U.S. down world champs Germany to reach the Final (2:1 a.e.t)
The USA are through to the Women's Olympic Football Tournament Final after defeating world champions Germany 2-1 in an intriguing semi-final on Monday. Kristine Lilly handed America the lead before half-time only for Isabell Bachor to fire a last-gasp equaliser. 19 year-old sub Heather O'Reilly was on hand to bundle home an extra-time winner and seal her side's merited victory.
Current world champions Germany and former Olympic gold medallists the USA contested the first semi-final at the Pankritio stadium in Heraklion. Germany coach Tina Theune-Meyer made one change to the team which defeated Nigeria, starting with Conny Pohlers in place of Petra Wimbersky.
Both sides looked to get forward in a bright opening, the first chance falling to US veteran Julie Foudy as she burst through on the right but saw her left-foot drive slide narrowly wide. The USA looked solid in defence and cleverly let the ball do the work, always looking to release superstar Mia Hamm down the right-hand side.
Germany keeper Silke Rottenberg was soon called into action, clinging on to a Lindsay Tarpley effort after a skilful build-up by Abby Wambach. Wambach herself tested the custodian a few moments later but found the angle too tight.
The world champions were in trouble and hardly threatened in the first half-hour. It was no surprise then, when the powerful Americans broke the deadlock after 32 minutes. Bursting clear at pace down the left, Wambach teed up Kristine Lilly in the area for the midfielder to steer a left-foot volley past Rottenberg from 11 metres.
The Germans looked imprecise and lethargic through the centre of the park, whereas their opponents appeared fresher and nowhere near close to their physical limits.
The USA maintained their dominance at the start of the second period while the German strikers continued to suffer from inaccurate service. Wambach should have doubled the advantage on 52 minutes after a goalmouth scramble but the big striker was thwarted by a desperate late challenge.
|Germany's Martina Mueller (L) vies with US Joy Fawcett during the women semi-final match at the 2004 Olympic Games, 23 August 2004 in Herakion. AFP PHOTO/DDP/MICHAEL KAPPELER|
Lingor finally tested America keeper Briana Scurry with an 18-metre free-kick, but once again the USA raced up the other end and Lilly was desperately unlucky with a deflected shot which cannoned back into play off the crossbar.
The world and European champions looked void of inspiration and even clueless at times, but there was to be a dramatic late twist as Isabell Bachor charged into the area two minutes into stoppage time and fired dangerously towards goal. A deflection took the ball past Scurry for a shock equaliser, and the game went into extra-time.
Inspired by their late heroics, the Germans suddenly found new reserves of energy. Martina Müller was inches away from connecting with a Birgit Prinz cross, before Kerstin Stegemann blasted over from 18 metres. But the Americans still had the best of the chances: keeper Rottenberg made a rare mistake, totally misjudging a diagonal pass outside the area, but with the goal gaping and time to pick her spot, Heather O'Reilly panicked and hit the post from 12 metres.
It was end-to-end stuff now, but the USA finally earned their just reward after 99 minutes. Hamm again featured strongly as she burst down the right before cutting back from the by-line for O'Reilly to bundle the loose ball over the line from seven metres.
The Germans sought an immediate response and Kerstin Garefrekes, otherwise a shadow of her normal self, flicked a near-post header just over the bar from a Lingor corner.
The world champions threw everything forward in the second period of extra-time, but the effect was to encourage American counter-attacks. O'Reilly missed another chance with just Rottenberg to beat, before another Lingor free-kick slid narrowly wide and Prinz shaved the post with a shot on the turn. But it was not to be and the Americans ran down time for a 2-1 triumph and a place in the Final.
"It's a joy to be coach of this team here today," a visibly moved USA coach April Heinrichs commented afterwards. "That might have been the best we've ever played. Some of my players are retiring after the Olympics, so they want to hang up their boots with gold medals round their necks." Germany coach Tina Theune-Meyer found words of praise for her devastated players: "We showed what we were really made of in the second half. I always believed we could score the equaliser. Their second in extra-time came at a very bad moment for us. We'd moved into the driving seat and I thought we were more likely to score."