until Danesha Adams picked out Kelley O'Hara down the inside-right channel on 11 minutes, only for the striker to find the side netting.
The Germans posed a sporadic threat down the right but their efforts repeatedly foundered on the solid American rearguard. Simone Laudehr almost broke through with a fine solo run, before Anna Blasse charged into the penalty area but saw her shot blocked. The Europeans then suffered a setback midway through the half when Blasse, their top scorer, was forced out of the action with injury, to be replaced by Lydia Neumann.
Meinert's team were still acclimatising to the line-up change when they were left reeling by a quickfire American double strike. For the first, Amanda Poach threw over a long cross from the right for O'Hara to control at the far post and drill an unstoppable shot into the top right-hand corner from 15 metres (1-0, 36').
The Americans doubled the advantage less than a minute later with a carbon copy of the opener, Poach again crossing beyond the German defence to the far post for Adams to head back across goal and into the net (2-0, 37').
German fightback proves short-lived
The stunned Germans now came under intense pressure as O'Hara delivered an angled pass into the box on 41 minutes. Adams headed on to Lauren Cheney, but her seven-metre drive sailed wide of the gaping net, leaving the USA to go in at half time with a two-goal lead from two shots on target.
"Today's match turned on the two goals in quick succession," Meinert reasoned afterwards. "We tried everything we could to get back on terms in the second half. Obviously we're disappointed with the result, but compliments to the USA for a fantastic match."
Meinert's team emerged for the restart visibly determined to claw their way back into it, and Nadine Kessler had the first chance of note with a fine one-two and burst into the box only to be denied by keeper Val Henderson. Cheney could have put the result beyond doubt with the very next move, but Germany shot-stopper Romina Holz emerged victorious from a one-on-one situation.
The holders were finally rewarded for a spell of pressure midway through the second half when Laudehr found Neumann with a delightful slide-rule pass. The sub raced into the box before beating the onrushing Henderson with the outside of her right boot to halve the deficit (2-1, 65'). Laudehr thus improved her impressive stats with a fifth assist of the tournament.
Germany piled forward in a bid to level, but the USA always looked dangerous on the break and duly made almost certain of the win with 20 minutes remaining. Substitute Tina Di Martino raced clear down the right before squaring perfectly for Adams to slot home from five metres and restore the two-goal advantage (3-1, 70').
Still, in time-honoured fashion, the Germans refused to accept defeat. Kessler beat two defenders on the edge of the box with 15 minutes remaining, but her pile-driver from 17 metres cannoned back off the crossbar. That, though, was to be as worrying as it would get for the US, who even managed another goal on the break, as Amy Rodriguez materialised on the left edge of the box before curling a delicate finish into the far corner after initially being thwarted by Holz (4-1, 90').
"We had the utmost respect for the Germans," Player of the Match Poach said afterwards. "They made it very difficult for us today, and they came out fighting for the second half. It was a really intense game after that, but that was our best performance of the tournament to date."
Player of the match: AMANDA POACH
"She dictated the pace and her distribution was excellent. She was extremely mobile and laid on two goals," Sylvie Beliveau (CAN), FIFA Technical Study Group .